Guilty of hate speech; guilty of crime?

For all my bluster and polemic, I am tormented by a fundamental uncertainty when it comes to hate speech laws. My position on hate speech is unequivocal – I am against it. Spreading hate is abhorrent, and its effects tend to move beyond the words themselves. I am particularly aware of the fact that anti-gay hate speech is part of what is considered civilized discourse in this part of the world, and that the prevailing anti-gay attitude is resulting in serious and often deadly consequences for gay people.

The situation is much worse in Africa:

The South African ambassador to Uganda, a former columnist for South Africa’s Sunday Sun paper, has been found guilty of hate speech for an anti-gay article. South Africa’s Equality Court fined Jon Qwelane $14,450 (£8,920) and ordered him to apologise for promoting hatred in the column published in 2008.

Regular readers will need no reminding about how serious the problems for gay people are in Uganda. Anti-gay hatred has reached the level where people are attempting to pass legislation that would make being gay a jailable offense, with bonus death penalty for ‘repeat offenders’. This is the level where simple hatred has gone beyond privately-held beliefs and entered into the realm of bigotry with the force of law behind it.

However, I am still conflicted over the outcome of this story. The issue with criminalizing speech – any speech – is that it tends to slowly creep toward criminalizing unpopular speech under the guise of labeling it ‘hate’. Many people would label the kind of vociferous criticism of religion that appears on this and other atheist websites as ‘hateful’. Much of this comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the word ‘hate’, some of it comes from the inability to separate a criticism of ideas from a criticism of those that hold those ideas, and some of it is the knee-jerk reaction that happens whenever religious is lampooned.

My concern, therefore, is partially selfish. Even if I were given the opportunity to explain the difference between criticism of sacred ideas and ‘hate speech’, it’s unlikely that judicial authority or the court of public opinion would buy the argument. Popular ideas need to be criticized, because they are the ones that are most often accompanied by legal authority, even when they are wrong or harmful. They are also the least likely to be examined critically by those that agree with them a priori. Punishing those that express criticisms serves to chill fair and open-minded scrutiny.

This example, however, is not a question of fair and open-minded scrutiny. It is a question of victimizing a group of people based on intentional lies and distortions of a segment of humanity whose ‘critics’ don’t want to understand the other side of the story. Those kinds of criticisms are not the kind of thing we think of when we talk about protecting free speech – we think of it in terms of ensuring that police forces aren’t allowed to shut down protest against a corrupt government. However, that idea assumes that popular opinion is on one side of the issue, and the authority is on the other side. I have no doubt that Mr. Qwelane sees himself as standing up against the ‘gayification’ of Africa, and thinks that his is a noble cause.

There is another issue that doesn’t seem to filter into the discussions of hate speech laws – the issue of whether or not they work. This is a real scientific question I’d like to see answered: does the existence of legislation against hate speech reduce its incidence or effect? I’m inclined to think that while fines or prison terms might prevent people from going out in the public square and screaming hateful things in front of police officers, it will not meaningfully reduce the amount of hateful speech spoken among individuals or in groups. We know from observation that while explicitly racist speech is wildly unpopular, there are other ways of conveying the same ideas without saying the words themselves.

I can see the appeal in banning hate speech, because it seems like a tidy way of disposing of a problem. However, there are no quick and easy solutions to systemic problems such as anti-gay homophobia or racism. Hate speech laws are very tempting to abuse, especially since they can be ushered in with high public approval ratings. After all, they are brought in with the very best of intentions:

“We are hoping really that this finding will send a message to community members, a message that says gay and lesbian people have an equal right to the protection of their dignity,” said Vincent Moaga, spokesman for the South African Human Rights Commission, which initiated the complaint against Mr Qwelane.

But there is no real evidence that, beyond donating the proceeds from the fines to LGBTQ advocacy groups, criminalizing hate speech reduces it. More likely, it just makes the identification of hate speech more difficult as bigots learn to adjust their language. And then, as the lines become more and more obfuscated, more and more types of speech are classified as “hate” until even legitimate criticisms are subject to punishment.

My conclusion on this is that, absent of empirical evidence that hate speech laws reduce the amount of hate speech or have a meaningful impact on the climate of hate, coupled with their potential for abuse and the fact that they violate human rights to free speech, I cannot support them. However, I think there is value in identifying hate speech and making it clear that governments and other large organizations aren’t okay with it. Like when Laura Schlessinger did, well… whatever you want to call it… she wasn’t sanctioned by the government or fined – she was just made to leave.

