Thursday, February 27, 2014

Genocide is imminent. Why is the world sitting back and watching?

Many countries around the world, especially across Africa, seem to be headed towards genocide. Countries such as Uganda and Nigeria have currently reached at least the fifth stage of Genocide Watch’s eight stages of genocide, and indeed calls for public executions and mob violence are already a part of the landscapes of these countries. Discriminatory laws against the group in question have been passed or are being proposed throughout the world, even in the “enlightened” and “democratic” USA. However, the group being persecuted seems to be marginalised across the globe to such an extent that there is no sign of definitive action being taken to prevent what will surely turn into genocide.

This group is the LGBTIQ community. In 38 African nations, being gay is illegal, and in about ten countries worldwide it is legally punishable by death. In most of the world, being gay or transgendered means that you are not given equal rights in your country, and that you are, as many groups before have been, treated as a second-class citizen.

These countries operate under a fundamentally flawed understanding of the concept of democracy, even in the US which ostensibly tries to export democracy to other countries. Democracy does not mean the rule of the singular voice of the majority or those who are powerful within a society, but it means that every voice within a society can be heard and every difference of opinion or lifestyle, as long as it does not harm someone else, should be tolerated and celebrated. Democracy is the very process of considering everyone within every decision, especially the disenfranchised groups within a society. Democracy is rooted in human rights, fairness and equality.

The fact that religious intolerance is being legislated is absurd in multicultural democracies. The laws being proposed in the US are cautious with their wording, attempting not to reveal their bigotry by being dangerously broad. But the blatant homophobia of these laws can be seen in the defences thereof, such as the example of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple due to his “religious beliefs”. Please note that the term “religious beliefs” is used as code for prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and hatred of other groups, and that this defence is never used to deny service to people who contravene other religious tenets such as divorc├ęs, those who have sex out of wedlock, those wearing mixed fabrics, torn clothes or uncovered heads, those who eat pork or shellfish, anyone who shaves, those with tattoos, liars, thieves, those who use the Lord’s name in vain, or other religiously undesirable groups. If this were the case, we might be able to understand certain forms of homophobia as extensions of religious fundamentalism, but often people do not seem to care about any of these other things and seem to especially hate homosexuals. As these laws seem to allow, imagine a Christian baker denying service to Jewish, Muslim or Hindu customers. That would be ridiculous, old-fashioned and bigoted, right?

So why is the gay community so severely disenfranchised and discriminated against even in the modern, so-called democratic world? The answer is extremely complex. It has to do with our instinct to pathologise that which is different within societies, a trend which has long been evident in seeing homosexuality as a psychological disorder or an affliction which can be “prayed away” since it was little understood. It also has to do with the view that the sexual act must fit within patriarchal norms of male penetration of females, as this is viewed as reinforcing the power dynamic which keeps men in dominant positions within society. Importantly, the trend to demonise homosexuality is also a political device, serving as a diversionary tactic within weak or crumbling governments to gain easy popular support within largely bigoted societies.

Whatever the reasons for the widespread hatred of homosexuality, it is clear that the violence, dehumanisation and infringement of freedom and equal rights are a direct affront to international human rights. We need to advocate for this to change. We need to prevent another case of genocide in Africa. And we need to find humaneness and live up to democratic principles across the world.