As we sat on a terrace in Port-of-Spain, my Trinidadian friend Nicholas Laughlin rubbished the cliché that apples and oranges can’t be compared. ‘I compare apples and oranges all the time!’ He said. ‘I go to the supermarket, and I think – the apples looking good this week. They looking better than the oranges. Or visa versa.’ And I agreed with him. People are often too quick to explain why things can’t be compared.
Still, there is one comparison that is always a dangerous one to make, that is usually lazy and often ruins the credibility of the person who has made it. For it is said we must never compare anything to Hitler. Godwin’s Law states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” Mike Godwin has explained about his tongue in cheek Law, ‘its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.’
Well, I broke Godwin’s law this week. Or rather, as it’s framed not as a legislative law but as a scientific law, I should say – I fulfilled or proved it. When CVM sports commentator Rohan Daley dampened the moment of post World Cup celebrations with his shouts of ‘Heil Hitler’ on national television, the backlash was swift and justified. Still, it amazed me that Jamaicans were upset with a bigotry that belonged to a far-away place, and a far-away time, even as we live comfortably in a period of bigotry that is right here, and right now. We raise our voices to protest a past which we can’t change even while we embrace and celebrate that which is before our eyes – that which we can change. Maybe to compare the two things is to compare apples and oranges. But Nicholas Laughlin is right: apples and oranges CAN be compared! In fact, sometimes they should be.
Here is my short letter that appeared in the Thursday edition of the Gleaner:
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Much noise has been made about CVM sports commentator Rohan Daley’s recent on-air gaffe. His attempt at humour missed the mark and his giddy shouts of ‘Heil, Hitler!’ came across as not just juvenile, but a crass display of ignorance and insensitivity. Allen Fernando is correct when he writes to you that Daley’s antics hark “back to a bigoted period of history” and to “Hitler’s monumental crime against humanity”. We will remember, of course, that Hitler’s crime sprung from a belief in national exceptionalism and a subsequent move to wipe out whatever and whoever did not adhere to his limited idea. Black people, Jews and homosexuals were among those rounded up, held in concentration camps, and millions were killed.
It is still quite harrowing to look at pictures from that dark period – not only the gaunt faces of those held in concentration camps, but the pictures of thousands of Nazi soldiers marching for their bigotry.
In a sense, Mr Editor, the pictures bear some resemblance to what happened in Jamaica just a few weeks ago when thousands of Christian soldiers converged on Half-Way Tree, for this, too, was a display of fervent nationalism and one that affirmed its unflinching intolerance of difference. I wonder if those who marched would be pleased to know that they share with Hitler a strident opposition to LGBT rights.
The truth is, if we are offended by the bigoted past that Rohan Daley reminded us of, we should be just as offended by the bigoted present in which we still live.
I am etc
DR KEI MILLER
A friend on Facebook demanded clarification from me:
Let me see if I understand, so based on what you wrote, the opinions expressed by Jamaica CAUSE equals that of what Hitler thought (and eventually acted out on)?
No not exactly. The point of any comparison is never to make things equal. A thing is only equal to itself. In a comparison, there are always important and even major points of divergence, but then there are always illuminating moments of convergence as well. My point really is in the last sentence – that it is interesting a widespread reaction against the historical REMINDER of bigotry, when there are other contemporary expressions of bigotry being tolerated and even celebrated.
The comparison then that I am most interested in, is on the level of our reactions. Is Jamaica really committed to fighting state-endorsed bigotry? Are we still committed to the postcolonial project of calling out and eliminating discrimination? Are we committed to repealing things like the Obeah Law, amending the Buggery Law? How consistent are our ethics and our morals? How consistent are our reactions?
But many people are concerned by another comparison I seem to be making – and let me not be disingenuous – one which I AM in fact making. So let me briefly acknowledge the ways in which apples are not like oranges, and also the ways that they are (they’re both fruits for godsake!); the ways Jamaica CAUSE is nothing like Nazism, and the ways in which it is; let me acknowledge those important points of divergence, and maybe some of those illuminating points of convergence.
For those who don’t know, Jamaica CAUSE is a recently formed group. CAUSE is an acronym for Churches Action Uniting Society for Emancipation (CAUSE). Yes I know – it is a rather strained and tortured construction, a barely grammatical flinging together of words so that they might spell out something clever. In its own words, CAUSE ‘sets to urge Jamaicans to stand up for a strong and healthy family structure, for justice and righteousness in the nation, and to stand up against the repeal of the buggery law and against the homosexual agenda.’
