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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29 replies »

  1. The ridiculous thing about this attempt to blame this issue on colonialism, of course, is that I am sure the Ugandan leaders of this revolting, murderous campaign would furiously deny that
    (a) they were trying to emulate Christian missionaries
    (b) that they based their policies on a colonial legacy
    (c) that this was anything other than traditional African values (which it may or may not be).

  2. This is a good article but it fails to counter one of the Guardian’s talking points: the claim that Western imperialism imported homophobia to Africa.
    While I have strong doubts about the Guardian’s claims on this subject, since these appear to be somewhat dogmatic in structure, nonetheless the article fails to counter this point.
    Speaking as someone who does not have much knowledge of pre-colonial Africa, it would complete the author’s intentions to add a reference to African attitudes to homosexuality prior to the European conquests.

    • wien, I suspect this is not particularly well documented, varied from place to place and is probably not Adam’s area of expertise! I am sure there are students at SOAS who can enlighten us!

    • You make a good point, but my objective was not so much to prove that African homophobia predated colonialism – though it hardly seems possible that 19th century African societies were gay-friendly – but to refute their argument that three American Christians were responsible for the government’s new anti-gay laws. Such a narrative – which denies ‘people of color’ moral agency – can bee seen throughout their commentary on any number of issues.

      • but to refute their argument that three American Christians were responsible for the government’s new anti-gay laws.

        Exactly Adam. The Guardian sees as one of its missions in life, to try to blame the basically socialist rejecting ‘West’ for all the ills of the world. It also clearly presents the Guardian’s ‘colored inverted racism’ in that in their peverted opinion, ‘Ugandans are incapable in deciding for themselves’ such and evil law without the express backing of the bigoted White/European Evangelist pastors.

    • ‘This is a good article but it fails to counter one of the Guardian’s talking points: the claim that Western imperialism imported homophobia to Africa’.

      Until I see a reputable academic source (be it from a historian, an anthropologist or any other relevant specialist) demonstrate a causal link between the arrival of European colonialists and the introduction of homophobic ideas in African societies, I call ‘bullshit’ on that essential proposition. There is as much proof for its validity as there is for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

      It is also the product of an insidious narrative. The point, after all, is that if homosexuality was stigmatised in Uganda during the colonial era, the same was true of Britain. So if you are saying that Ugandans can be brainwashed and inculcated by fifty years of colonial rule, but that Britons can be enlightened enough to go from decriminalising homosexuality in 1967 to accepting gay marriage around half a century later, your attitudes towards the former are at the very least patronising, and at the worst actually racist.

      Imagine a ‘Guardian’ editorial saying that ‘[Insert racist epithet here] won’t accept gay rights because they’re all ignorant bigots, and always will be’. It will kill the paper, so the Kings Place crowd will disguise this with a poisonous ‘post-colonial’ gloss. The implied argument that Ugandans (like Africans) are homophobic because of whitey is ultimately an insult to them. It represents the racism of low expectations.

  3. Just out of curiosity, could someone estimate the percent of the British public who subscribe to the Guardian view of the world?

    • Dave sorry but the answer to your question is that it is almost impossible to estimate the numbers of the British public who subscribe to “The Guardian” view of the World.

      If you look at the average daily print circulation for February 2014 it was 196,425.
      But, because someone buys or reads a borrowed copy of “The Guardian” it does not mean they agree with the paper’s viewpoint.
      If you look at the average daily website browsers, which in January 2014 was just over 5 million, you can be mislead by an inflated number caused by people who browse the site more than once every day. Their web traffic is mainly from outside Britain, which is why their are putting resources into expansion in the USA and Australia.

      • Typo.
        In the last sentence it should be;
        “..which is why they are putting their resources..”

    • What is this “Guardian view of the world”?

      Look at the current homepage. People visit the website for all kinds of reasons and issues quite aside from politics – from food blogs to fashion and feminism to football.

  4. 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.

    And contrary to what some BTLers here would scream: it’s that general anti-West mindset – not anti-Semitism! – that is responsible for some of the G.’s more heinous articles.

    • A reasonable point, but one might ask why, for example, there is so much (and so much negative) coverage in the BBC/Guardian of Israel as a “Western” state, and virtually none on, say, the plight of the Aborigines in Australia, or racism in Sweden?