As I said, I recognize that there are many weaknesses in my position, and I am open to evidence showing that laws against hate speech are useful or warranted, but I suspect such proof won’t be forthcoming.

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Movie Friday: Sodom and Gomorrah

Anti-gay agitators like to bring up a particularly monstrous story from the bible (and there are many to choose from) as an example of God’s perfect mercy. They use this story to demonstrate that God is not okay with buttsecks, or really anything that isn’t face-to-face vagina/penis intercourse with the lights off and while a woman is ovulating. Rather than trying to retell it in my own inimitable style, I’ll let The Professor Brothers do it for me (video and audio NSFW):

They kind of leave it as a tease at the end, the way that the tribe gets repopulated. Let’s just say that for the (by my count) third time so far in the book, Yahweh is super pissed off that people do things against his will, but has zero problems whatsoever with incest.

Yahweh also seems to be a bit of a plagiarist, unashamedly ripping off the tragic climax of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and adding an oddly (un?)savoury twist. Just another example of where the Bible seems to encourage completely blind faith over reasonable skepticism or even human decency: surely Lot’s wife (who apparently doesn’t deserve a name) had some friends in town whose fates she was upset about; apparently Yahweh’s not big on compassion either.

So this is the example we’re supposed to hold up – the rigorous moral standard that we poor wretched sinners can’t ever even hope to aspire to, save through the oddly-specific requirements of Jesus. We are to villify gay people (not rapists, incidentally – anti-gay crusaders will specify that the crime wasn’t rape, but secks in teh butt) because they are more evil than a mass murderer that permits drunken incest but whose wrath is so moved by a single moment of doubt that he will transform you into a kitchen condiment?

You are right to laugh.

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Willfully blind

There is a particularly frustrating argument out there that seems to come out of the liberal tradition, but has been readily adopted by conservatives as well. The argument is that paying attention to a thing is inherently discriminatory. For example, in discussions of race, otherwise well-intentioned people repeatedly make the claim that noticing race is the problem, and that if everyone just ignored it the problem would solve itself. This makes a sort of superficial sense, as long as you don’t think about it too much. The problem is that colour-blindness is a failed idea – failed because there are real disparities that fall along colour lines that aren’t solved by allowing the status quo to perpetuate. Simply ignoring the problem doesn’t lead to a more equal world, and helps create an environment where racism can become more deeply entrenched.

Critics of outspoken atheists often make a similar statement – why not just live and let live? It’s one thing if you don’t believe in a deity, but why do you have to go shouting your disbelief from every rooftop? Why not just let people believe whatever makes them happy? Once again, provided you don’t put any thought into the implications of the statement, then it seems to make sense. However, it neglects the fact that belief is assumed (in our culture) to be normal, and disbelief to be aberrant. It neglects that people make decisions that affect other people based on their beliefs, and those are often very negative. It neglects, most of all, that the truth is important and worth understanding as best we can. The balloon of faith needs to be punctured as many times as possible by the arrows of logic (why are we shooting arrows at a balloon?)

In the backlash of a lot of the anti-bullying campaigns that have cropped up around America and in various other places around the world, we’re hearing another version of this argument pop up as a rejoinder to focusing attention on helping ensure gay kids don’t kill themselves. “We should focus on all bullying, not just gay kids. Straight kids get bullied too – concentrating only on this one group is unfair!” As with the above two examples, this objection makes a kind of superficial sense, so long as you don’t put any thought into what you’re actually saying. First off, there are already lots of anti-bullying campaigns that don’t focus explicitly on straight kids – it’s not as though only gay kids are getting any attention. However, gay kids are far more likely to be targets of bullying and disproportionately represent a suicide risk when compared to straight kids. It’s like saying that providing cancer care is unfair because some other people have heart attacks. When we have a bigger problem, we need to pay more attention.

Beyond the simple reality that anti-gay bullying is a disproportionately larger problem than bullying in general, there are issues that are germane to gay kids that don’t make much sense except in the context of homosexuality. Imagine telling a Pakistani kid that’s catching a lot of racist shit at her school the inspiring story of how Rosa Parks stood up against slavery; the allegorical relationship to her situation is so tenuous as to be essentially useless. Any public health advocate will tell you the importance of balancing general health approaches (clean water, vaccination campaigns, ad campaigns) with targeted health promotion approaches that reach out particularly to high-risk populations. Much can be done when these two approaches are taken in concert, but recognizing a population’s specific needs is not discrimination against the majority.