1. Unlike the Nazis, CAUSE is not a political party. Yet, at the recent rally in Half Way Tree, Jamaica CAUSE insisted on flexing its political muscles. CAUSE issued this call – that all Jamaican Christians should get enumerated to vote. The threat being issued is that any political party who dares to reconsider or amend the buggery laws will feel the wrath of the church – the true extent of their power and influence. (It is amazing that even with this rhetoric the church claims they are being bullied by the POWERFUL gay lobby.)
2. Nazism depended on a fervent nationalism. CAUSE doesn’t. Wait….wait…. but actually, it does! Fervent nationalism has ALWAYS been a dangerous foundation to build anything on. I got into huge trouble a year or so ago when I expressed discomfort with the reactions of Jamaicans to Tessanne Chin competing in The Voice. She was talented beyond measure, but support of her soon turned to Jamaicans seeing conspiracy theories in those blasted Americans who only wanted to keep us down. We began voting long before she had performed and whether we liked her performance or not. We were responding to the powerful force of nationalism. Jamaican Churches know there is power in this and have continually sought to define LGBT rights as being a foreign thing that must be resisted on the grounds that it is not Jamaican. In this, they are lying, but the church is not above perpetuating an untruth if what they get from it is unbridled power.
3. Nazism helped to create and then existed in a time of a war. Jamaica today is not in a time of war. But then again, Christian rhetoric would insist that it is. A march is always a show of force and pageantry. The march from UWI to halfway tree was a march of Christian soldiers out showing their force. More than that, they were marching to proclaim their firm disapproval of difference. Christians insist that they battle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces and wickedness in high places. Christians are now donning the full armour of God. The warfare analogy is not mine; it is the church’s.
4. The period of Nazism led to the displacement of millions Jews who were often kicked out of their houses and made homeless. Often they had to migrate in fear for their lives. That this isn’t the case amongst Jamaican homosexuals is only on the level of scale. The forced homelessness of several gay Jamaican boys was only recently featured in a heartbreaking BBC documentary. These boys have been forced to live in the gullies of New Kingston’s. A telling moment in the documentary is when passers-by insist on hurling stones and abuse at these ‘disgusting’ gully-dwellers. When they cannot take it any longer, the boys react and throw things back at their tormentors. The police are called in. The reporter asks the police what happened? And the police say that these gay gully-dwellers have been starting trouble. But, they didn’t start anything! They were only reacting to what had happened to them, the reporter clarifies. No, says they police, they started it! The reporter is confused, But we have it here on video. It is taped. I can show you! The police ignores this. No, that is not what I saw. The police remains firm in his distorted version of events. That’s the thing with discrimination when it is institutionalized. We simply cannot see the other side of things. And when we have church leaders — CAUSE marchers — such as Bishop Wellesley Blair in this article proudly supporting the flogging of homosexuals in Half-Way-Tree, then the church can hardly claim that they do not play an important and deliberate role in creating the dangerous environment in which many gay Jamaicans live and ultimately have to flee.
I return to the clarification demanded of me from my friend on Facebook:
Let me see if I understand, so based on what you wrote, the opinions expressed by Jamaica CAUSE equals that of what Hitler thought (and eventually acted out on)?
No. Not exactly. They’re not equal. They are apples and oranges. But here is the thing – apples and oranges can be compared. They’re not equal. But I think things are much closer than you might be willing to acknowledge.
One of the reasons that many Jamaicans will speak out strongly about bigotry in a faraway time and place but live comfortably with present bigotry here and now is precisely because you can’t do anything about the past bigotry and can’t really be called upon to do anything about it. But you can do something about present bigotry and someone might actually suggest that you take some action. And that demands an entirely different level of effort and engagement.
I have to put this up as a quote somewhere. This is so profoundly true! Thanks Susan.
I often find comparisons of any current socio political issue with Nazi Germany to be lazy, disingenuous, and more seeking to stir outrage than engender genuine debate. It’s the same card that Republicans in the US play when criticizing any Obama policy, particularly healthcare.
I do not intend to examine this comparison point by point,but rather to highlight a few things that you may want to consider in this ongoing discussion you have engaged in about discrimination against gays in Jamaica and the repeal of the buggery law.
1. Why do you assume that the church has, or will gain, any great political clout in Jamaica? For years they harped about gambling (Sunday gambling in particular) and its evils. We now have lotto/cash pot/pick 3 draws perhaps four times every day…including Sundays.
2. Just how do you imagine that the repealing of the buggery law will, overnight, change the perception of the Jamaican population about homosexuality? Will the discrimination suddenly end?
