This morning the New York Times featured an article on David Kato, a Ugandan gay-rights defender who was bludgeoned to death in his home yesterday afternoon. Human rights work in any context entails a certain amount of bravado and the recognition of the reality of risks to health and welfare. Unfortunately, there are those who feel that it is a moral right to exclude, marginalize and oppress people who violate accepted social mores and will commit violence to preserve that right. We have seen this in just about every society on earth, including the United States, where hate based rhetoric and homophobic attacks are commonplace.
In the context of Uganda, this is especially troubling. This reprehensible act not only damages and reinforces traditional western views that African societies are somehow savage, brutal and inherently socially underdeveloped, but also exposes our own failings and intolerance. Uganda’s bill proposes to induce severe penalties including life imprisonment and death for homosexuals. This is well known here in the west. Social liberals view such measures in disgust, social conservative and rightists either publicly or secretly praise such initiatives, hoping to rid society of it’s deviant element. In the end, they wish to secure a power base from which to dictate morality to a country which they view as too forgiving of those those who are different. He who wields the power of God and moral codes, wields infinite power over all.
It has been well established that American Pentecostals were involved in the drafting of the Ugandan bill (which has yet to be ratified in Parliament), uncovering the meddling and irresponsible power of American religious groups in Africa. The particular individuals have since backtracked from their involvement in stirring already existent anti-homosexual fervor in Uganda, but their complicity cannot be denied given that they spew similar hateful rhetoric here in the United States. They routinely reduce sexual minorities to a status less than human and undeserving of basic human rights and respect and set them up as a common enemy to preserve their own status as keepers of society’s moral codes.
With the urging of Ugandan Christian groups, conservative Ugandan keepers of morality and American backers, a sensationalist newspaper media posted Mr. Kato’s face, name and address on the front page of a small newspaper (oddly called “Rolling Stone”) calling for the man to be hanged. No doubt, this was the wet dream of bigots all over the United States. For social liberals, it is a moralistic horror become real.
My limited work with with human rights workers in Malawi should be well known to readers of this blog. While the Secular Humanists in Malawi have claimed that they have not recieved any physical threats, the recent arrest of prolific Nigerian writer and humanist for murder after speaking out on behalf of a rape victim gives me pause to worry. Mr. Igwe runs a fantastic blog on his secular and human rights activities which can be found here. One can only hope that the brutality of Mr. Kato’s death will encourage moderate voices to speak out, rather than silence them with fear.