If I were to speculate on the motives for people making this flawed argument, particularly in the last case, I cannot help but conclude that these people are intentionally being stupid about this issue; refusing to entertain any sort of rational thought on the subject because they’ve already reached their position and are not looking for anything other than confirmation. That is certainly the case in South Africa:

The brutal killing of a South African lesbian activist has been condemned as a hate crime by Human Rights Watch. The US-based group has urged the police to do more to find those responsible for the recent murder and rape of Noxolo Nogwaza.

South African police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi says that the police prioritise violence against women and children but do not look at sexual orientation when carrying out their investigations. “To us, murder is murder, whether somebody is Zulu, English, male or female – we don’t see colour, we don’t see gender,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

If I were to give the police the benefit of the doubt, I would interpret this as them saying “no matter who is killed, we will do our absolute best to solve the crime. We will not work less hard because of the sex or orientation of the victim.” I’m sure that’s what they hoped they were saying. However, the cynic in me can’t help hearing “so a gay person got murdered… people get murdered all the time! Why is she special?” In this case, and in the case of most hate crimes, the effects of the crime reverberate far beyond the simple act of murder – it sends a message to anyone else that would think to step up and advocate for gay South Africans: “this is what happens when you speak out.”

So while I recognize the shallow appeal of the admonition to just “treat everyone the same”, that kind of approach inevitably benefits the status quo at the expense of the minority. We must recognize that different groups may have particular needs, and if we want to achieve ultimate equality we must, at least for a time, swallow a bit of inequality.

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I get e-mail

Crommunist is still mad at you. I’ll be back from hiatus when I feel like it.

Last week, I pointed out what I thought was a really cool story in the news:

A [city] church has voted to stop signing marriage licenses in protest of the state of [state]‘s denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Douglass Boulevard Christian Church made the unanimous vote Sunday. The Rev. Derek Penwell, senior minister of the church, said it’s unjust that heterosexual but not homosexual couples can benefit from marital rights involving inheritance, adoption, hospital visits and filing joint tax returns, saving thousands in annual taxes.

The Douglass Boulevard Christian Church in Lousiville, Kentucky (yes, that Kentucky) decided to do something courageous. Today I got an e-mail from a representative at the church:

Greetings,

We want to thank you for your kind words of support. We have been humbled deeply by your support and the support of countless people like yourself that have found hope in the action Douglass Blvd. Christian Church took on April 17, 2011.

We pray this message finds you well and ask that you continue to support us in prayer. The day has not arrived that all in the family of God are equal. Until that day arrives it is our hope that we as a community of faith continue to be instruments of Gods love, Gods peace and Gods love.

Blessings, Rev. Derek Penwell, Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan & the members of Douglass Blvd. Christian Church

For the record, I am not going to join them in prayer. I will do something only slightly less useless – publicize it on my blog. God’s peace is kind of hilarious, considering the number of religious wars currently going on in the world, and I’m not sure why God’s love is listed twice, but I’ll pass all the same. Still, I will give credit where it’s due, and all the deity babble aside these guys have done something truly incredible.

Well I’ll be…

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – something will happen that catches me completely by surprise:

A [city] church has voted to stop signing marriage licenses in protest of the state of [state]‘s denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Douglass Boulevard Christian Church made the unanimous vote Sunday. The Rev. Derek Penwell, senior minister of the church, said it’s unjust that heterosexual but not homosexual couples can benefit from marital rights involving inheritance, adoption, hospital visits and filing joint tax returns, saving thousands in annual taxes.

A Christian church defies not only public opinion but state law to support gay rights. In what bastion of freedom-hating, Democratic liberalism did this happen? Oregon? Massachusetts? Connecticut?

Kentucky.

In 2004, Kentucky voters passed an amendment to the state constitution by a three-to-one margin, banning same-sex marriage and unions and reinforcing what had already been state law. Large religious groups were among the drivers of that amendment, with endorsements from leaders in Kentucky’s two largest denominations — the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. The state’s largest congregation, Southeast Christian Church, ran an advertising campaign before the referendum, promoting traditional marriage. Some congregations, however, support the right of same-sex couples to marry and will perform same-sex ceremonies in their services, even though they have no legal standing in Kentucky.

