Andrew Sullivan, on his Atlantic blog The Daily Dish, pointed yesterday to the NYT's a-bit-slow-on-the-uptake account of Uganda's pending anti-gay legislation. The proposed law, the Anti-homosexuality Bill, 2009, introduced in Parliament following a conference last March addressing the "gay agenda," held by three American evangelical activists, could impose the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," plus other penalties, such as seven years' imprisonment for "aiding and abating [sic] homosexuality." Of course, the typo in the latter offense unintentionally alters its meaning quite a bit, and may in fact prove problematic for the bill's proponents themselves—a lesson, folks, on why proof-reading is not to be taken lightly.
Sullivan points out, not without reason, that "What's fascinating is that the rhetoric the Christianists use is the same in Africa as it is in America, but in Africa, the public consensus is so anti-gay already that the consequences of this demonization are felt much more immediately and brutally." It's certainly true that Uganda is, on the whole, a more conservative country than the U.S. is, and evangelical Christianity, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa, has become a juggernaut movement there, one which only seems to build momentum; it's also true that homophobia is widespread. On the other hand, I think that there's a real possibility this bill could become law is probably less an indication of Ugandans' extremism, or susceptibility to the rhetoric of extremism, than it is an indication of the weakness of Uganda's political and legal institutions. Undoubtedly, the crazed zealotry of political theater is as popular in the States as it is in Uganda, and the stage is often as dominated by fringe fanatics—really, whom are we kidding? But that this bill is being taken seriously in Uganda (when it would never be in the U.S.), I think, is not so much a sign of a deep and pervasive hatred of homosexuals amongst Uganda's population as a whole, but rather a testament to the Parliament's vulnerability to being overrun by extremists (U.S. House of Representatives, anyone?), but without any check on their power, and with an utter lack of the open political discourse and independent news media needed to judge them objectively.
The real sin in all of this is committed by the American preachers who bankroll—financially and spiritually—Uganda's anti-gay bigotry, and then, under public pressure at home, avert their eyes and disavow the movement they incited. Sullivan writes:
If a movement is "evil" and trying to "defeat" all families, as evangelicals claim of gays (and Nazis and Communists said of gays), then of course some already predisposed against gays would believe it is essential to identify, round up, forcibly cure or execute this foul threat from within. And yet the Americans now claim they are shocked, shocked! by the results of their strategy.Indeed, David Bahati and the other supporters of this bill are simply following the lead of Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer, the three Americans who organized the March event—and doing so more honestly than these leaders themselves. Sullivan asks of these three men: "Why are these Christianists not following God's literal truth? Or now that they have unleashed a proto-fascist pogrom against gay, bi and trans people in Africa, have they finally come to terms with the actual consequences of what they actually believe?"
I think probably not. Jeffrey Gettleman, in the Times, quotes Don Schmierer:
“I feel duped,” Mr. Schmierer said, arguing that he had been invited to speak on “parenting skills” for families with gay children. He acknowledged telling audiences how homosexuals could be converted into heterosexuals, but he said he had no idea some Ugandans were contemplating the death penalty for homosexuality.As I write above, though, I think it's important to keep in perspective, as we do at home, that the voices of a few, as loud as they may be, and even as close as they may be to effecting real policies with tragic consequences, still do not necessarily represent the views of the many. Sullivan points readers to the NYT article's multimedia component, which is definitely worth a visit. In particular, listen to the interview with Haj Medih, a Muslim taxi driver. He says:
I'm telling you, these people are not bad. They are not bad. ... All of us, we are going to die, and we are going to face—our what?—our god, who put us in this country, or in this world. So, if somebody tells that, I'm gay, or I'm homosexual, you leave him—until the day he will die. And he, on the day of the Judgment, he will face, face-to-face, to his god, or to his Allah. But why are you—want to punish somebody? You are not a god. Eh? You are not a god. So why are you telling somebody that I'm going to punish you—or to kill you. Do you know how to make people, to put them in this world? Are you the One? Are you the One? And I'm telling you, the president can come and say, "Okay, let us leave that—let us throw that bill in the dustbin."