The Ugandan gay rights crisis and the hypocrisy of the west

March 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

This was written for the African Affairs Network of the University of Sheffield. It also appeared on my HuffPost blog.

The recent bill persecuting gay people in Uganda is caused by imperialistic Western Christian fundamentalists. 

Watching Uganda’s president chuckle as he signed into law a bill that meant life imprisonment for homosexuality and not reporting gay family members a criminal offence was chilling. Many western observers shared an intuition that the West should surely respond in swift and principled manner to this ‘odious’ bill (as Obama described it). Sweden has suspended aid to Uganda and Richard Branson has already withdrawn all investment in the country. “I urge other companies worldwide to follow suit. Uganda must reconsider or find it being ostracized by companies and tourists worldwide,”[1] he said, capturing a commonly expressed opinion held by statesmen and businessmen alike.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6ITGKyllfc

Their well-intentioned responses are misled. Ruthless economic ‘sanctions’ will indiscriminately increase poverty for all Uganda’s – gay, straight, liberal and bigoted. Cutting commercial investment will harm the economy and slashing governmental aid is futile; the vast majority is spent via NGOs, so little direct pressure will be put on the relevant legislators. However, a less draconian and potentially more effective response is available that has received little consideration in the ethnocentric and historically Christian west.

Homophobia is rife in much of Africa and homosexuality is illegal across most of the continent, so much of the western reporting has deplored this regressive law as characteristic of a distinctively African moral issue. But, particularly in the case of the much publicized and criticized law in Uganda, the problem is representative of a recognizably western, institutionalized homophobic narrative which has been financed and facilitated by politicized western religious extremists and justified by some ‘bad’ science coming out of America.[2]

A recent film by called ‘God Loves Uganda’, by Rodger Ross Willis, has exposed in detail the fundamentalists who have been traveling to Uganda in their thousands and investing vast sums of money to insure their twisted religious social agenda is enforced. The social conservatives who have been definitively losing the ‘culture war’ on ‘sexual immorality’ back in America, as gay marriage has been legalized state by state, have now intensified their efforts to spread and legislate their hatred elsewhere – and they see developing nations such as Uganda as the perfect place to install their intolerant and violent interpretation of Biblical law.

Hate preachers like Scott Lively, who have previously written how, “homosexuals [are] the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities”[3] are very active in Uganda. He was instrumental in organizing a conference about “the gay agenda… that whole hidden and dark agenda, and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family,”[4] and just one month later, a Ugandan politician with close ties to American evangelicals introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. Lively was even invited to address the Ugandan parliament for five hours to propagate his violence and hatred.

Following in their footsteps, thousands of young ‘born again’ American evangelicals have been traveling to Uganda in search of adventure whilst attempting to do something that’s “gonna blow god’s freakin mind!”[5] and they have gained influence over politics, business, education and entertainment. There’s something infuriatingly obnoxious and patronizing about white-bred, middle class kids trying to save people afflicted by poverty, war and AIDS with backward and bigoted sexual moral codes. These people and their ‘missionary work’ have “set a fire they can’t quench,”[6] and now Uganda is facing a wave of homophobic violence that these westerners are largely responsible for.

Hate preachers like Lively are in the same category as Anjem Choudary and Abu Qatada – if they were Muslim they would be swiftly labeled terrorists and reprimanded. But Lively and his accomplices like Lou Engle[7] have been permitted to continue propagating violence simply because they are ‘Christian’. During the Bush administration, many American officials actually praised Uganda’s ‘family-value policies’ and directed millions of dollars into abstinence programs.[8]

I recently blogged about the controversial and ordinarily employed term ‘islamophobia’, of which there is no equivalent term to describe and distinguish those who irrationally fear and hate Christianity from those who simply criticize it. But what is not questioned is the fact that the Christian equivalent to the term ‘Islamism’ (dominionism) is hardly evoked at all. Could this linguistic deficiency be revealing of a subliminal cultural prejudice? I think so.

Strains of politicized Islam have seen resurgence in Egypt and recently Turkey, and have received plenty of media coverage. Generally in the west Christianity is less political. But in parts of America, literalist, intolerant and explicitly political Biblical interpretations are prominent, and they are potently dangerous when exported by wealthy and influential zealots who forcefully propagate their ideology in developing, sovereign nations like Uganda.

I see little difference between some Saudi Wahabis that the West labels terrorists (because they fund extremism and violence) and the evangelical Christian fundamentalists doing the same in Uganda, but are labeled ‘missionaries’ instead. They too have an explicitly political agenda and wish to impose archaic, religious conceptions of morality upon diverse and pluralistic population. They see no place for gay people in “God’s kingdom” and have been vigorously promoting violence on the African continent, backed by millions of dollars of donations given in America churches.

Missionaries first went to Africa to “civilize” and “save” the African people. But it was an aggressive form of moral arrogance that manifested as cultural imperialism and has overwhelmed, undermined and eroded many fragile and unwritten African cultures. The American evangelical missionaries who continue this tradition today are some of the most aggressive, ignorant and dangerous yet, and are directly responsible for the Ugandan bill.

The ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims lineage back to Solomon – but European missionaries converted the vast majority of protestant and catholic Christians in Africa today. Islam swept out of Arabia in the seventh century and established a Muslim tradition across North Africa. Later, European colonialists, Victorian enthusiasts, Jesuits and now the equally self-righteous American evangelicals continue to arrived and fuel a monotheistic proxy war being fought out on African soil – a theological war that has recently become very real in the Central Africa Republic and Mali.

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President Museveni of Uganda claims he is asserting himself ‘against western imperialism’, but in reality he is promoting and fostering a pernicious western cultural import. As Jomo Kenyatta famously said, “when the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

Successful diplomatic response from the West to moral and human rights crisis in the developing world are never easy. We must strive to uphold the highly regarded principles of universal human rights, avoiding behaving like cultural imperialists of the past yet also not slide towards cultural relativism. Recent western attempts to ‘punish’ other African nations for human rights violations (such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Sudan) have not often been successful, and have simply pushed these nations closer to China.

In the case of Uganda, it would make more sense for the west to resist harsh economic sanctions that will directly increase poverty and instead address a major cause of the gay rights crisis, which is coming directly from the west. We should begin to question the naive and harmful western evangelical missionaries and punish the most dangerous hate preachers who are so pervasive and powerful in African and continue to openly fund and promote violence and homophobia.

References

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