Monday, 28 April 2014

Lies, Damned Lies, and Fixations

The Dissemination of Deception

There are some for whom truth is a tradable commodity, rather than an absolute. It is something to be deployed when deemed helpful and ignored or indeed crushed when it is not. Such things are not new: they have a long history. Pontius Pilate, the ambitious Roman governor of Palestine, said to an innocent victim, “Truth? What is that?”, almost 2000 years ago. More recently, the great actor Robert Vaughan delivered an immortal line in Bullitt, the 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen as a detective who, in the course of a murder investigation, uncovered corruption and conspiracy. 

"Don't be naive, Lieutenant,” Chalmers said. "We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public." 

"Don't be naive...Integrity is something we sell the public"

Bullitt was set in San Francisco - neatly coincidental, as there has been an outstanding example of shameless and cynical manipulation of facts - indeed, the promotion of proven falsehood  - emanating from that city, quite recently.

The fun and games of Easter were rudely interrupted by an online article that was drawn to my attention. It accused various ‘bishops in Uganda’ of ‘calling for genocide against gays’. 

Now, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the recent Bill passed into law in Uganda, which prescribes some pretty draconian punishments for active homosexuality. Even given that country’s experience with AIDS - it decimated a generation and made orphans of thousands of children - I do not see any need for such measures as the Ugandan parliament has passed, and President Museveni, as head of state, has signed into law. In the past I campaigned for sexual equality - I can still remember eyes being rolled and subjects changed among my contemporaries as I raised some burning issue or other - and I continue to uphold the principle that what grown adults do in the privacy and comfort of their own homes is between them, their conscience and whatever consenting adults may be around at the time. Genuinely private matters should not be the subject of criminal proceedings. 

Melanie Nathan, disseminator of dishonesty

'Bishops call for gay genocide' - er... no.

Saying that the Ugandan bishops had called for ‘gay genocide’, on Easter Sunday, of all days, looked to be appalling. The accusations were quite specific: that Bishop Charles Wamika, Archbishop of Jinja diocese in Uganda (which is centred on Kampala), delivered a sermon at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church on that Sunday, calling for Jinja diocese to be ‘cleared of homosexuals’ and for parents to hand their children over to the authorities if they were homosexual.

Very serious charges.

And totally untrue.

Let’s deal with the specifics. 

First, there is NO St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church in Jinja diocese or indeed anywhere in Uganda. The nearest one is in Lusaka, Zambia - over 1600 miles away. So, the place where this sermon was supposed to have been delivered does NOT actually exist. The building is not there, or anywhere else within 1000 miles.

Second, Bishop Wamika did not say anything like the words he is reported to have used. He did not make a call for ‘cleansing’ of homosexuals from Jinja or anywhere else. In fact, he did not say anything at all. He did not deliver a sermon that day; he said nothing, either way. A missionary priest delivered the homily at St Joseph’s Cathedral and it made no reference to Uganda’s homosexual law or to LGBT people at all. None.

I found this out after a couple of days of trying - communications in Uganda are not the greatest. I spoke to Bp Wamika personally and can say he was absolute and firm in his rebuttal of the accusations I advised him of.

A lawyer who is a stranger to basic principles

The person on whose blog these accusations had appeared is named as Melanie Nathan, who claims to be a ‘respected lawyer’ and ‘conflict resolution’ mediator. As a lawyer, one would expect her to be acquainted with the basic principle that accusations should be corroborated. My request for such was greeted with “Duh! Context context context….it’s my BLOG! I am BLOGGING” (I have edited)

It took me a while to work out what exactly was meant by that - but it became clear that the perspective of this individual is that truth is not a consideration when engaging in promotion of a particular agenda. When I came up with the Bishop’s rebuttal - and the clarification that the site of this supposed sermon does not actually exist - the invective and abuse was ratcheted up. Ultimately, the information I provided was not published on the blog - a later tweet said that I was blocked because I am "hell-bent on conspiracy”.

Hmmmm. The determination to obscure the truth - and to attack anyone who tries to disseminate it - is quite remarkable and one wonders what is behind it. As one wonders why the commitment to defend, promote and propagate inflammatory, rabble-rousing untruth.

Ms Nathan now lives in San Francisco but is originally from South Africa. As far as I can tell, her emigration came about 15 years ago, when the Majority government was becoming established and was extending measures such as Economic Empowerment, by means of employment monitoring and compliance grading of private companies. How well they scored would impact on their ability to do business in the public sector.

Big bad BOSS

It was all getting to be a far cry from the old days, when BOSS (Bureau of State Security) carried out all sorts of nefarious activities designed to undermine neighbouring countries, to destabilise their economies and to attack and undermine opposition movements at home and abroad. 

I recall Howard Smith, an old comrade from the Anti-Apartheid Movement days, telling me in all seriousness “All white South Africans are racists until proved otherwise”. He meant it.

Nathan explains where Jacob Zuma, President of S Africa, is going wrong. Zuma is a veteran of Umkhonto we Sizhwe (Spear of the Nation), long-time prisoner during the anti-apartheid struggle and a comrade of Mandela.

Things have clearly changed and many whites remained in South Africa, working within the new regime and environment and, clearly, racism is unacceptable. It has been known, however, for prejudices and animosities to manifest themselves in other ways; a campaign against one particular issue can actually be a cover for something else. Hysteria, accusations of savagery, denunciation of black Africans as incapable of complying with ‘advanced standards of behaviour’ and unable to persist with ‘civilised’ laws - it all has a familiar ring to it. A sustained campaign of denunciation, exaggeration, hyperbole, untruths, distortion and downright lies, with elements of rabble-rousing and with sexual overtones is so typical of the tactics that BOSS utilised, back then.

Of course it’s unlikely that an expatriate S African who resorts to hysterical invective and abuse is actually concealing old-fashioned racism under a currently acceptable neo-liberal veneer. 

But it all feels so familiar and I find Howard Smith’s words ringing insistently in my mind.