How to spot tyranny

Good old Nigeria, arresting 18 men for going to a party while (perhaps) being gay. That’s dangerous stuff; much more dangerous than, say, telling people that polio vaccines are part of a western plot to render Muslim women infertile.

There are vociferous local demands for the men to be stoned to death. At last week’s court hearing, an angry mob of Muslim homophobes assembled outside the court. They shouted anti-gay epithets and demanded that all 18 men be sentenced to death. Furious at the judge’s decision to opt for non-death penalty charges, they pelted the defendants with rocks as they left the court, attacked the police, and attempted to lynch the judge and to set the court building ablaze…

Sounds like a fun afternoon, doesn’t it?

Peter Tatchell points out some tensions:

Nigeria’s anti-sodomy laws contravene the anti-discrimination provisions of various African and UN human rights conventions that Nigeria has signed and pledged to uphold. These include the African charter on human and peoples’ rights, which came into force in 1986. It affirms the equality of all people, without discrimination. Similar provisions are included in the UN international covenant on civil and political rights to which Nigeria acceded in 1993…The persecution of gay Nigerians is symptomatic of a wider tyranny, which tramples on individual freedom and civil liberties, as documented by Human Rights Watch.

Whatever editor wrote the subhead for Tatchell’s article missed his point, and in fact subverted it. Whatever editor did that got things completely wrong, thus showing a depressing lack of understanding of the real problem.

This African country claims to be a democracy but its persecution of gay people is pure tyranny.

That’s stupid. Tatchell doesn’t mention democracy in the article, and that ‘but’ is no ‘but’ – it’s nonsense. Persecution of gay people is not somehow inherently the opposite of democracy; on the contrary, it’s a very tidy illustration of the danger of democracy, precisely because gay people are always a minority, and a pretty small one at that. It is perfectly possible to be both a democracy and a country that persecutes gay people. The tyranny in question is the tyranny of the majority.

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