In the past day or two, fundamentalist hate groups won a critical victory in their campaign, and are hoping to make gains on their home turf in the United States.
I refer to the signing by President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda of a discriminatory bill which could imprison anyone convicted of “homosexuality” for life. Museveni had delayed signing the bill under pressure from international lobbies, but then made his position very public in a defiant ceremony using his standard critique of neo-colonialism and efforts to invoke medical and scientific quackery to hide his desperate bigotry.
The Los Angeles Times posted a story on the matter on its website, and it was quickly mobbed by comments. Many, many comments said something to the effect that this was Uganda’s problem and that the U.S. should mind its own business, or that each culture has the right to make its own decisions about morality.
What authors of those comments presumably did not know is that the primary proponents of the bill—and earlier version of which called for the death penalty—are fundamentalist hate groups in the United States. Such groups, bringing financial clout and a vicious self-righteousness, are roaming the world in search of receptive ears now that they are on the back foot in the United States.
That they find such ears in places like Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Russia tells us a little something about the character of the hate groups which masquerade as non-profits and do-gooders. What Museveni, Mugabe, and Putin have in common is a tight but never quite certain hammerlock on institutions of power based on violence, intimidation, and a willingness to crack down on or lock up their critics. (When I lived in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, Museveni was ruthless in cracking down on a demonstration in my neighbourhood...minding my own business inside the courtyard of my building, I was tear-gassed, and at least one person was shot outside on the streets as his thuggish police moved in.)
Regimes of this sort, particularly when buffeted by economic problems, have a habit of trying to find an internal or external enemy to turn their people against, lest their constituents start scrutinising their own behaviour. In this case, these leaders get both internal and external enemies. Backed by fundamentalist Christian hate groups, they seek to purge their society of people they label social deviants. And then they can rail dementedly against the external critics of their regime as meddling imperialists, conveniently overlooking the meddling with intent to kill undertaken by the American fundamentalists.
One of the better-known fundamentalists is Scott Lively, who travelled to Uganda to talk about “the gay agenda—that whole hidden and dark agenda”. In 2010, American visitors to Uganda “discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how ‘the gay movement is an evil institution’ whose goal is ‘to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity’”. Their efforts resulted in a proposed “bill to impose a death sentence for homosexual behaviour”.
The fundamentalists played it coyly, disclaiming responsibility for stoking the hatred in Uganda which resulted so directly from their efforts. But having seen the results of those efforts, Lively still proceeded to back Russian effort at discrimination and harassment. Lively himself is an Oregonian who “wrote a book linking gays to Nazism” and put “an initiative on the ballot [in Oregon’ asking voters to discourage homosexuality as ‘abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse’”.
Fundamentalist hate groups claim that they are defending “traditional African values”, an ahistorical claim which ignores their complicity in inciting hatred and violence, which belies the range of sexual identities historically in play in Africa (as elsewhere), and which assumes that the Christianity associated with much of Africa today has always been there, which is manifestly not the case.
Today, mainline Christian churches are in decline in Africa, and it is perhaps no surprise that atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers face discrimination in most of these countries. Similarly, there are (largely unenforced) laws on the books in a range of U.S. states discriminating against atheists, agnostics, and humanists.
And unsurprisingly, the same fundamentalists who are inciting discrimination, hatred, and violence abroad have been advocating for discriminatory legislation in the United States, “essentially forging a national campaign that, critics say, would legalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation”.
Binyavanga Wainana, a Kenyan author who recently wrote about his sexuality, described to the Guardian paper the historical roots of the intense homophobia which now festers in many parts of Africa. “‘In any forum where people discuss the issues—in the media, or in conversation—you will quickly hear almost the exact wording that has been distributed and disseminated in the churches”, he says...That language was no accident. It entered Africa in the late 1980s on the back of the heavily funded right-wing Pentecostal movement, mostly imported from the rapture-obsessed white southern Churches of America. ‘They came in the last days of those dictatorships in the 1980s, and they came with presidential sanction’, he says. ‘From Malawi to Zambia to here to wherever. Those churches talked a lot about obeying your leaders, and about the mortal dangers of decadent influences bringing in abortion and homosexuality”.
The obsession over hatred of homosexuality in the United States undoubtedly has similar connections to the dying dispensation of the Republican Party, which today comprises an unsustainable alliance between the plutocrats and the people those plutocrats suck dry, but who happen to be religious. The plutocrats supply the critical funding, but since we’re not yet at a stage where elections can be bought outright, they also need some constituents, and the fundamentalists supply a good many voters on the right.
The trouble, of course, is that sooner or later the working classes on the right—who suffer as much as if not more from the predations of the plutocrats—will start voting based on important economic issues rather than on social issues that do not affect them. Today, there are unaccountably people who are more distressed by the sight of two men or two women at an altar than they are by the economic inequality which grips our country, and the hijacking of our democracy by the super-rich. But that won’t be true forever.
Today, though, in the same way that Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni, and Vladimir Putin attempt to silence dissent with their savage attacks on the sexual orientation of some of their citizens, the Republican Party is trying to hold together what will ultimately prove to be an untenable alliance by inciting discrimination, bigotry, and hatred against some of our fellow citizens.