"My mommy doesn't need fixing", says 8-year-old to Michele Bachmann

"Shameless" maybe but this little boy shines light on Bachmann’s strained relationship with the LGBT

 

When it comes to Michele Bachmann and the LGBT community, it's fair to say that relations are fairly frosty. Look no further than the Minnesota Congresswoman's support for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex civil unions. Then there was an exchange in town hall in Iowa where Bachmann explains to the leader of the Gay Straight Alliance at the local high school that's its fine for gay people to marry, erm, so long as it's not with a person of the same sex. And of course there is the clinic co-owned by Bachmann and her husband, much maligned over its pretentions to "pray-the-gay-away" as this undercover video from Associated Press highlights.

So when an eight-year-old boy named Elijah wandered up to Bachmann during a recent meet-and-greet event in South Carolina -- where the congresswoman was promoting her new book Core of Conviction: My Story -- she hardly expected him to be an undercover assailant acting as the vanguard of this ongoing battle with the LGBT community.

As the video shows Bachmann is first unable to hear little Elijah, and learns over the desk to get as close as possible to him. The whole thing was like asking someone to come closer and closer and then shouting "boo!" except this time it wasn't "boo" but something that was equally shocking: "My mommy, miss Bachmann, my mommy's gay but she doesn't need any fixing." It's worth watching this video just for the look of utter shock on Bachmann's face. The mother -- apparently encouraging the boy's statement -- is then shot a look which, "if looks could kill, would have left Elijah an orphan" (as LGBT website Dallas Voice memorably points out.)

Later Bachmann took to the airwaves with Glenn Beck to call this act "shameless", excoriating the mother for her eagerness to use her child as a political pawn. Critics on Twitter also vented anger at what looked like a child being forced to deliver a prepared line. Beck asked: "How do you navigate in that kind of world where you're being -- I think -- set up to look like a homophobe. Are you a homophobe?" Bachmann vehemently denied being so and stated that the "agenda-driven community wants to climb up on my platform and make their issue my issue and paint me as someone that I'm not."

But the (unidentified) woman who videotaped the confrontation, disagreed with the idea that the boy had been forced by his mother. She told Chicago Now that the boy was the one who wanted to approach Bachmann:

"His mom was going to say something to her, but she got nervous and told me she wanted to leave. We were about to step out of the line but Elijah cried out, "Nooo!" He grabbed onto her coat and pulled her back in the line, saying he wanted to talk to her....[W]hen we got up to Michele, he got a little stage fright. His mom just didn't want him to not say it because he was afraid, because she knew he would regret it if he didn't."

Whatever the motive the LGBT community can comfort themselves with the thought that Bachmann's chances of winning the Republican nomiations -- barring a miracoulous turn-around in fortunes -- seem pretty bleak. After all it's not Elijah's mum that needs fixing, it's Bachmann's views.

Azaz, on Syria's northern border with Turkey. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Syria's broken people: how Assad destroyed a nation

 Whoever leads the country after this conflict comes to an end will inherit not just the rubble and ruins, but a ravaged people, too. 

For a moment, the residents of al-Fu’ah and Kafriya dreamed of a better future. After living under siege for more than two years, civilians from these two Shia villages in the rebel-held Idlib province of north-western Syria were finally allowed to leave earlier this month.

Buses arrived to evacuate them to regime-held areas in Aleppo province, snaking through hostile territory. They eventually stopped at an agreed crossover point, between regime- and rebel-held areas in the Rashideen district of western Aleppo.

These journeys are long: it can take hours, sometimes days, to travel just a few miles. Checkpoints, angry negotiations and deep distrust between opposing factions (even when they are apparently on the same side) ensure that such transfers are never as efficient as they should be.

As families waited at the Rashideen checkpoint, with some disembarking to stretch their legs or to let their children play outside, a powerful car bomb exploded. More than 126 civilians were killed in the blast – the deadliest attack of its kind in more than a year.

