I woke up yesterday to the almost mind-numbing news that gay men are being sent to modern day concentration camps in Chechnya. We're told by escapees that the men in these camps are often tortured, and in some cases beaten to death. The camps, apparently, represent a crack down on homosexuality led by the country's president, Ramzan Kadyrov. The stories, which were first published on April 1st, have been dismissed by Kadyrov's press secretary as an April Fools joke (yeah, really funny) and dismissed out of hand because, according to the president, "there are no gay men in Chechnya. If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn't need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning." It's also been claimed that some of the men have been released back to their families because it's assumed honour killings will take place which demonstrate the wrath of Allah.
It's almost too chilling to read, and part of me thinks it's almost too chilling to believe in an era where "fake news" is convincing everyone that news articles are merely there to titillate and reenforce political ideology. That said, no one in the UK was prepared to believe what Hitler was doing to Jewish people in the Second World War, so there's a firm precedent set here for people to blithely stick their heads in the sand.
Chechnya is a mess of a country which has been blighted by civil war, kid-napping, terrorism, assassinations and Russian invasion. In an attempt to understand the present situation, I've just spent a good half an hour reading up about the country and I'm afraid I'm none the wiser. It's no surprise to me that the country identifies as a Muslim state. That level of violence towards gay men could only come from African Christians or a Muslim regime. Faith thrives on persecution. Religious people get persecuted and persecute in return, as my good friend discovered just yesterday when she was turned down for a morning after pill by a British chemist who cited "religious reasons." It seems we're all programmed to keep at arms length anything done or said in the name of religious conviction, however grotesque it is.
I put a Stonewall petition up on Facebook about the camps which was pretty universally ignored by all but a few of my friends. Maybe they thought it was just gay people whinging about nothing in particular. The post was, however, responded to by some red neck in America. I have to say, I was a little confused: he's certainly not one of my friends, so I don't know how he managed to find, or attach himself to my post. Whatever the case, he single-handedly managed to reenforce the notion that I've been surrounded by freethinking, liberal people for long enough to be lured into a false sense of security about how the rest of the world views homosexuality. On and on this guy went, calling gay men "pedos" and God knows what else, in lengthy rants which made no grammatical sense and seemed to oscillate between his hatred of gay men and his desire for drugs to be legalised. Several of my friends waded into the argument before we all realised it was futile. When will I learn not to feed the trolls?!
Sadly, I'm not sure there's anything we can actually do about what's happening in Chechnya. To me it's indicative of the worrying growth of Islam in both popularity and severity and the West's desire to ignore what's happening because we don't know how to deal with it. When it comes to the camps, the only thing we can potentially do is lobby the Russians. But British politicians have traditionally shied away from criticising countries about their treatment of LGBT people, largely, I assume, because they're still not quite over their belief that being gay is a lifestyle choice. Besides, Britain has its hands full taunting Russia about its involvement in Syria.
We could, of course, help gay men to escape Chechnya and offer them asylum in the UK, but they'd only scrounge off the state and bring all their children with them... No wait...
So our hands are tied. And, like true Westerners, we stand by, signing petitions, and looking on hopelessly, whilst the world goes to hell in a handbag.
But ask yourself one thing. If your son, your brother or your best friend was one of the men being pulled into a concentration camp, would you stand by and let it happen? Or would you try to find a way of speaking up?