28 November 2004

The Abomination of Cowardice

Common Sense
John Maxwell

A decade ago, when Buju Banton electrified the dancehall community with his paean to murder - Boom! Bye-Bye - I was the replacement for Trevor Monroe at the Annual Awards of the Public Relations Society of Jamaica.

In my short address to them I questioned whether in tolerating 'songs' such as Banton's, we were not aligning ourselves on the side of violence and outlawry and on the way to creating classes of people entirely without human rights.

My message appeared to be well received; some people came up afterwards to thank me for speaking out and the television cameramen and reporters even asked for copies of my speech.
Nothing was reported anywhere, as far as I can remember.

And nobody, anywhere else, made any comment about this barbarous piece of incitement to the murder of homosexuals and police informers.

Since then, the prime minister and his then minister of national security both set themselves against any reform of the laws against "sodomy". According to Mr Patterson, a Queen's Counsel, he was not going to "legalise homosexuality".

Mr Seaga, the leader of the Opposition, has an even more squalid history. It was he who implied in a public speech that the prime minister was homosexual, which, as I have said before, is in this country, the most obvious incitement to murder that can be imagined. It was also a guarantee that our brave PM would do nothing to suggest that Mr Seaga could possibly be right.

Now, in answer to a report by Human Rights Watch, the Government has told them to mind their own business, stop bullying Jamaica and, effectively, not pay too much attention to our propensity for killing each other. Especially not if the murdered are homosexuals or suspected to be.

Which is why I am troubled by my friend Burchell Whiteman's agreeing to be the official spokesman for the Government's response to the Human Rights Watch report. "We find the approach of the organisation unacceptably insensitive," he said.

Meanwhile vigilante posses of gardeners are busy hunting down suspected gays in upscale Norbrook, no doubt with the approval of their employers.

Several years ago, various media outlets carried a rumour that homosexuals were planning a march on Jamaica House. I don't remember anyone believing the story, but the media ran with it anyway.

On the day appointed, dozens of idiots armed with cutlasses descended on Half-Way-Tree Square prepared to teach the homosexuals a lesson.

None, of course, appeared. As I have said in an earlier column, it was a uniquely Jamaican occasion, because I don't believe that anywhere else in the world would the press have been so willing to spread such a plainly ridiculous and dangerous story, given the homophobic environment; nor would there be, anywhere else in the world, people idle enough to assemble for a sporting massacre, as it were.

It was a low point in Jamaican civilisation and none of our leaders said a word.

Unfortunately, on the question of homophobia and homosexuality, the press is at least as backward as the majority of fundamentalist Jamaica. Reading the advice columns demonstrates just how ignorant and illiterate people - including some counsellors - are about anything concerning sex.

Betty Ann Blaine, a very nice lady who is also a well-known social worker, delivered herself of the dictum that homosexuality is 'learned behaviour', and my colleague Mark Wignall is as terrified of homosexuals as some Jamaicans are of lizards.

To deal with Ms Blaine first: there is no authority anywhere for anyone to say that homosexual behaviour is learned. On the contrary, controlled experiments with rats under environmental stress produced 'homosexual' intercourse - which surprised the investigators because that was not what they were looking for. And homosexual pairing is well established among certain birds.

There is also some evidence that there may be genetic predispositions which may or may not be reinforced by nurture. The fact is that no one really knows, which, I suppose, is as good a reason as any for murder.

Mark Wignall has never been shy to expose his super-macho side in his columns, and last week's column was vintage stuff. In it, Mark described how alarmed he became when some men he suspected were homosexuals began to take notice of him in a bank.

"It was very obvious from their style of dress and their effeminate gesticulations that they were homosexual. I could not help but be amazed at how open they were with their 'antics'.

"Other males in the line were either unconcerned or smiling, while a few of the women were staring at them open-mouthed. In my mind I named the talkative two Daisy and Buttercup."
[Strange that men were unconcerned! There must be something wrong here.]

"At one stage Daisy playfully slapped Buttercup on a forearm then did a quick pirouette. Buttercup responded by saying, 'Lorks, yu gwan yah, mind yu pap yu line'. They were touching each other but the body contacts were just short of being considered intimate."
Holy Cats! Dalliance in a BANK !!! This is depravity of the first order.

"As I watched them keenly, searching for a column (sic!), Buttercup grabbed Daisy's hand. Oh, my God, I thought, they are going to kiss. [Ever the dispassionate reporter] But it was even worse. Buttercup was staring at me and pointing."
Luckily, not panting.