3. How is it that I haven’t read a blog that you’ve written talking about the possibility that the intimidating, bullying tactics used by the gay lobby to sabotage or hush up anybody who so much as disagrees with the gay lifestyle may (and will) be faced with pushback, and that CAUSE may just be the start of that pushback?
There is no reasonable and balanced Jamaican who wouldn’t admit that discrimination against gays is a problem, and one that needs addressing. Railing against CAUSE and comparing it to Nazi Germany doesn’t even come close as a solution.
Thanks for coming to this. I like you, find the comparisons usually untrue. I hint as much in this blog. But then the comparison in this case clearly wasn’t random. I didn’t invoke hitler — someone else did. But to your questions..
1. The actions of the church are unprecedented and goes much further than the noise they made about gambling. The muscles they’re flexing now may or may not bring down the arm of the opponent they are arm-wrestling. But that is no reason to ignore the show of strength. I do not dismiss the bark of every dog thinking to myself, ‘its bark is probably worse than its bite’. That attitude will get you bitten one day. Importantly, the church has already gotten its way in rather disgraceful and unhumanitarian ways, most recently in our Charter for Human Rights which is framed by homophobia. It is probably one of the most digraceful Charter for Human Rights in the world today.There are good reasons to be wary of the church’s political clout and how it has been used, whether you’ve kept abreast yourself or not.
2. You are 100% right. Repealing the buggery law absolutely will not end Jamaica’s discrimination — not the next day, nor the day after that. Similarly, the repeal of Segregation Laws did not end racism in America. It still persists. But laws are powerful reflections of our values and the longer they stay in the books is the longer we assume those values must not be questioned. Racism didn’t end in America 50 years ago, but I think you’ll agree that people are a lot less willing to express racist opinions than they once were. Removing or amending a law is a major step in a society saying what kinds of attitudes are acceptable and what attitudes aren’t – even if it ultimately takes years and decades for such attitudes to diminish.
3. Well…you’re a writer as I am. So why don’t you write such a blog? Quite simply, the premise that you’ve presented here is not one I remotely agree with. If we’re going to talk about lazy terms that get tossed around, why not interrogate ‘gay lifestyle’ (as opposed to a straight lifestyle? or a bisexual lifestyle? Do bisexual people have one lifestyle or two? What kind of wine do gay people drink? How do they play dominoes different from other lifestyles?) or the supposed ‘bullying tactics’ used ‘to hush up anybody who so much as disagrees’. REALLY? You actually believe this, or are you just repeating what has been said. Next you’ll be using rhetoric such as ‘the gay agenda’ or attempts to ‘shove the gay lifestyle down people’s throats’. I’m not sure these tossed about phrases mean anything of value.
But you are just trying to argue that there are two sides to every story and while I hardly agree with what I think are poor examples you’ve chosen, the larger point is true. For instance – oftentimes the accusation of homophobia as expressed by overseas lobby groups is an expression of racism; or the fact that, lobby groups both local and overseas are often blinded by their own self righteousness. These are other sides of the story. However, I don’t believe, as you seem to and most people do, that both sides of a story are equally weighted. When one side of a story bends heavily towards injustice, and the other side bends heavily towards justice, I will emphasize the latter side. And I would never apologize for that.
My understanding of lobby groups is that they use the media, economic and/or political means to voice and further their cause (or agenda). Are you suggesting that there is no gay agenda? Why are there gay lobby groups the world over?
Do you REALLY think that the gay lobby, particularly in the US, does not resort to bullying, undermining, and sabotaging individuals or groups who are critical of homosexuality?
What was the recent preventing of Queen Ifrica (and in the past, several other Jamaican Artistes) from performing on a stage show for which she was already booked about?
What was the [unsuccessful] attempt to remove Duck Dynasty from A&E networks about?
Why did that gay couple in Colorado sue to force a family owned bakery to bake their wedding cake? (yes, the bakery was in violation of the state’s anti-discriminatory laws but…was it possible that the couple could not find another bakery in the entire state of Colorado more than willing to accept their business…or were they simply bent on making an example and proving a point?)
There are countless examples of academics being hushed, preachers being admonished, and writers being threatened with boycott (Orson Scott Card immediately comes to mind), for speaking disapprovingly of homosexuality. Are you saying you DO NOT deem this to be bullying or undermining?
I understand your stance clearly, that you believe your side bent towards justice, and that you make no apologies. I respect that stance. However, I get a distinct feeling that (both here and in the US) people are becoming bristled by the gay lobby’s lust for blood.
There has been a sustained push by gay rights groups the world over…and there will be pushback. I am convinced that CAUSE would not have existed had Professor Bain not been dismissed under the circumstances in which he was.
At what point does the quest of the oppressed cease from being one of justice, and become one of seeking revenge?