While the gesture is symbolic, it certainly injects some measure of dissonance into the narrative that you can’t be a good Christian and support gay rights. Especially in the American South, with its deeply-entrenched conservative Christian tradition – and the mountains of bigotry that go along with that – someone taking a stand against the tide of anti-gay hatred is a rare and welcome sight indeed.

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Good Idea; Bad Idea – the gay edition

And now it’s time for another Good Idea; Bad Idea

Good Idea: Providing counselling and other support to gay kids to reduce their risk of killing themselves

Several international studies have found higher attempted suicide rates among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth compared with heterosexuals. Overall, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 24, researchers say. The study in Monday’s issue of the journal Pediatrics found LBG youth living in a social environment more supportive of gays and lesbians were 20 per cent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in environments that were less supportive.

I am not gay, nor have I ever had any serious questions about my sexuality or gender. Due to what I hope is just a weird set of coincidences (rather than a subconscious bigotry), I’ve never had any close gay friends. As a result, it’s difficult for me to truly empathize with gay youth. Insofar as being a young person sucks in general, I can connect to my own struggles to establish my identity and my feelings of alienation, but to add to that being a gay kid in a society that still treats being gay as an “alternative lifestyle” rather than simply the way some people are (although, to be sure, this is changing rapidly) – it’s got to be extra tough to be a gay kid.

So perhaps it is unsurprising that living in an environment where you constantly have to question and hide a part of who you are – from friends, from family, to even have to deny it to yourself – makes gay kids more likely to turn to self-harm and suicide. Conversely, being in a place where being gay is seen as just another facet of a person’s identity – like their race, height, sense of humour, whatever – must take an enormous amount of pressure off of gay kids. It would, at the very least, remove some of the alienation and feeling of “otherness” that can come from a non-supportive environment. At its best, it helps balance out the hateful speech coming from various corners of society – equating homosexuality with unforgivable sin or some sort of deep character flaw.

Bad Idea: Sending gay kids to correctional camps to ‘fix’ them

Sixty-six Muslim schoolboys in Malaysia identified by teachers as effeminate have been sent to a special camp for counselling on masculine behaviour. They are undergoing four days of religious and physical education. An education official said the camp was meant to guide the boys back “to a proper path in life”.

Ah yes, we can always count on Malaysia to drag humanity kicking and screaming back into the dark ages – when men were men, women were women, and fags were persecuted and killed for having the temerity to try and live like everyone else does. It is stuff like this that makes me cringe any time someone raises the idea of promoting “traditional gender roles”. For many people, there is no conflict between how they behave naturally and what tradition would dictate. However, there are many others that strain against the expectations of historically-established behaviours. This isn’t simply a matter of education or conditioning; forcing yourself to rebel against instinct – especially in something as fundamental as sexuality, a characteristic that underpins the entire human experience – can be incredibly disruptive.

Picking young kids out of school and sending them to gender re-education camps as a way of stamping out ‘teh ghey’ is about as egregious a breach of trust and duty of care as you can get. The news report suggests that the children are attending voluntarily, but you’ve got to question how ‘voluntary’ it could possibly be when you’re being singled out by your teachers and coerced by your parents for being a little too queer. Of course we know at this point that religious education is almost useless in changing gay kids straight, and gay people can also be in typically “manly” professions – education has nothing to do with it. This is simply psychological abuse perpetrated against those who are the most vulnerable.

I do pick on Christianity for a variety of reasons – chief among them being that I am most familiar with it, and it is constantly all around me. However, for all its flaws as a movement, there are at least some moderate/liberal elements within Christianity that help balance out the more destructive factions. Islam, at least outside of North America, doesn’t have anything that approaches a moderating force capable of balancing out such blatant hatred and stupidity. However, to be fair to the good people of Malaysia, there does appear to be some backlash within the country:

But the women’s minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, said singling out these children based on perceived feminine mannerisms was traumatising and harmful to their mental health. The camp violates the Child Act, which protects children without prejudice, she said.

Once again, it is the women to the rescue. This should help clear up any potential confusion over why I, a straight, cissexual (identifying with the gender into which I was born), man would spend so much time talking about women’s issues and gay issues – because I am not completely insulated from what happens to other people in the world. Despite the various flavours of privilege I might enjoy, I’m still acutely aware that not everyone sees the world through the same lens I do.

When we fail to protect those that don’t count themselves among the majority, we invite those same to fall through the cracks of our neglect.

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The hypocrisy of the religious right

Crommunist is back from vacation, but still slowly putting his life back together. I will be posting something every day, but don’t expect it to be up to my usual standard until next week.

