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Feb 14 2012

All that is old is new again

I don’t really like suspense movies. I think they’re wildly inaccurately named, because they’re about as suspenseful as an egg timer. The plots tend to be mundanely formulaic, and the “startling” moments can often be predicted within a 5-second window – not exactly shocking stuff. One of the most common tropes within the horror genre is the moment where the monster/killer/villain falls under a hail of bullets/magic spells/thrown puppies and appears to be finally defeated. Tentatively, the hero inches toward the prone corpse and nudges it to ensure that it’s really dead. Relieved, ze walks away. The camera cuts to the face of the villain, whose eyes suddenly and “dramatically” open, revealing that the evil has only been temporarily slowed, not ultimately defeated.

As trite and cliche as these moments are, we do see parallels in our political life:

A Ugandan MP has revived a controversial anti-gay bill but says the provision for the death penalty for some homosexual acts will be dropped. A BBC correspondent says MPs laughed, clapped and cried out: “Our bill, our bill,” when its architect David Bahati reintroduced the draft legislation on Tuesday. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was shelved in 2011 after an international outcry. It still increases the punishment to life in prison for homosexual offences.

Yes, the infamous “kill the gays” bill has once again reared its disgusting and bigoted head in Uganda. Fueled by endemic homophobic attitudes, anti-gay rhetoric from the United States, and a (somewhat justified) paranoia about colonial control of an African democracy, lawmakers in Uganda are trying to revive a bill that received widespread denunciation from the international community. Interestingly, though, the bill does not have the support of the government:

Uganda’s government has defended its right to debate an anti-gay bill but says the draft legislation does not have official backing.

(snip)

Mr Bahati told the BBC that for procedural reasons, the original text had been resubmitted but that it had been agreed that the section calling for the death penalty would be removed when it was discussed by a committee of MPs. The UMC said the bill proposed by Mr Bahati, who leads the ruling party’s caucus in parliament, did not enjoy the support of the prime minister or cabinet.

Of course it is perhaps little comfort to those gay Ugandans to know that while their rights are being voted away and their private lives criminalized, the government doesn’t actively support that process. I can only imagine what it must feel like to feel the warm swell of international support for your rights as a minority, only to see another attempt to steal those protections snuck in when the furor dies down. But just like in a horror movie, as soon as you think it’s safe is when the monster returns to life.

And it’s not just happening far afield:

A Conservative MP is calling for a special committee to examine when human life begins, a call opponents say is an excuse to reopen the debate over abortion. Stephen Woodworth, who represents the Ontario riding of Kitchener Centre, has filed a motion in the House of Commons to form the committee. Woodworth says Canadian law is based on a 400-year-old definition imported from Britain that says life is considered to start once a baby is born and no sooner. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to reopen the debate, but his backbench MPs have so far been free to raise the issue.

So this might seem familiar to those of you who have been reading for a while, but this is actually a different MP (albeit from the same party) raising the same issue. It seems odd that despite all of the Prime Minister’s vaunted control over his party, and his repeated protestations that he has no interest in debating abortion rights in Canada, these kinds of things keep happening. It suggests to me two possibilities: 1) that he is secretly trying to spark a national debate by funneling ninja/ventriloquist comments through his backbenchers; or 2) that his control over his party is slipping as the fiscal conservatives and social conservatives begin their inevitable fracture. I tend to side with #2, but they’re both possible.

And it seems this vintage insanity is not confined to just the ruling party:

Some federal Liberals fear single-issue pro-lifers are trying to hijack their weakened party. Their fears have been stoked by the apparent re-emergence of a group calling itself Liberals for Life, which is promoting Trifon Haitas’s bid to represent the party in a March 19 by-election in Toronto-Danforth.

(snip)

The group seemed to disappear after 1992, when Liberals gave their party leader the power to appoint candidates — a move aimed squarely at pre-empting takeover attempts by single-issue groups, although it was eventually used for other purposes. However, at last month’s Liberal convention, delegates expressed concern that conditions are once again ripe for an attempted takeover by single-issue groups, given that the party was reduced to a historic low of 34 seats in last May’s election. Party officials estimate Liberal associations are dormant in some 80 ridings across the country and weak in many others.

