18 May 2010

Imposition of Values?

I have had the rant by Mia Kirshner about the arrest of Malawi’s first married gay couple as an open tab open for the past three days. My initial reaction to it was mixed, so I wanted to let it sit with me for a few days before reacting.

Her post essentially expresses her frustration with the fact that the pair have been arrested for breaking the Malawian law against homosexuality. Her argument states that it is a breech of human rights by imprisoning the couple for their marriage.

Next week they are to stand trial. They face up to fourteen years in prison and hard labor. This is an outrage. I am concerned that they will be killed in the prison either by disease or the inherent violence that is part of prison culture.

Something must be done to stop this.

Malawi is a beautiful country and is rich in culture and diversity. This ruling will be a stain on its beauty and richness.

Please. I ask that the international community of activists, the United Nations, politicians in Malawi and international human rights lawyers speak up and help these men.

(Mia’s use of bold)

I will begin by agreeing that the decision to marry between two adults should not be be legislated against or prevented in any way. Two people should have the agency to make a choice in their lives to spend their time with a partner that they feel is right. At the core, I agree with everything that Mia says.

However, I am unable to ignore the fact that I am troubled whenever I hear someone shouting that another country or culture must accept what the person believes to be just. I do not see it as simple as right and wrong when looking at the reality of a nation. Should we condemn the actions of Malawi? Yes. Is it our role to be the parent of every country and wag a finger when they do not do what we like? Not really.

I am a firm believer that change must emanate from within. Malawi is capable of taking care of itself and the action of these two men was done knowing that their action would result in an arrest. They were upfront and public about their nuptials and likely did them publicly as a challenge to the nation’s government. The arrest took place quickly after and now it is the role of activists in the country and from the country to force change with their government.

A petition is nice, but the reality is that it is just a bunch of words. Call me pessimistic, but I do not see it as an agent for change (I am rooting to be proven wrong). Great social change (ending apartheid and American Civil Rights) is locally driven at the core. A pardon or change in policy will not change the fact that countries like Malawi and Uganda have large social oppositions to homosexuality. Certainly a government change will need to happen and can lead to the change of peoples thoughts on the issue, but consider the fact that even the United States has not completely dealt with the issue. We do not imprison married gay couples, we just do not recognize their unions on a national level. No, not the same form of repression but still an overall rejection.

So, let’s support Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza for their bravery in standing up to the government of Malawi. Press should continue to cover what is happening, we must reject homophobia of every kind, and a respect must be given to allow for a country to develop at its own pace. With organizations that report human rights violations, we now are better informed as to what nations are doing. I wish that I had the power to right this situation.

Ultimately, we have to apply this in both directions. How would Americans feel if (insert any country name) decided to tell us how to live (funny, actually the countries that do are the ones we hate the most, like Bolivia, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela (not saying they are right))? It has not been well received and will never be because they other country is not ours and how dare they tell us what to do. We must apply that to other nations when considering what we say and expect. There are certainly cases where action is necessary (Rwanda and Darfur), but intervention can not be used in every case.

To finish, I do not want to or intend to beat up or take cheap shots at Miss Kirshner. She should be upset. If what she is doing currently in Malawi is being done with good aid policy in use, I support her continuing to be involved with the nation. At the very least, I want to complete her piece by saying that there is a lot involved in this issue and one must consider it in a complete way.

I can be a bit long so I wanted to include this comment on the her piece that is a bit inflammatory but I think speaks to what I was trying to say:

The extreme homophobia in Malawi is no different from that obtaining throughout Africa. It is part of the rich culture referred to.

It goes along with many other African cultural niceties like chopping up Albino's for "medicine", cutting off peoples heads to advance business or political fortunes, murdering young children so as to harvest genitals for use aphrodisiacs. The extent of witchcraft is such that "witch finders" make a good living off of denouncing "witches" and then cleansing them , usually by killing them.

Homosexuality is seen as a "white man's" affliction that has been imported to Africa by the colonists and is seen as one of the worst social depravities. Worse by far than raping babies to "cure" AIDS, worse by far than burning children's hands in boiling fat for lacking discipline.

I live in Zimbabwe, not far from Malawi , our own President being of Malawian descent and he is on record as calling gays "worse than pigs and dogs". He brushes past the fact that our first President , Canaan Banana, was a flaming homosexual.

Accepting African culture means accepting all of it and not being misty eyed about the bits you like while ignoring that which is , by western standards, quite evil. The American religious zealots who are pushing their homophobic agenda are pushing at an open door in Africa. The American liberals who think that homosexuality is an innate human right will find their philosophy has very few takers here in Africa.
Update: Post from Alex Engwete calls to cut funding entirely for 'Banana Republics' like Malawi. I agree to the extent that it does not pull the rug out from under people and businesses that are not involved with this and use aid to grow.