The fatalities included 60 children. The act was made all the more unconscionable by the way that they were deliberately targeted. A truck ostensibly providing humanitarian relief parked beside the buses and began distributing sweets and ice cream, causing the children to swarm towards it. Then  it exploded.

One of the most striking features of this conflict is its seemingly endless capacity to spiral into greater depravity. Both sides have butchered and brutalised one another in a fashion that would make the Marquis de Sade recoil. At times, it can seem as if each side is competing with the other to adopt more sadistic and cruel methods. When they do, it is ordinary civilians who invariably pay the biggest price.

Even children have not been spared from the privations of this vicious war, as the events in Rashideen demonstrate. Last August, it was the image of Omran Daqneesh, the stunned and bloodied five-year-old boy in the back of an ambulance, which epitomised the suffering of another besieged group: the mainly Sunni residents of eastern Aleppo, encircled by government forces.

To characterise the Syrian conflict as wholly sectarian is reductionist, but factional infighting has become one of its defining elements. The imprimatur of sectarianism is leaving indelible marks across the Levant, tearing the region apart.

Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s embattled president, set the tone for this when the uprising first began in 2011. To undermine the protest movement, he characterised the opposition as Sunni extremists who were driven by sectarian hatred (Assad is from the minority Alawite community; a heterodox Shia sect).

His unaccountable loyalist militia, the shabiha (“ghosts”), brutalised the opposition not just physically but also with sectarian slurs, introducing a caustic and corrosive mood to the uprising. This pathology has continued to metastasise ever since.

The current policy of displacing besieged residents has further enhanced the sectarian aspects of this war. For years, the Syrian regime has used siege warfare to bring rebel areas under control. Once the inhabitants have been worn down, the government moves them to rebel-held areas, away from its sphere of control. In this way, President Assad has consolidated control over important and strategic areas closer to home while edging disloyal elements further away.

Occasionally, new residents are brought in to repopulate evacuated areas, typically from minorities more inclined to support the government. What is taking place is a slow demographic recalibration, in which errant Sunnis are moved to the periphery and loyalist minorities are moved closer to the core.

These transfers are now so common in Syria that a dedicated fleet of green buses is used in the process, and has become an iconic image of this conflict. The buses catch the eye and are used for moving besieged people. Their sanctity is not to be violated. In a conflict that has ignored almost every norm, this one had lasted – albeit with occasional violations – until the assault in Rashideen.

There are moments when important leaders appear to transcend the divide. Moqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shia cleric who rose to prominence after leading a militia against British troops in Basra after the 2003 invasion, recently called for Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

In doing so, Sadr became one of only a few prominent Shia leaders to publicly acknowledge Assad’s bloodshed. His comments came after the chemical weapons attack in Idlib earlier this month, which claimed more than 80 lives.

Statements such as Sadr’s have huge symbolic value, but are easily forgotten in the aftermath of the next atrocity. Speaking to the American broadcaster NBC last October, General David Petraeus summed up the mood of many military planners in Washington when he concluded that Syria may have passed the point of no return. “Syria may not be able to be put back together,” he said. “Humpty Dumpty has fallen and again I’m not sure you can piece it back together.”

His comments came even before the most tumultuous events of the past six months, which have included the fall of Aleppo, the emergence of a more empowered jihadist coalition (composed principally of al-Qaeda members), the use of chemical weapons and now the Rashideen bus bombing.

Petraeus’s remarks were prescient. As a result of the cycle of bitter vengeance and retribution, often fuelled by deep sectarian suspicion, the Syrian Civil War will continue its descent into chaos. When Assad first unleashed the shabiha to quash the protest movement, the militia warned the opposition: “Assad, or we burn the country.”

In this respect, at least, it has kept its word. Whoever leads the country after this conflict finally comes to an end will inherit not just the rubble and ruins but a ravaged people, too. 

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

0800 7318496