Saturday 29 May 2010

Malawi: Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga are pardoned, but ...

A welcome pardon
I welcome the pardoning [1] of Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, who were given 14-year jail terms after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts in Malawi by President Bingu wa Mutharika.
This was announced during the visit of the Secretary-General Ban ki Moon of the United Nations who probably had this matter on the table for discussion along with other UN matters that he might have discussed with the President.
The President said, “These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws, however, as the head of state I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions.
Of culture, religion and laws
One might say that just because a majority follows a particular culture it could not be incumbent on the majority to impose with menace and aggression that culture on others who might not be so persuaded – on that point, the case against the young men was unfair.
We have to come to a point where the use of religion to abridge, abort or proscribe the beliefs or adherences of others must be frowned upon and condemned in the sternest terms, again, I am forced to drag up the ruling that presents that argument in the starkest possible words.
Lord Justice Laws said only a few weeks ago and that is the standard by which every society, community and people would be subjected to as our global village becomes smaller and every activity in the social realm receives global scrutiny.
The state’s thinking
We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.
The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.
In Malawi, it would appear that the state has thought for itself to have had the law that lead to that judgment imposed on the young men, but one does wonder if certain of our laws now pass the muster of respecting the rights of minorities, the different, the uncommon, the alternative and where they appear to do so, if respect also includes protection from menace meted out by people who have strong views against the liberal stance of living and letting live.
A guarantee of safety too?
This is the new chapter in the young men’s lives; having tasted with great opprobrium the almost martyrdom to a cause and a type of life or lifestyle we pretend does not exist in our midst, their release without conditions hopefully would not mean their release into the hands of the lynch mob.
The President’s humanitarian action would only be fully commendable if these young men can live in Malawi as free Malawians able to pursue their dreams and visions without sanction, discrimination or ill-will.
It is a big ask from a very conservative – and I use that word with reluctance – society, because in the true sense what passes for conservatism these days is really intolerance, bigotry, hatred and persecution of the right to free expression of self and the pursuit of happiness.
No prying on any life or lifestyle
I would that societies, cultures, countries or governments do not have to suffer the duress of global pressure to adopt a more liberal stance to accommodating minorities and difference, more so, the repeal of laws that deny the right to existence of minorities no matter the strength of feeling against such minorities has to be the best and correct direction for humanity and civilisation.
There is a public place for scrutiny and there is a private place for activities that have no victims where adults who have consented to entertain mature, meaningful, fulfilling and honourable lives – no state, no public, no religion, no culture, no tradition, no law or view should have the inalienable right to encroach on that private space for the sake of assuaging the sensibilities of the disgusted – Not in Malawi, not in Africa and not anywhere else where humanity has expression of life and purpose.
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