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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Letters: In defence of the National Human Right Commission

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Dear editor,
The stream of accusations from Mr Momodou Sabally, former APRC Secretary General, brings to mind an image of some mythical wild-eyed goddess, her dozen arms flapping about, critical fingers furiously stabbing the air at this person and that person, in a dance of uncontrolled dark impulses.

Previous judgmental fingers targeted Talib Bensouda, Halifa Sallah, the TRRC, the Basic and Secondary Education Minister, the Health Minister and President Barrow. Even the First Lady was not spared. She was called out for mispronouncing a word, to the horror of English teachers. Recently, his accusations were aimed at the NHRC and Imam Baba Leigh. His turbo mode posturing as an anti-gay defender of the Qur’an might just earn him the divine intervention to cancel his Janneh Commission punishment he seeks.

He is now joined by most, if not all political leaders, each trying to out do the others expressing their moral outrage at the NHRC. And Imam Leigh in particular.
Critics of the imam say things like the imam’s position on gay rights is against his own Muslim beliefs, so he should resign from the NHRC. It is a bit much for anyone to presume to know what the imam’s beliefs are. Perhaps they should ask him so he can explain himself. They might learn something.

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All this commotion brings to mind poor Socrates of ancient Greece who, by forcing people to think about what they are saying through his dialogs, was convicted of corrupting the minds of the young and executed. Similarly, read about the history of the Catholic Church and Galileo the astronomer. Back in the 1600s the Church taught the earth was the centre of the universe. Galileo and others before him had good evidence that the earth orbited the sun. This disturbed the theologians because it suggested their holy and divine scriptures were wrong. Or course this could not be the case because these words were the very words of the Holy Spirit. Galileo was put under arrest for the rest of his life. 300 years later the Church admitted their error. Students of the history of religions learn to appreciate how the wording and interpretation religious doctrines change over time.

Thankfully, the Coronavirus plague here is nothing compared to The Gambia’s homophobia plague. This fear is a cultural prejudice, one among many in the family of prejudices involving religion, race, tribe, gender, age and witchdom to name a few. Fundamental Human Rights belong to all human beings, most of whom happen to believe are God’s creation or, if you will, the result of Allah’s will.

Consider the story of Alan Turing, the British genius whose ultra secret work led to cracking the Enigma machine, the device the Nazi’s created to encrypt radio messages during WWII. Its encoded messages were said to be impossible to decipher. Turing, who had to hide his homosexuality because of wide spread anti-homosexual sentiment at the time, was convicted after the war of gross indecency and offered a prison term or chemical castration as punishment. He chose to be castrated. Some reward for a national hero whose efforts shortened the war and saved thousands of lives. Fortunately, Britain later dumped those anti-gay laws and praised Turing for his contribution.

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The Gambia embraced those laws and even made punishments seriously severe under Jammeh. Fortunately, Chapter XV – Offences Against Morality of the proposed Criminal Offences Bill of 2019 now says unnatural acts are a misdemeanor. But homophobes be forewarned – use of a dildo or oral sex is a crime. Do you think there are any Gambian women guilty of that criminal offense? It would be rather comical to witness Gambia’s male Supreme Court Judges someday pondering the constitutionality of anti-homosexual laws while costumed in obviously gay-looking wigs, robes, frilly laced shirts and gloves.

What we hear now are condemnations of the NHRC from plenty of self-righteous defenders of the holy books and probably some ‘macho’ types unable to wrap their minds around homosexuality. Recall Fatou Jallow’s brave, frank TRRC testimony about Jammeh ‘sodomising’ her. Jammeh, zealous homophobe he is, condemned homosexuals for the very same behaviour he is accused of. The word for that is ‘projection’, something the guilty tend to do according to psychologists. Is it possible that some of the most rabid critics of ‘un-natural’ behaviors are projecting their guilt for their own ‘bad behaviour’ onto homosexuals?

The hyper judgmental among us should spend some time wondering about how gender preferences come about. Think about girls who have had their genitalia mangled by FGM to the extent that normal sexual relations are impossible for them as an adult. How are these victims of gender violence supposed to spend their adult lives? Just grin and bear it? Or, what about girls who have suffered repeated sexual abuse from males in the family. Should these victims be blamed for rejecting men as a possible partner when they reach adulthood? Or a girl whose endocrine system malfunctions from birth, exposing her body to an unrelenting flow of male hormones. Should she be condemned for preferring activities normally reserved for boys? Some men, for example, just have no desire for women. For them, trying to explain why this is so, is like trying to explain why red is one’s favourite colour. Another apt example is ‘Well, I was born with blue eyes. Is that my fault?’ What happened to the ideals of compassion all the major religions teach?

Christians would say that love, an emotion, is an expression of the spirit of God within us. If so, how can that same love be unacceptable in some instances, as in the love between two adults of the same gender? When a crowd was about to stone to death a woman accused of adultery, a crime to be punished by death according to the laws of Moses, Jesus said ‘he who is without sin cast the first stone’. The most vocal of the anti-gay people would do well to keep those words in mind. They should get rid of their juju charms and focus on their own spiritual evolution. Leave judgments for Judgment Day.

Accepting the rights of homosexuals as human beings does not mean encouraging their behaviour or even agreeing with it. Forget about gay marriage for now. In its most basic form, accepting homosexual rights is a matter of live and let live, to put it simply. At this stage of The Gambia’s evolution, the issue should not be about legalizing anything but about decriminalisation.
Over and out,

Amet Ngalla

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