Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cultural imperialism in the news?

The following article off of today's BBC news feed has some relation to our discussion this morning about one society attempting to impose its values on another society.

Is Obama's stance toward the proposed Ugandan legislation (a) an example of unwarranted American cultural imperialism at work and/or (b) an illegitmate intrusion into another country's affairs and thus (c) an attempt to interfere with that society's political autonomy?

Discuss . . . .


Obama: Uganda gays bill 'odious'

US President Barack Obama has criticised as "odious" proposed anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda.

The bill calls for long jail terms or the death penalty in some cases of homosexual intercourse.

It is "unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are," he told politicians and religious leaders at a prayer breakfast in Washington.

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda and punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The bill would raise that penalty to life in prison.

It also proposes the death penalty for a new offence of "aggravated homosexuality" - defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a "serial offender".

Death penalty
  • For "serial offenders", HIV-positive "offenders", or those engaging in homosexual activity with a minor or disabled person Life in prison
  • For homosexual acts Seven years in prison
  • For helping, counselling, or encouraging a person to engage in a homosexual act
  • The bill has already been widely criticised in Europe and the United States.

    "We may disagree about gay marriage," Mr Obama told the annual National Prayer Breakfast, "but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are, whether it is here in the United States or... more extremely, in odious laws that are being proposed more recently in Uganda."

    Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has distanced himself from the bill, saying it did not represent the views of his government.

    Two weeks ago its sponsor, David Bahati, told a Ugandan newspaper he was willing to "amend some clauses".

    The cabinet has set up a committee to look at his proposals.


    1. Regarding the discussion that we had in class, I believe that this clearly warrants some intervention. This is because the homosexuals who are being oppressed, clearly do not want to be oppressed. They will therefore feel "betrayed". I believe that in such instances, imposition of values is warranted. I have been struggling to cope with situations in which the "oppressed" individual does not actually feel oppressed.

      For example: a woman from the middle east, who believes that her place is in the household. She believes that women should not work for income.

      This second example complicates things somewhat. The woman herself does not want to be saved. She does not feel betrayed and therefore does not need or even want change.

      My gut tells me that regardless of what this woman believes, the promotion for gender equality around the world is still a worthy goal.

      Perhaps one can overcome this paradox by simply defining "equality" itself to have inherent value. In this way, the fight for equality is different from issues of misfortune/justice.

    2. I believe this is an instance where intervention is most definitely warranted. In a situation where an historically oppressed group of people is being threatened by the possibility of government-sanctioned, systematic discrimination, it makes sense for advocates from both of our countries to connect and support one another. Confronting and navigating the difficult differences that arise in regard to conflicting cultural values can certainly be problematic, stepping in when the safety and well-being of people is threatened is appropriate, if not an outright obligation.

      So, in addition to my intuitive response, I want to be able to say specifically and logically, what makes Obama's condemnation justifiable (even if it's not possible for him to make a move devoid of imperialism, simply by nature of representing the United States).

      I think a major issue here is that the persecuted individuals are in no way able to choose to participate in the passing and implementation of the law. This is not an instance of imposing mandates but of reaching out to support folks who are actively being put in harm's way. Perhaps what is essential here is to respond in ways that are respectful and in accordance with the needs of the Ugandan gay rights leadership.

      Also, does cultural imperialism count when it's actually damage control?

    3. I know this is a very late response, but I wanted to call attention to the idea of the "Responsibility to Protect" as outlined by members of the UN community.
      Please check out this link!

      The idea came out of theThe International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), formed in September 2000 in order to develop a global political consensus about how and when the international community should respond to emerging crises involving the potential for large-scale loss of life and other widespread crimes against humanity.
      I think these principles give Obama the support he needs to signal alarm regarding the Ugandan bill and alert the International community. But his language is too guarded and not pragmatic enough. I don not know what would be more constructive, but the simple declaration that the bill is "odious," "unconscionable," is not enough for me.