Friday January 10 2014

Why impose a dominant set of moral values upon all of us?

By Nicholas Opiyo

The recently passed Anti-Homosexuality and Anti-Pornography Bills represent a moral panic in certain sections of the Ugandan society, which threatens to assert a dominant set of moral values upon us all. This is championed by ultra-Christian and ultra-traditionalist brigade, who have incrementally captured the State. National prayer breakfasts with visiting American pastors are now an annual event held at the expense of taxpayers in spite of the fact that Uganda is a secular State.

This ultra-Christian and ultra-traditionalist have now transferred their crusade to the creation of a purist State of moral uniformity enforced through legislation. In so doing, they sought to create a moral police in the same measure as Saudi Arabia Mutaween (religious police) and Israel’s modesty patrols.
In the Anti-Pornography Bill, an Anti-Pornography Committee complete with a secretariat at the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity is created with sweeping powers for enforcement of moral values. The committee is clothed with powers to detect and prohibit pornography; apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of pornography; collect and destroy pornographic materials with the help of police; promote the rehabilitation of individuals, groups, families or communities affected by pornography; expedite the development, acquisition and installation of effective protective software in electronic equipment such as computers, mobile phones, and televisions for the detection and suppression of pornography.

In the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, everyone is appointed a moral police to report anyone they suspect or known to have a different sexual orientation and any failure to report is punishable by jail term upon conviction. Doctors, lawyers and other professional bodies that have hitherto enjoyed client-professional confidentiality will have to forget about it if they want to avoid jail term.

These sorts of laws that seek to create moral purity and domination are common in religious fundamentalist and intolerant societies. In societies where individual liberties are cherished, these sorts of laws are frowned upon. In repressive societies, however, pastors and the like dance and sing in national assemblies when they are passed.

In Muslim Saudi Arabia, a commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is established for enforcement of Sharia law. The commission implicitly endorses the operation of the Mutaween who are responsible for, among other things, making sure that men and women who are spotted together in public are related, checking that women are appropriately dressed, enforcing Muslim dietary laws and preventing the population from engaging in ‘frivolous’ Western customs such as Valentine’s Day.

In Israel, the modesty patrols, a gang of the ultra-orthodox wing of Judaism, patrols neighbourhoods and uses intimidation and violence to ‘preserve the modesty of women’ who wear pants and commit acts of outrage.

Uganda may be far away from becoming Saudi Arabia or Israel, but with the proposed Anti-Homosexuality and Anti-Pornography laws, we are on a dangerous path; a path in which a moral belief or value of a section of society is forced upon all and those who disagree, consigned to jail term.
Laws of the kind, in my humble submission, run contrary to the general objective of regulation, which is to protect a public not private interest. For instance, anti-pornography laws around the world have been crafted in manners as to restrict access, prevent violence and limit unwanted exposure, especially to infants rather than create a non-consumptive society. Sale of pornographic materials are restricted to the appropriate age limit, TV programmes have parental control.

In the UK, for instance, adult pornography newspapers are sold in appropriate places and pornography is criminal only when it is violent pornography. Violent pornography under the UK law include things such as strangulation fetishes, blackmail and forced/coerced participation.

The need to free the State from this state of capture will be important if citizens are to live in diversity and in the enjoyment of inherent rights and freedoms.
Mr Opiyo is the Team Leader, Chapter Four Uganda -
a civil liberties orgnaisation.