President Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University probably didn't go quite as well as he'd hoped. His claim that "we don't have homosexuals" in Iran was greeted first with howls of incredulous laughter and then with boos. You can listen here (via).
Farsi is apparently a notoriously difficult language to translate clearly into English but in this case, it seems likely that the translation did reflect Ahmadinejad's meaning. As I understand it, Iranian theocrats believe that it is wrong to treat homosexuality as a specific sexual orientation, They believe that to be an unholy Western concept and not one they wish to adopt. They do acknowledge that individual homosexual acts happen but consider these acts to be expressions of a curable affliction. Essentially Ahmadinejad believes that there are no homosexuals in Iran, only people who have committed homosexual acts and must be cured or punished as a consequence.
Treating homosexuality as a curable affliction is certainly not an exclusively Middle Eastern phenomenon. A quick google highlights a drug which claims to be "the most widely prescribed anti-effeminate medication in the United States, helping 16 million Americans who suffer from Behavioural Effeminate and Male Homosexuality Disorder". 16 million? That's a whole lot of repressed homosexuality.
The Iranian government's attitude, however, cannot glibly be compared to the situation in the United States. Read the story of Maryam, an Iranian lesbian, if you're even slightly tempted to make the comparison. After six months of "treatment" failed to "cure" her, she was told by a psychologist that "if you don’t change your sexuality and you continue unlawful acts, your future will be a death sentence." Note that "change your sexuality" refers to pressure Maryam was under to agree to a sex change operation, a transformation she had absolutely no desire to go through.
For those who want to avoid another bloody war, there is a temptation to downplay the intolerant attitudes of the Iranian regime. With parts of the US government clearly looking to manufacture public support for military action against Iran (using the Iraq debacle as their model), any criticisms of the Iranian regime can seem to lend support to the bomber brigade's desire for war.
It would be a mistake to minimise criticism of the Iranian regime for this reason.
For a start, it would allow the war advocates to claim that those who oppose military action fully endorse the Iranian regime. Everyone who has ever been called a supporter of Saddam, and that will probably include just about everyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq, will know what I mean. It's a straw man but one which refuses to go away.
Let me put it plainly. I do not support the Iranian theocratic government. It has undoubtedly been the subject of a disinformation campaign in recent times (the discredited yellow badges for Jews story exemplifies this) and these lies and distortions should be challenged but that does not make the Iranian regime a wonder of sweetness and light. It isn't.
The major fault in the argument for military action is that it would not actually help to improve the situation. If ever there was a case study which proved the point, Iraq is it. Homosexuals in the new "free" Iraq are now being hunted down by Shiite militias. In a bloody irony, these militias and the associated political parties - who dominate much of Iraq as a result of the "liberation"- share many beliefs with the Iranian regime. The actual result of military action in Iraq has been so far from the stated aims that a whole conspiracy theory has built up which maintains that disorder was always the goal. This is nonsense, the Bush administration did not mean to project American powerlessness, boost Iranian influence or get the US military bogged down in Iraq for years on end, but you can see why its difficult for people to accept that they could misjudge the situation so horrendously.
The result of military action against Iran would be complex and difficult to predict fully but some things are certain. Iranians, like Americans, are mostly proud nationalists and any attack on their country by the US or Israel would provoke increased loyalty towards their government and hostility towards the attackers. It would entrench the power of the mullahs and radicalise a new generation of Iranians. The long term effects could be dire indeed.
It is also certain that those who advocate military action don't have the slightest understanding of the likely consequences of such an act.
You don't have to love Ahmadinejad to be opposed to military action against Iran and criticism of the Iranian regime is not a de facto expression of support for military action. There are other ways to achieve goals than through war.
Finally, for anyone who might consider referencing a certain other conflict from the 20th Century in support of military action against Iran, here's a link to possibly one of my favourite blog posts of all time.
Sam has pointed out that the drug linked above was a hoax. My googling was too quick on this occasion and I forgot to engage my brain in the process. Apologies.
The basic point I was making, that there are organisations in the US who believe that homosexuality can be cured, remains valid, despite my blushes. I'll take this opportunity to add that some of my religious relatives here in Scotland would agree. Both sides of my family have deep roots in the Open Brethren who tend to be rather strict in their interpretation of the bible. There was no doubt what "strange flesh" meant in our church.