Saturday March 1 2014

Stop the name-calling, threats and let’s debate

By David F. K. Mpanga

A lot of what passes for public debate these days is nothing more than a restatement of long standing prejudices. People are not willing to listen, research or to change their minds. Differing views are met with strong and scathing personal attacks. “Outrage” is whipped up and a mob descends upon the holder of any idea deemed heretical. Reputations and careers have been destroyed like this. So people tread very carefully around subjects such as race, gender, religious belief and, lately, sexuality.

This is why I have stayed away from the shouting match that has been masquerading as a debate about the Anti-Homosexual Act The protagonists of this debate tolerate no nuance. If you are against the Act, its proponents label you immoral and un-African. If you are for the Act, its opponents label you an ignorant homophobe.

The proponents of the Bill have now sought to shut up their opponents by making the “promotion” of homosexuality an offence, punishable by a hefty fine and/or imprisonment. Those against the Bill are also threatening the withdrawal of donor aid and the denial of visas to travel to Europe and the United States of America. Yet, as General Dwight Eisenhower said, “Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.”

So where is the truth? Unfortunately for those of us who want to live in a world of clear cut absolutes, it is somewhere in the muddled middle. Is homosexuality a disease or an abnormality? The prevailing scientific opinion suggests that it is neither.

Is homosexuality a sin or a “bad thing”? This very much depends on constantly evolving religious, cultural and political views. The increasingly pre-dominant religious, cultural and political views in the so-called West are tolerant of homosexuality and thus say “no”. The religious, cultural and political trends in Africa are less tolerant and thus say “yes”.

So should homosexuality be unlawful? If the function of the law is to make pronouncements of what is morally abhorrent then the answer is “yes”. But popular morality changes. Not so long ago, Western popular morality condemned homosexuality in terms as strident as those now deemed to be the preserve of “backward” Africa. Further, use of the law to enforce morality can be unduly intrusive.

The Bible frowns upon fornication, masturbation, adultery, polygamy, gluttony, pride, envy and wrath yet none of these sins is a crime in this country. Why not? Because most people agree that the State should not go snooping to find out what consenting adults get up to behind closed doors. The State also does not have the capacity to control or measure adult sexual desire, envy, greed or pride.

The proper role of the law is to protect the weak and the vulnerable from being subjected to physical and/or psychological harm. It is quite possible to enact laws to protect children, the physically or mentally handicapped and non-consenting adults from predatory or exhibitionist sexual behaviour (whether that behaviour be hetero or homo sexual) without outlawing homo or other sexual behaviour between consenting adults.

Put another way, if my family is walking down the street, the law should protect me, my wife and our children from suffering unwanted verbal or physical sexual advances or from witnessing inappropriate sexual behaviour. However, if I am walking down the same street and I imagine what two consenting adults may be doing behind closed doors, the law has no business interfering with the private sexual activity of the two consenting adults to protect me from my hyperactive and invasive imagination.

So those against homosexuality on a moral basis, should advocate for laws that protect the vulnerable from objectively evidenced physical or psychological harm. If you do not want the State prying into your own private sexual activity do not allow your mind to dwell too much on the private sexual activity of other consenting adults. God sees everything and will judge you and others on the appointed day. Remember, He is almighty and needs no assistance in making judgments from you or from the State. I would also urge you to abide by the laws and moral code which prohibit violence, incitement and discrimination against others.

By accident of history, Western culture has become predominant in the world but it should not be assumed to be universal. As Samuel P. Huntington wrote, “In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilisational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous …

Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism.” So I would urge the pro-gay lobby, to spare us the condescending lectures, threats and alarmist propaganda premised in Western universalism. They are counterproductive and feed the misconception that homosexuality is a foreign practice being forced on us by the West. If this is to be a debate, the threats, name-calling, moralising, grandstanding, scape-goating and inciting must stop and the rational exchange of ideas must begin.

dfkm@afmpanga.co.ug
twitter @dfkm1970

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