How a Guardian editorial on homophobia in Africa explains their Israel coverage

Post-colonial ideologies…blame the West (particularly the US and Europe) for the ills of the ‘global South’ or the under-developed world, and understate the criticism of dictatorships and terror groups (or liberation movements). In this political culture, Israel and Zionism (Jewish nationalism) are labelled as powerful aggressors intricately connected with Western ‘imperialism’ and ‘neoliberalism’, while Palestinians are automatically labelled as weak victims. – Gerald Steinberg, Fathom

Though the mission of this blog is to combat antisemitism and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy at the Guardian, at times it’s important to look beyond their reports and commentary on Israel and the Palestinian territories (and the broader Middle East) to fully understand the political persuasion which informs their coverage.

A case in point is a recent official Guardian editorial on Uganda’s new anti-gay law (and similar homophobic legislation throughout the continent) titled ‘Homophobia: hatred carried on a Westernly wind.

Here’s some of their March 9th editorial:

It doesn’t take a team of medical experts, such as that commissioned by Kampala, to establish that homosexuality predates western power in Africa, or to work out that far from encouraging homosexuality, the colonialists exported homophobia, in the form of anti-gay legislation then on European statute books. 

In the case of Buganda, the kingdom that formed the heart of present-day Uganda, the British deposed the male monarch on the pretext that he had a harem of page boys.

More recently, homophobia has travelled with a new band of westerners, the American evangelicals, exposed in the documentary God Loves Uganda, in which toothsome Midwesterners preach their message to Africa. Their influence is immense. As the newly out Kenyan novelist Binyavanga Wainaina has noted, whether “in the media, or in conversation” one can “quickly hear almost the exact wording that has been distributed … in the churches.”

In 2009, as their gay “curing” agenda was discredited in the US, three American evangelicals travelled to Kampala to “instruct” thousands of influential Ugandans on how gay men sodomise teenagers and how the gay movement promotes sexual promiscuity. A month after that, a Ugandan politician introduced a bill to create a capital offence of “aggravated homosexuality”. It is a version of this bill that has now been passed by Mr Museveni, and which will open up hundreds of thousands of gay Ugandans to persecution.

So, are three American evangelicals responsible for anti-gay legislation in Uganda, a country which has been independent for over 50 years? And, did the West export homophobia to Africa?

First, as the Washington Post reported, Evangelical leaders in the US have strongly condemned the Ugandan law. And, as one Evangelical who attended the conference in 2009 argued in response to others blaming his community for the legislation, it’s extremely insulting to the Ugandans to suggest that a few American pastors are so powerful that they overwhelmed the intelligence of an entire government.

Additionally, the Guardian editorial fails to note that homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda.  (What the new law did was greatly increase the sentences for such illegal acts.)

Even more relevant to the debate is a Pew Global Poll published in 2013 which showed that a staggering 96 percent of Ugandans don’t believe society should accept homosexuality, strongly suggesting that the new law merely reflected the existence of strongly held (and indigenous) anti-gay attitudes.  

Further, whatever the moral influence of European colonialism, those who are rightfully concerned with the persecution of gays in the world would have to acknowledge that the problem of homophobia is largely centered in Africa and the Middle East.  Though 51 African and Middle East countries have laws explicitly prohibiting gay sex, there is no country in Europe which has such a law. (Though, tellingly, the last holdout in Europe, which only two months ago dropped its law banning homosexuality, was Turkish-Occupied Northern Cyprus.)

Beyond the narrow issue addressed in the editorial, the dynamics at play whereby the Guardian fails to hold independent African states responsible for reactionary legislation passed by their own legislatures helps to understand the dearth of reports at the paper on human rights abuses committed by Palestinians against other Palestinians.  The criticism we direct towards Guardian reports often focus on their failure to hold Palestinians responsible for destructive behavior and cultural attitudes which are illiberal and inimical to peace – a failure to assign moral agency to Arabs and Muslims which is part of a broader ideological tick.  

Many Guardian contributors seem unable to countenance such a politically inconvenient human rights divide in the world – one fundamentally at odds with their post-colonial divide – and so often resort to the most tortured causation in explaining cruelty and violence meted out by ‘the formerly oppressed’. 

This ideology partly explains why the Guardian associate editor Seumas Milne blamed 9/11 on US foreign policy, why Glenn Greenwald similarly blamed terrorist attacks by American Islamists on “horrific violence brought by the US and its allies to the Muslim world”, and why the Guardian religion blogger Andrew Brown blamed the Muslim persecution of Christians in the Mid-East on “the establishment of the state of Israel and its support by Western Christian countries“.

Genuine progressives, it seems, who advocate passionately for a Palestinian state would have to acknowledge that Israel is by any measure the most liberal country in the region, and would have to address the likelihood that a newly independent Palestinian state – regardless of the merits of the Palestinian nationalist movement – will mirror the misogyny, religious intolerance and homophobia which permeates neighboring Arab states.

However, when you base your political analysis on pre-assigned moral roles – a victims’ casuistry in which the correct opinion is invariably derived by ordering the story by virtue of the powerful vs the powerless – then Palestinians are blameless victims, and Israelis (and often Jews qua Jews) will invariably fail to evoke your moral sympathy.

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