      This is despite the facts that both Australia and Sweden are “Western” states and have far closer links to the UK, and are of far more interest to most of the British public, than Israel.

      • What differentiates Israel from Australia or Sweden is the armed conflict/occupation aspect as well as the geopolitical significance.
        That said: with such a huge focus on Israel at the G., there really ought to be more positive and/or non-political articles from everyday life (and that doesn’t mean yet another quaint Arab coffee shop visit for Harriet!).

        • OK – how’s about Northern Cyprus, then? Britain (including my father z’l) actually fought in that conflict and there are large Greek, Turkish and Cypriot communities in Britain. You would have thought there would be plenty of British interest in what is going on there. Any news coverage of that?

            • I thought I had answered this. You are right, Pretz. My Dad was there, but not during the 74 conflict! I got my timelines muddled *embarassed grin*

              The point still stands, though. Why is the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus ignored in Western media?

    • sometimes there’s reflexive anti-Western (mostly U.S.) beliefs on open display that lead into anti-Israel territory, and sometimes they don’t bother making the hatred of Israel implicit. In addition, a lot of hard Left types–including pretty much everyone who writes for, posts comments at, or in any way is a booster of CiF–go out of their way to either let “good” Westerners who shares their views off their hook, or to avoid bringing up Western issues when they bash Israel (because they either don’t want to piss off more powerful adveraries, or aren’t going to pretend, like you do, that their major problem with Israel is that it’s a Western nation).

    • This is a longer discussion, but you make a valid point. It would be accurate to say that anti-Western politics makes them more prone to legitimizing (or at least ignoring) antisemitism displayed by people they perceive as victims of the West.

  5. To cut it short, just because somebody or people were or are oppressed, they were or are not automatically morally good or politcally progressive, the embodiment of human rights, or anything else the patronising ones imagine in order to uphold their illusion of speaking for the good, and to represent other voices than theirs owns. That`s called ideology in a pejorative sense.

    • This illusion has an important link to the reproach that we as Jews are not Christian angels, after Auschwitz, an observation made, I guess, by an Israelian psychologist.
      Or as Henryk Broder once wrote, the Germans will never forgive us Auschwitz.

    • Quite right, Fritz. IT was this black and white attitude (oppressed = good, oppressor = bad) which led to such historical quirks as America arming the Mujahideen during the Soviet years in Afghanistan (Rambo II anyone?) then bombing the hell out of the same people just a couple of decades later when they managed to kill more Americans than the Soviets ever managed!

      (P.S. before someone jumps down my throat, I know I am over-simplifying, and I do not wish to minimise the awful loss of innocent life in Afghanistan or the US or anywhere else for that matter. I take a slightly flippant tone merely to make the point).

      At least Western governments seem to have partially learned their lesson in the caution they are showing in Syria. It is clear to most independent observers that, however nasty and brutal Assad is, the forces up against him include some pretty nasty, brutal elements too, and to unconditionally support them (as, for example, the opposition to Ghadaffi or Mubarak were supported) could lead to some negative consequences, not just for the “West” but for the lives, freedom and future of the people in the country concerned.

      • You know, black and white is a racist hierarchy which has to be deconstructed, identifying white with good and black with bad, which definitely has nothing to do with day and night, but with racist concepts of oppressors, therefore …

        Nowadays I observe the development of a new esoteric/fairy tale in the academic fields, an offspring of postcolonialism, poststructuralism, gender and other fairy tales, with astonishment.
        Critical Whiteness Studies
        Normally this would be called an update of reverse racism at an academic level, but whiteness is meant metaphorically, meaning the concept of whiteness embodied by anybody regardless of his/her color, but for practical reasons the inventors of theses studies focus on over forty year old males and, by chance, white.
        So it is racism, and not, a double-bind booster for academic careers of racists.
        I am just envious, i must invent something like that and then an academic career is the least I will achieve, besides money made of clips, youtube, tv-shows and complete idiots as followers.

      • “At least Western governments seem to have partially learned their lesson in the caution they are showing in Syria.”

        But Obama is extremely hasty about Ukraine.
        Says all the worst things as well as his administration.
        One of the worst US govt in decades.
        Some would even say the worst US govt period.

        • I disagree with you, Itsik, on both Ukraine and Obama, but that’s not my point. I don’t say that Western governments don’t make mistakes – or that their actions and choices are blameless.