Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
27 August 2010

The Windows of Heaven (and your wallets) are open!

One of the (many) reasons why I am not a fascist or a Stalinist is because I am rather worried that people might begin to think that I am a repressed and self-hating homosexual who is trying to hide his true self by embracing rightwing Christian fundamentalism. If I ever wavered in my commitment to remain a constitutional democrat and if I ever feared that I would fall into the arms of dangerous spin merchants, there will always be people like Mr Errol Naidoo (who is the director of an outfit called the “Family Policy Unit”) to keep me on the strait and narrow (no pun intended).

Errol2

Mr Naidoo (see picture on the left), who has the suave charm of a Verimark infomercial presenter and the fading good looks of a celebrity contestant on Fear Factor, is a busy man. (I must confess, if we were both a bit younger and if he had been a bit more careful about his diet, I might have lusted after his body — if not his mind.)

In an email addressed to his fans entitled, “The Windows of Heaven are Open!, he informs all who wish to listen of his latest exciting escapades and thoughts (I use the latter term rather generously, of course). He informs us that he had spent an “exhilarating” two days in the Kruger National Park with his wife, Arlene (whom he refers to with suspicious regularity). “Being up close and personal with God’s awesome creation — in their natural habitat — is an experience Arlene and I will long remember,” he enthuses.

(Why he had to go to the Kruger Park – instead, say, of going to the local Shoprite in Brackenfell or to an HIV clinic in Khayelitsha – to get close to God’s awesome creation is unclear. I guess the folks who demonstrate their sincere commitment to God by donating buckets full of money to his outfit do not begrudge him this little extravagance. After all, people are dirty, troublesome, sinners who have a tendency to make fun of you, while wild animals never talk back and live in the Kruger Park – which is rather more glamorous than Brackenfell.)

But I digress. In the email, Mr Naidoo (I make no comment about the fact that his surname sounds rather similar to an Afrikaans word often used at Stag parties) has the following to say about his wheelings and dealings with politicians and about our sacred constitutional democracy:

There appears to be a growing sense amongst Christians across the country that God is giving the Body of Christ in South Africa a “window of opportunity” to rise up & impact the nation. Despite all the negative reports in the media, many Christians believe God is supernaturally removing barriers to areas of power & authority to provide access for the influence of the Church.

I noticed this shift in attitude towards the Church since the Zuma administration came to power. My submission on gambling law reform to parliament, my partnership with the Dep Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba to ban internet pornography, and my work to inform government about the dangers of legalised prostitution, all bear witness to a more family-friendly environment.

The liberal media also appear to recognise this shift in attitude toward family values and are openly attacking government for granting access to the “rightwing Christian fundamentalists”. Several hysterical articles appeared in the media recently criticising government for talking to “shady” Christian organisations like Family Policy Institute. Apparently, groups that disagree with homosexuality and oppose abortion, pornography etc, have no right to engage government.

Read this article by so-called constitutional expert and homosexual activist, Pierre de Vos. ‘The return of fake morality’. A similar article by Tony Weaver was published in the Cape Times. When the Mbeki administration suspended South Africa’s democratic principles in 2006, to railroad same-sex “marriage” legislation through Parliament – despite massive public opposition — people like Pierre de Vos and the pro-homosexual media were conspicuously silent! Ironically, this attitude — promoted in the media — is a violation of core constitutional freedoms…..

P.S. Please forward this to a friend

As I do not like sending spam emails, but at the same time do not want people to think that I have anything against poor Mr Naidoo, I decided to reprint the sizeable section of his email above. Hey, Errol, you know what they say: “All publicity is good publicity.” (Or was that rather: “All publicity brings in the bucks?”)

However, it saddens me to note (and I do hope Mr Naidoo and his followers do not take this in the wrong way) that all that time with Gods creatures in the Kruger Park seemed to have affected Mr Naidoo’s ability to construct a rational argument. Mr Naidoo also sadly seems to have lost his memory and has forgotten that we now live in a constitutional democracy (and not in the Christian Nationalist state of the apartheid era).

He seems blissfully unaware that we now have a justiciable Bill of Rights in which the power of the state to oppress people and to discriminate against them based on their personal attributes and characteristics (like their race, sex, disability and sexual orientation) is severely limited.

In a constitutional democracy the religious views of some — and I have no reason to believe that Mr Naidoo and his lovely wife Arlene do not hold their religious views deeply and sincerely — cannot be imposed on society as a whole as this would be in fundamental breach of the rights of those who do not share these views. Sincerity and deeply held convictions do not justify unfair discrimination in a constitutional democracy.

While every person is entitled to believe what he or she wishes (one can believe, for example, that Simba the Lion King is the God Almighty, or that all homosexuals will burn in hell or, even, if one wants to stretch the point, that 300 000 believers will be whisked away to Heaven on the day of the Rapture) a person cannot get the state to force his or her beliefs down the throats of others as this would constitute a fundamental breach of our human rights. (For example, a religious group — even if it had the support of the majority — could not legitimately demand that the state ban all driving on a Sunday because the group happens to believe the Rapture would occur on a Sunday and that driving on that day would therefore cause too many accidents.)

Mr Naidoo is therefore entitled to believe that same-sex marriage is just as evil as child abuse or women’s liberation — as the leadership of the Catholic Church seem to do, at least about women’s liberation — but he cannot require the state to enforce that belief by banning same-sex marriage. If he wanted the state to ban same-sex marriage or to force women to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, he is of course free to emigrate to Saudi Arabia. (I hear Iran also has lovely game parks and rather strict laws on homosexuality — although I am not sure whether they will embrace emigration by right wing Christians.)

He is free to believe what he wants, to preach what he wants and to even practice what he preaches (the latter being a rare occurrence in the overtly pious — at least in my experience). And in the unlikely event that, like many Evangelists in the USA, his animosity towards homosexuals is fuelled by a secret desire to have sexual relations with members of the same sex, he is even free to divorce his wife and marry another man — although he will have to go on a diet, radically revise his beliefs, and read a few satyrical novels before I would seriously consider his marriage proposal.

The claim by Mr Naidoo that the “core constitutional freedoms” have been breached by the adoption of same-sex marriage laws can only be sustained if one believed that freedom had nothing to do with freedom at all, and hence that freedom was completely divorced from the notion that people had a right to live their lives free from hatred and discrimination. His view of “constitutional freedoms” would require one to endorse the idea that the state had a right to enforce the views of some on society as a whole.

Such a society would not be free, of course, and neither would it be a substantive democracy. In such a society the only people who would have “core constitutional freedoms” would be those who wielded power and could therefore ensure that their beliefs were enforced through the barrel of a gun and through torture (perhaps by forcing people to listen to Gospel music played backwards), imprisonment or campaigns of social vilification. Such a society would be one in which the human dignity of almost all people would be flagrantly disrespected and would be decidedly undemocratic (a bit like Texas without the big hats, the funny accents, the Hummers and the occasional election).

PS: This post must be read in the same spirit in which Umberto Eco wrote his novel, The Name of the Rose. In this novel a Franciscan Friar discovers that Monks are being poisoned in a monastery when they read humorous books because some members of the church hierarchy believe that laughter is the antidote to fear and that if one stopped fearing one might also stop believing in God. As Wikipedia explains: “As the plot unfolds, several other people mysteriously die. The protagonists explore a labyrinthine medieval library, the subversive power of laughter, and come face to face with the Inquisition. It is left primarily to [the main protagonist] William’s enormous powers of logic and deduction to solve the mysteries of the abbey.”

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