So obviously this title will raise exactly zero eyebrows among those who have read my previous discussions of religion. I find so many aspects of religious expression hypocritical (accusing atheists of arrogance whilst insisting that the universe is created specifically for them, accusing others of immorality whilst maintaining a hideous behavioural track record), there is one form of hypocrisy that I find unique among the political right wing:

A florist in Riverview, N.B., is refusing to provide wedding flowers to a same-sex couple, according to the event’s planner. After agreeing to provide the flowers for a wedding, Kim Evans of Petals and Promises Wedding Flowers sent an email last month to the couple, saying she didn’t know it was a same-sex wedding and would have no part of the ceremony. “I am choosing to decline your business. As a born-again Christian, I must respect my conscience before God and have no part in this matter,” the email said.

The religious right has two gods: their own perverted vision of Yahweh as some kind of doting father cum eternally judgmental asshole, and free market capitalism. If one takes even a fleeting glance at the agenda of the Republican party of the United States (and anyone who thinks that Canadian Conservatives are functionally different from Republicans, or that the evangelical wing of the Christian faith is anything other than CPC boosters needs to pull her/his head firmly from her/his asshole and take a look around), one cannot help but be inundated by people who’ve never cracked Friedmann in their lives talking about “common sense economics” and the virtues of small government.

It is certainly defensible to hold these two positions in concert, although it should be fairly obvious that neither one is contingent upon the other. It does not follow, for example, that limited government is necessary because Yahweh deems it so. Conversely, being a laissez faire capitalist who believes in allowing the chips to fall as they may does not lead one down the path to accepting the supremacy of Jesus Christ. The conflation of the two non-overlapping positions is a carefully constructed marriage, match-made by the Republican party in an attempt to get a single-issue voting bloc.

Laissez-faire capitalism dictates that someone should attempt to make as much money from a potential customer as possible, provided that doing so does not break the law (well, strictly speaking it doesn’t, but I’ve never encountered a libertarian or conservative who believes that people should flout the law to make money). Considering that gay marriage is legal in Canada, Ms. Evans is behaving in a decidedly anti-capitalist way by refusing to provide a service to a law-abiding person.

Now I have no proof that Ms. Evans is a conservative. My suspicion in this matter stems from the fact that I have yet to meet any evangelical who does not also immediately grant the superiority of unregulated free markets. If she is not a conservative, she should be strongly condemned by conservatives for being anti-capitalist. However, the comments section overfloweth with supportive comments from her CPC brethren.

Dollars to donuts this is going to soon end up on a Christian website as a “prime example” of religious persecution against Christians.

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Yeah because THAT’S fair…

Crommunist is on vacation this week, so blogging will be spotty. I’m going to make sure there’s at least SOMETHING up every day, but they’ll be short. Things should be back to normal by April.

Fair warning – this post was written whilst VERY drunk.

A revised citizenship study guide for new Canadians released Monday contains a single sentence on gay and lesbian rights, which is a sentence more than in the first version of the book published a year and a half ago. The added material on gay rights — a topic completely absent from the first release of the federal government’s guide in November 2009 — was among several notable additions to the document unveiled by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, including denunciations of violent extremism and forced marriage.

I am usually fluent in the English language. In the state I am currently in, I would barely pass the citizenship test that is the subject of this news post. I am trying to marshall all the cognitive ability at my disposal. Fuck Jason Kenney. Fuck the Conservative Party of Canada.

While it is commendable that  SOME mention of Canada’s gay population made it into the citizenship guide, considering the fact that Canada was one of the first countries to bite the bullet and recognize that gay people are PEOPLE, this should be a selling point; not a shameful thing to sweep under the rug. The CPC is wearing its cross on its sleeve.

Sooo not sober. I blame society.

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Religious chicken and homophobic egg

The three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) get the bulk of the attention in North American media. This is partially due to their immense familiarity and power in the world, partially due to number of believers in North America, and partially due to the fact that they stem from a common root. As a result, the way we think of religion as a concept tends to be coloured by those particular traditions. It is important to note that besides these three, their bizarre offshots (which would include Mormonism, Baha’i, Jehova’s Witnesses, and others), and the so-called “Eastern” religions (chiefly Hinduism and Buddhism), there are a number of religions that are seemingly created uniquely, or at least which weave together a number of other traditions into a new narrative.

