Not 24 hours after Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the controversial anti-gay law into effect, a list of the top 200 homosexuals in the country has been published by a tabloid called the Red Pepper. The list has offended a global audience, with European aid agencies pulling their support of the country over the law. As much as those who live in a western-oriented culture should not use their own cultural norms to pass judgment on other cultures, this type of law truly smacks of Hitler’s desire to identify Jews and their supporters during his rule of Nazi Germany.
A similar list was published in 2011 by a now-bankrupt tabloid, and as was the situation then, the tabloid now has published the names and photos of those who have not actually come out and publicly identified themselves as homosexual. Museveni said that he had been prepared to leave the law as it was if there had been any proof that people were born homosexual. The government scientists that had been commissioned to study homosexuality concluded that it was a learned behavior, and so, Museveni decided to put the law into effect.
The law was introduced in 2009 and at one point contained a clause that could mean the death penalty for homosexuals and lesbians. Such a clause has since been removed. Uganda’s anti-gay law comes just a month after Nigeria signed a similar bill of its own into effect and has been met with wide approval in the country, though it has received worldwide condemnation.
However, this is in many ways no different than the anti-Jew laws that Hitler signed into effect when he was chancellor of Nazi Germany. Hitler had made it abundantly clear that those who were Jewish or even supported the Jews were risking their own lives. In addition, he also revoked the citizenship of naturalized Jews and what they termed “undesirables”. Museveni has, in essence, done much the same thing, and in the Red Pepper tabloid publishing the names of the top 200 homosexuals, there is a very definite sense of much the same plotting as Hitler took on during his rise to power.
American citizens may also recall that during the McCarthy years, several communist supporters were identified in newspapers during the era. Some connection to the situation in Uganda bears recognition here; in having this list published, is Red Pepper not encouraging a witch hunt of its own?
Some of those on the list – which is conspicuously absent from the front page of the newspaper’s website – have not self-identified as homosexual and may, in fact, not even be homosexual. In identifying them as homosexual, though, there is a risk that these individuals will be persecuted in much the same way as those who supported the Jews were in Nazi Germany and those who appeared on McCarthy’s list of communists were. Accepting someone for who they are is part of being human; in signing this anti-gay legislation into effect, Museveni is only encouraging a witch hunt which can only end as most do – badly.
While it would be abominable if this law ended in the same way as Hitler’s rise to power did, with so many dead, it will sadly not come as a big surprise. When in the grip of belief in an ideology, there are those who believe that the ideology or the law should be upheld at all costs. Upholding one’s beliefs is a very good thing; obeying law is how much of the world has managed to remain relatively calm over the years. However, there are extremes to any situation, and as there are scientists worldwide who are encouraging Ugandan scientists to revisit their conclusions that homosexuality is a “learned” behavior, there are also those who are no doubt delighted about homosexuals being punished for their legal infringements. It will become a question, though, of just how far those Ugandan citizens who support the anti-gay legislation will go to ensure it is upheld.
There should also be some consideration made for those who are misidentified on the list published by Red Pepper. As was the case with the McCarthy Era and with Nazi Germany, supporters were not necessarily communist or Jewish sympathizers, but were identified as such simply because of some relationship with the offending person, regardless of how insignificant the relationship was. Those who are misidentified on this list could have serious threats made against them, if that has not already occurred.
The Ugandan anti-gay law smacks of Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish legislation, and there are shadows of McCarthyism there too. It is true that the global audience that has seen what is transpiring in Uganda cannot force their own cultural views on the Ugandan culture and expect that the country should immediately fall in line with western ideologies. However, when human lives are at stake, it is really important to not force a witch hunt – as history has shown, this will only end in tragedy.
By Christina St-Jean