We tend to have a fairly blind spot for Africa in this part of the world. Above and beyond our annoying tendency to think of Africa as a single political entity (rather than a continent with 53 distinct sovereign states – there are only 49 in Europe) , we have an entirely fictitious picture of the continent as a whole. I had drinks a while back with a friend who opined to me that part of the reason Africa had such an economic problem was because it lacked the natural resources that were so abundant in North America and Europe. This is, of course, the product of thinking of Africa as a vast wasteland of desert with slim pickings that require subsistence farming by its various tribes of bushmen. That entire picture is ludicrously false – the problem is that Africans have little control over their abundant natural resources, most of which are owned by foreign multi-national corporations.
As a result of this fractured image, we tend to think of ourselves as having little in common with the African people (aside from the sort of universal things we have in common with all people everywhere). However, we can hang our hats on this little nugget: they hate gay people just as much as we do:
A Ugandan gay rights campaigner who last year sued a local newspaper which outed him as homosexual has been beaten to death, activists say. Police have confirmed the death of David Kato and say they have arrested one suspect. Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper published the photographs of several people it said were gay next to a headline reading “Hang them”.
Hooray, they’re just as hate-filled as we are! Of course, we should be completely unsurprised by this, as Uganda had gone from being a major international player to a haven for the most vile and disgusting attitudes in the world. There is currently a movement afoot to pass legislation that would authorize the death penalty for the “crime” of being homosexual. I watched the leader of this movement on TV a few months ago being asked why he was persecuting gay people. His response (part 1 here, and part 2 here) was very revealing for two reasons. First, he considers the international opposition to the bill to be fueled primarily by colonial interference (which is a real concern in Africa, so I can’t say I blame him). The second one is that this movement is explicitly defended on religious grounds. He claims that homosexuality is “against God” repeatedly, unashamed to wear his Christianity on his sleeve.
I’ve alluded to this before, but Christians aren’t allowed to duck responsibility for stuff like this, as much as they’d like to. This false notion of “loving the sinner but hating the sin” quickly metastasizes into outright hatred like this. I’m sure that the people who are pushing for this bill think that they’re “loving the sinner” too. The problem arises when the “sin” is an inherent component of the identity of the “sinner” – when those two things are inextricably linked, it’s impossible to actually accomplish the things that this kind of cognitive dissonance would dictate. It is for this reason that homophobes repeatedly try to case homosexuality as a choice, or some kind of disease, or something that can be “fixed” through prayer and counselling.
Things are “sins” based only on their necessary outcomes. If homosexuality necessarily results in negative outcomes, then it is absolutely a bad thing. Rape, for example, is necessarily a bad thing because it violates the autonomy and security of another human being. Paedophilia is necessarily bad because it violates the trust of a minor who lacks the ability to make mature judgments. Homosexuality is not necessarily linked to the kinds of things that anti-gay advocates thump as proof of the harm of ‘teh ghey’ – HIV, abuse, promiscuity – these things all happen regardless of sexual orientation.
It’s tragic that Mr. Kato was murdered for standing up for his human right to exist without being imprisoned or executed for being gay. We can’t pretend that the kind of virulent ideas that are promoted by anti-gay activists and “love the sinner” Christians had nothing to do with it. Pretending to do so is simply willfully remaining ignorant and pretending that the murder of gay people isn’t a big enough problem for you to care about.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
What strikes me as particularly bizarre is the idea that opposition to the bill is possibly (or even likely to be) *merely* colonial, but yet the hatred stemming out of Christianity (a religion forcibly imposed upon people across the continent of Africa) isn’t viewed in the same light.
There’s some serious cherry-picking going on. So while I’m sympathetic to the concern of ‘colonial interference’, the internal inconsistency of application of such a concern inclines me to believe that it’s merely in play as a smokescreen, rather than a sincere concern.
I disagree with your assessment, Brian. One cannot downplay the deep psychological scars that colonialization has left in the continent of Africa. The political map of Africa was drawn by colonial powers. Many of the “countries” in Africa were established based on the convenience of European powers, and are in no way reflections of true national identities. In addition, generations of political, economic, and social interference by foreign powers have rendered a sense of “chez nous” essentially impossible.
I too find it curious that Christianity isn’t regarded as a foreigner’s religion, but Islam isn’t native to the vast majority of its followers either, so that’s a general puzzle rather than one that is unique to Africa. I don’t see the two as being hypocritical, given that much of national and political ideology falls explicitly across religious lines. Homosexuality is described by many (including David Bahatia, repeatedly) as “un-African”.
I suggest watching Rachel Maddow’s interview with David Bahatia – this isn’t a man using a smokescreen; he passionately believes in and is deeply suspicious of the influence of outsiders. Maybe that has been fostered by the same outsiders he fears, maybe he arrived at the conclusion himself. I don’t think it’s a dodge.
I’m certainly not dismissing the effects of colonial interference in general, nor am I indicating hypocrisy: just inconsistency.
The reason that this seems puzzling to me is that the *foundation* of the problem appears to stem from Christianity (and yes, I realise that homophobia can simply be a socialized phenomena that is post-hoc rationalized by Christianity, but that (in and of itself) further exacerbates my confusion): it seems bizarre to me to reject foreign influence on the one hand, and yet endorse it on the other.
I realise, of course, that these two forms of foreign interference are temporally different (the fear of contemporary interference vs the influence of historical interference).
But to express myself another (possibly more productive) way: this seems to be a way that the activists in Uganda could push back against this vitriol, by pointing out that the Christianity upon which this bullshit is currently being founded is as foreign as Bahatia claims that the external anti-anti-gay rhetoric is. This would seem to me to be a possibly way to neutralize some of the anti-gay rhetoric.
(apologies if I’m getting names wrong. I’m in a blenz and don’t have access to youtube, so I’m assuming that Bahatia is making these claims)
I’d imagine that argument to be fairly persuasive in a rules-bound debate. We are not here dealing with such an animal. We are instead dealing with a group of people who, as many oppressed people do, appeal to religion for succor. Christianity is, to many Ugandans, the sine qua non of African identity. To decry it as foreign would be a non-starter.
I have no doubt that this is homophobia masquerading as religious belief – a cycle that tends to feed itself. However, when you have the international community rise up and say “Africans should not have the right to pass their own laws” which is certainly how Mr. Bahatia sees it, it adds an entirely new layer to an already knotty problem. He is mistaken, to be sure, and he is a repulsive human being, but he has demonstrated his fear of colonial oppression clearly. He certainly doesn’t see the ideological support he gets from Christianity as foreign, although you are correct to note that it is in fact.
Interestingly, there is a pastor who is doing something very similar.
I remember that posting, and I liked it a lot. While I think everyone, everywhere, is likely to be better off with a complete removal of religious nonsense from their lives, as an interim step I think the progressive religious folk need to start taking back their narratives and not allowing them to be exclusively used by the scumbags.
I mean, what are the scumbags going to do, argue that the progressives have no empirical basis for their claims?