Religions like these allow us to examine the way in which humans are able to craft new creation mythologies and rites of worship, and give us a clue into how the older traditions may have gotten their start. Aside from Scientology, which gained its notoriety by systematically making bizarre and grandiose claims while defrauding its adherents of their lives and human rights (which is, I realize, a fair cop for pretty much any religion) and Vodun, which has been mischaracterized and caricatured by Christians into something far more bizarre than anything anyone actually practices, this phenomenon of a completely new religion is probably no better and popularly exemplified than it is by Rastafari*.

Rastafari is a somewhat bizarre patchwork of beliefs, stitching together Christianity, pre-Christian Judaism, African mysticism, post-slavery Afrocentric thought, and the worship of a former political leader in Ethiopia. As a general movement it is mostly harmless, as the main underlying philosophy is an existential exploration of man’s relationship with the divine and with other human beings, often fueled by smoking marijuana. It is, interestingly, difficult to divorce Rastafari from its roots deep within post-slavery Jamaican culture. As such, it is hard to tell where Rastafari ends and Jamaican culture begins, which makes this issue far more interesting:

On November 27th, 2010, protesters in Sacramento, CA gathered outside musical artist Capleton’s reggae-dancehall concert to oppose the violent gay-bashing ideas his lyrics promote.  This wasn’t the first protest against reggae artists calling for violent homophobic acts in their music.  Other reggae artists criticized and boycotted over the last decade for anti-homosexual lyrics include Beenie ManBuju Banton, Sizzla, Elephant Man, T.O.K., Bounty Killa and Vybz Kartel.

A major leader in the campaign against the homophobia found in dancehall music (the reggae spinoff popular in United States and western Europe) is Stop Murder Music, who eventually initiated the “Reggae Compassionate Act”.  This contract requires artists who sign it to preclude all homophobic sentiment from their future music and to vow against further reproductions of prior songs which promoted intolerance or killing of gay individuals—thus ensuring that their music will no longer be subject to boycott.  The original problem that lingers past these artist’s vows of free-but-destructive-speech abstinence, however, is the defense originally used to justify the lyrics:  Homophobia is a cultural, even religious value.

One of the knotty problems when considering the intersection between religion and homophobia (and to anyone who wants to claim that “homophobia” just means “fear of gay people” and therefore doesn’t apply to their particular gay-bashing agenda, please take your pedantry and shove it somewhere uncomfortable – adults are talking) is that there is a real chicken-egg conundrum to resolve. Are people homophobic because their religion instructs them to be so, or does a homophobic society spawn a homophobic religion?

Having been to the Caribbean a handful of times, and having half of my family members being of Caribbean extract, I can claim a bit of familiarity with the culture. As with any group of people among whom machismo and “manliness” is considered a high virtue, homophobia is endemic. After all, what greater abdication of the rightful role of a man could there be than mincing around like a goddamn fairy? Add to this male-centred mentality the extreme anti-gay sentiment of colonial Britain and you have a culture that is richly steeped in the hatred and persecution of gay men (and it is predominantly men – Caribbean lesbians seem to by and large escape the kind of hatred they experience in places like South Africa and the Congo).

It is mostly inevitable that a religion that comes from such a background is going to have homophobic elements. I say mostly inevitable because, by a strict interpretation of Rastafari, there’s really no doctrinal reason why homosexuality is wrong – to get there, one must invoke the Old and New Testaments. Additionally, considering that the reggae prophets of Rastafari (Desmond Decker, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley) chose to spend their time concerned with uplifting the human spirit and avoiding hatred, the focus of contemporary reggae and dancehall music on gay hatred seems like the result of foreign influences rather than something that sprung through the religion itself.

As with the anti-gay movement in Uganda, Iran’s bizarre treatment of its homosexual population, and the simmering hatred of gay people (again, predominantly men) here in North America, this intrusion of homophobia into the cultural expression of Rastafari seems to be the pre-existing anti-gay sentiment of adherents being masked as a religious tenet. Of course this kind of hatred tends to be self-feeding as people come to sincerely believe that YahwAlladdha (or Jah, as the case may be) cares more about where your neighbour puts his penis than He does about you specifically inciting violence against one of His creations.

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*I must insist that people remove the term “Rastafarianism” from their vocabulary – the doctrine explicitly rejects “isms”, and even if you don’t care if they don’t think they’re an “ism”, Rastas find such classification offensive. You don’t call Jews “Heebs” simply because they are descended from ancient Hebrews – there’s no need to be unnecessarily offensive.