Apologies for such a long-winded response, but you raise some good questions that are worth taking time with.
So let’s unpack two of these phrases that I’m suggesting you’re deploying a little too lazily.
1.The Gay Agenda, or the Homosexual Agenda.
You’re right of course. There is such a thing as gay lobbies across the world, and they absolutely are lobbying for certain things. But that phrase ‘The Homosexual Agenda’ actually only gained currency in 2003 when Alan Sear published a book by that name (The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today). As you can imagine from the title, this wasn’t the agenda as articulated by the actual gay lobby, but rather by right wing Christian conservatives. I’ve actually read the book. The less said the better.
But let’s bring it closer to home in case you think these things are unrelated and don’t have bearing on our own situation. In Jamaica, on May 23 2012, The Jamaica Observer actually published what they claimed to be the full text of the Gay Agenda. You can look at it up, but here’s a quote from this supposed text:
“We shall raise vast private armies, as Mishima did, to defeat you. We shall conquer the world because warriors inspired by and banded together by homosexual love and honor are invincible as were the ancient Greek soldiers.
The family unit-spawning ground of lies, betrayals, mediocrity, hypocrisy and violence – will be abolished. The family unit, which only dampens imagination and curbs free will, must be eliminated. Perfect boys will be conceived and grown in the genetic laboratory. They will be bonded together in communal setting, under the control and instruction of homosexual savants.
All churches who condemn us will be closed.”
Princeton – clearly you and I can see how laughable that shit is. It is obviously not written by the gay lobby. It’s fear mongering at its worst and its most comical. But people really do believe that is the gay agenda! Do you see the problem I’m getting at? When people talk about the ‘gay agenda’ there is a refusal to actually engage with the rights the gay lobby is actually articulating for. Just this week in the Gleaner online commentaries I read people who said things like ‘These gays like to distort their immorality in terms such as human rights.’ What the gay lobby is asking for is actually so reasonable that right wing Christianity has constantly refused to engage with it and instead of looking at those demands have clouded it under this scary term – The Gay Agenda. That’s the trap I’m suggesting you’re falling into. By repeating the phrase you’re not engaging with the gay lobby and their actual ‘agenda’, but you’re accepting how it has been framed by an antagonistic Christian counter-lobby. You’re effectively putting false words into their mouths and then dismissing them based on those lies.
2. The Bullying Tactics.
This is an interesting one. To invoke the word ‘bullying’ is to suggest a certain power dynamic – and one I think you’d agree is patently untrue. If we’re going to look at where and how power is constructed in society, we have to look at things like the law, like the political machine, at things like tradition, things like wealth and where it’s concentrated. In every respect we both know that gay people have been traditionally marginalized and disempowered in Jamaica. The law is against them, the political machinery, tradition, and they don’t control the wealth. Individual gay men might be ‘rich’ but they don’t control ‘wealth’. So how do they suddenly get all this power to become ‘BULLIES’? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m absolutely not saying that they don’t employ aggressive tactics. If you had said that, I’d agree with you. But to say that the gay lobby is a bully is a bit like saying when slaves revolted and burnt down great houses they were bullying buckra for their freedom. That’s obviously a bullshit thing to say. People who have been constantly oppressed and who finally begin to articulate a demand for freedom, and who then use every tactic they can to assert their humanity and to demand that people treat them as human, cannot be seen as bullies, even when those tactics are aggressive – and rightfully so. History has proven that oppressed people don’t get their freedom granted from only having nice reasonable conversations.
You’ve given a few examples of this bullying, and all of them I think are reasonable actions if we looked at them through different lenses but I won’t get into that having gone on so long already.
Your last question is profound. When do they stop seeking revenge? I guess even now when a black man is called nigger that urge rises up. The same must happen when a gay man is called faggot or battyman or nasty or disgusting. We all heal when we stop making oppressed people out to be big bad bullies whose freedom threatens us, and we give them back their humanity.
I don’t think the comparison to Nazism is far off. As the writer says, “A thing is only equal to itself” …. Just as Hitler was able to make a convincing enough argument to get support for his bigoted beliefs, so has the church in Jamaica concerning discrimination against gays. Many of us never supported the church until now. The church will use our religious intoxication to strengthen their bigoted cause. I think those actions of the church were a serious blow to humanity, equality, human rights and general positive progress.
The next thing is, buggery has to do with anal penetration. Anal penetration and homosexuality are not one and the same concerning that heterosexuals do “commit buggery”. Attention paid to this law is only furthering the cause for discrimination.
Time for us to move into THIS millennium and focus on REAL issues affecting our nation and our progress.