I suppose I should insert a sneer at the absurdity of calling one’s self “pro life” but opposing access to safe abortion services. Then again, understanding the hypocrisy that provokes the sneer requires a sense of irony that I fear is lacking in the intended audience. Suffice it to say, I find the Orwellian “Liberals for Life” doubly stupid: restricting individual liberties is, by definition, illiberal and since banning abortion does not reduce the number of abortions taking place (just the number of safe ones), there is no life saving happening at all. To the contrary, in fact, as women pursue unsafe abortions and are thereby put at higher risk of infection and other types of medical events.

So it seems we must fight these battles again, because the forces of stupid are never completely wiped out, they are just temporarily removed from the battlefield. Their inexorable return to haunt us should surprise us no more than the 15th return of Jason Voorhees.

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10 comments

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  1. 1
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    Depending on how tightly you define “human,” human life began around half-a-million years ago, more-or-less.

    But really, I am the result of an unbroken chain of life almost 4 billion years old. The gametes which formed the individual me were no less human than the living cells that make up the fully-formed me, as were the reproductive organs in which they originated.

    “When does life begin.” What a stupid question.

    It hasn’t ended yet.

  2. 2
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    And on a completely different note, I find it odd that the same folks who are against abortion are also against the things that reduce the number of abortions: sex education and free access to contraceptives.

    It’s like they’re setting women up to fail.

  3. 3
    jolo5309

    I agree with you on the possible split in the CPC. The social conservatives have lost on many fronts (particularly in gay marriage and abortion rights) to Stephen Harper’s pragmatic conservatism.

  4. 4
    David

    Fiscal and social conservatives… separated? I would never in my wildest dreams even have considered that happening. I hope you’re right as I can only see that as being a “good thing”. At least it seems to me that it would restore power balances, and hopefully cut back on the number of people that think the Liberals and NDP need to form a similar super party.

  5. 5
    Anthony K

    and a (somewhat justified) paranoia about colonial control of an African democracy

    I lived, briefly, in Uganda about thirteen years ago, in an neighbourhood in Kampala that was occasionally described as a ‘gay district’. At that time, there was a push for gay rights, but the backlash wasn’t nearly as strong as it was now. Nonetheless, one saw the same old arguments in the paper, but with the twist that homosexuality was an import from the depraved West, rebutted by researchers and historians who’d assure that homosexuals, if not homosexuality, played important roles in the traditional lifestyles of many tribes.

    But I remember finding a book in a bookstore titled “On the Governance of Uganda” or something like that, written in the twenties, that described each tribe and ethnic group within the country according to stereotype, and thus who would make good soldiers, good police officers, good businessmen, and who needed to be contained and assimilated. It was the most matter-of-factly racist thing I’d ever seen, and that’s when I realised just how deep and recent the effects of colonialism were.

    Woodworth says Canadian law is based on a 400-year-old definition imported from Britain that says life is considered to start once a baby is born and no sooner.

    Woodworth wouldn’t be basing his morals on some 2,000+ year old definitions imported from the eastern Mediterranean, would he?

  6. 6
    Crommunist

    Look at what’s happening in the Republican Party right now. Rick Santorum is a national candidate. This is the social conservative wet dream – someone even more hateful than they are to rally the troops.

  7. 7
    michaeld

    Honestly I’ve always hated the phraseing “when does life begin”. What should be discussed if anything is a “when does a distinct life, separate from the mother’s, begin”.

    Personally I just want the conservatives to mess things up just enough to get ousted next election >.>

  8. 8
    Deen

    Also not likely to cause abortions: gay marriages.

  9. 9
    Deen

    A Ugandan MP has revived a controversial anti-gay bill but says the provision for the death penalty for some homosexual acts will be dropped.

    Oh, yes, instead of “kill the gays” we now have “lock up the gays for life”. Muuuuch better.</sarcasm>

  10. 10
    eric

    One of the most common tropes within the horror genre is the moment where the monster/killer/villain falls under a hail of bullets/magic spells/thrown puppies and appears to be finally defeated.

    Army of Darkness is squarely B-grade material, but it provided a great line for dealing with a seemingly dead villain: “Its a trick. Get an axe.”

    I can’t help but think that this is also good advice for ethical legislators. So you killed some horrible bill. Keep your legislative axe sharp and at-hand. Just in case.

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