At that stage, Mark did what any red-blooded Jamaican stud would do: he drew his cellphone and dialled his girlfriend, who was sitting a few yards away. Poor 'Chupski'! She was no help at all, laughing at Mark's embarrassment and teasing him: "'It's you he likes, baby,' she said in jest as I saw him alternating between staring at me and playfully touching his friend. Then horror of horrors, he locked his eyes on me, broke out of the line then came towards me smiling. 'Is you name Mark Wignall?' he asked.

"I was still on the phone and Chupski was straining to keep from exploding in uncontrolled laughter. I hung up the phone and half-turned to him. 'Yes,' I said. He turned away from me and said, 'Ah him, Sidney, ah him.'"

The idea of Mark hiding behind a cellphone is worthy of Groucho Marx imitating "September Morn".

" Everyone was now staring at us and my girlfriend was on the verge of hysterics. She was certainly enjoying herself."
[In a serious crisis like this, women are utterly undependable]
"Under my breath I was saying, make him go away, make him go away."

[When threatened by wasps, Jamaicans repeat at top speed 'Our Father, Our Father']
"Then, in a surprising language transformation he said, 'Mr Wignall, I buy the Observer just to read you.'"

[If you're looking for an anti-climax, look elsewhere.]
"Someone needed to have written a book titled 'How heterosexuals should respond kindly to homosexuals without making it seem that heterosexuals like them."

I obviously have a problem. Several of my friends are homosexual - or at least I believe they are - but none of them has ever made even the slightest pass at me. Or perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough.
What Mark really needs is the sexual equivalent of mosquito repellent.

He is obviously convinced that homosexuality is contagious. It is easy to laugh, but homophobia in Jamaica, and elsewhere, carries death in its wake.

Long, long ago, I was in a bar when somehow the topic of oral sex came up. One particular fossil, an otherwise likeable fellow, declared at the top of his voice that if he knew that anyone in the bar had ever engaged in such an 'act' he would cease to speak to or drink with him, forever. When one of my more adventurous friends confessed to this abomination, our fossil raised his glass on high, smashed it to the ground and stalked out.

Religion has become THE growth industry in Jamaica. Thirty years ago, returning from Montego Bay with David Coore in his car, one of us ventured the opinion that Jamaica seemed to have as many churches as bars; the other suggested that we submit an estimate to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Today, structural adjustment has drastically reduced the number of bars, but there has been an exponential growth in the number of churches. If you can't sell hairpins and shoe polish on the sidewalk it seems the next most popular enterprises are driving a taxi or renting a tent to start a church and sell damnation.

None of these takes any particular skill. And you need no licence to preach. The result has been a flood, some would say a plethora, of preachers, all up to speed with the Ten Commandments and the rest of the book of Leviticus. For these characters the Bible is - they say - the literal word of God.

Which makes me wonder how so many of them appear to survive sexual adventures with their parishioners when it says in Leviticus 22.22 that if a man be caught in bed with another's wife, both shall be put to death.

Death, usually by stoning, is decreed for all sorts of abominations, including homosexual behaviour, and for fornication when the woman is engaged to be married to someone else. A woman lacking a provable maidenhead should be stoned to death, regardless of the fact that even then it must have been known that maidenheads can be absent for any number of non-sexual reasons.

Some are born without. Bastards shall not be allowed into the priesthood, even unto the 10th generation, although some preachers clearly defy that rule. Re Wignall, it seems particularly hard that Chupski was obviously obeying the Biblical injunction that she should not aid her man in a fight by grabbing the testicles of his opponent. To do that would merit her losing her hand. And of course, "every one that curseth a father or mother shall surely be put to death" Lev. 20 v 9.

The problem with the Bible is that it was written by men and transcribed and translated by men and the language of King James is not the same as we use today, nor are our prejudices. Besides which, Leviticus is obviously a survival manual for nomads living off the land on which they were trespassers and subject to attack by the owners of that land.

A fierce and brutal discipline was necessary and an overwhelming esprit de corps, to persuade the people to ignore their own hardships and continue to travel for what must have seemed like eternity in pursuit of milk and honey. No one knows if its strictures were actually obeyed.

We are not faced with quite the same problems today. Instead, through the triumph of the free market, the disappearance of what used to be called the Public Interest and a general reversion to Survival of the Greediest, we will seek any authority to behave badly toward our neighbours. As Antonio, the Merchant of Venice said: the Devil can quote scripture to his purpose, obviously aware that in his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, the Devil quoted the Psalms.

If Jamaicans were really serious, we would listen to the messengers before stoning them, just in case they made sense, and/or, as in this case, they spoke the truth. We know that. But most of us are too intimidated by the hooligans to say so.

And the hooligans have on their side the media, sections of the church and people like the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the former minister of national security who have done nothing to lead their people out of the darkness into which they have latterly fallen. Norman Manley should be alive at this hour!


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