Social Protests vs Moral Panics

Clovis, Jamaica Observer editorial cartoon, June 19, 2010
Clovis, Jamaica Observer editorial cartoon, June 19, 2014. A depiction of the so-called ‘hijacking’ of morality by Jamaicans for Justice and their sex education curriculum for institutionalized children. See my previous post Sly Perfidy for more information on this.

The following was first published on my blog at Economic and Political Weekly, an Indian magazine of ‘independent scholarship and critical inquiry’.

The question of what arouses outrage or ‘moral panics’ in societies is a fascinating one. In Jamaica members of a powerful Evangelical Christian fundamentalist lobby group have decided to rally their troops in a crusade against the University of the West Indies because the contract of one of their members as head of an organization named CHART, the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network, has been terminated. The head of this unit, retired Professor Brendan Bain, who happens to be a Christian fundamentalist, had given expert testimony on behalf of churches moving to retain the buggery law in Belize.

Because this action was perceived to be antithetical to the mission statement of CHART–”to continually strengthen the capacity of national healthcare personnel and systems to provide access to quality HIV & AIDS prevention, care, treatment, and support services for all Caribbean people” international stakeholders crucial to funding CHART asked that Professor Bain’s contract be terminated and after lengthy consultations the University complied.  It was felt that by arguing that buggery laws be retained (when there is medical consensus internationally that such laws impede the successful treatment and management of HIV/AIDS) Professor Bain had lost the confidence of CHART’s stakeholders.

Bain’s supporters have turned the situation into a circus about freedom of speech, convening several times a week, dressed in black, with taped mouths, outside the regional headquarters of the University to protest his dismissal. Their contention? That Bain should have been free to give expert evidence based on his ‘research’ and that by rescinding his contract the University had bowed to the dictates of an internationally constituted ‘gay agenda’.

In India in the last two years much outrage has been expressed at the alarming frequency and ferocity with which women are raped. The government has reacted by strengthening the legal penalties for rape. The straw that broke the camel’s back seems to have been the gang-rape and subsequent death of young Jyoti Singh in December 2012. Since then an avalanche of rapes has been reported and dwelt on, the most recent being the callous rape-killings of two lower caste women in Budaun, UP by men of a politically powerful though marginally higher caste. Read at face value the Budaun case highlights the persistence of caste-sanctioned violence in contemporary India despite the existence of strong legislation proscribing such behaviour.

The spectacularity of the violence done to the young women–hanging their violated bodies  in a public square for all to see–suggests that a strong signal was being sent by the perpetrators. Was this a lynching? What had the girls or the communities they came from done to provoke this? Considering the extremely high incidence of reported rape cases recorded in recent years should one label the dominant culture a rape culture? Does this mean Indian culture is synonymous with rape culture? Since the caste system is an integral part of hegemonic Hindu culture and higher castes seem to be signaling their right to rape lower-caste women in instances like this, does that make Hindu culture itself complicit with rape culture?

And what exactly is rape culture for that matter? A concept developed by feminists in the 70s, rape culture refers to cultures that normalize, excuse, turn a blind eye to or even condone the rape of women. In contrast male rape, especially by other men, is not viewed as casually in such societies. Certainly the comments made by various high level politicians, policemen and priests in India regarding cases of female rape suggest that there is virtually a patriarchal consensus that the rape of women should not be a justiciable crime. Fortunately the founders of the Indian constitution thought otherwise providing legal recourse to rape victims although the enforcement of such laws has proved to be difficult in a culture inclined not to view unconsensual sex as a crime.

To me these two conjunctures illustrate the difference between social outrage and moral panics. The latter sums up the Jamaican situation while the Indian protests are symptomatic of outrage generated by a genuine problem–that of the vulnerability of women in patriarchal societies where rape culture prevails.

The quasi-hysterical protests in Jamaica show all the classic signs of a moral panic. According to Charles Krinsky, considered an authority on the phenomenon “A moral panic may be defined as an episode, often triggered by alarming media stories and reinforced by reactive laws and public policy, of exaggerated or misdirected public concern, anxiety, fear, or anger over a perceived threat to social order.”

Whereas in India the demonstrations have been about existing laws that are inadequately policed and enforced, in Jamaica the highly organized protests are indirectly about the repeal of a law–the buggery law–which if actualized would be considered a blow to the self-appointed policing of public morality by evangelical Christians and a major defeat on the part of local interests at the hands of an illusory or imaginary enemy–the so-called globally powerful gay lobby.

The problem with moral panics is that they are seldom about real or actual threats to the social order and they rarely happen in response to much more serious dangers–that of human trafficking, paedophilia or narco-trafficking for instance–all of which pose much greater threats to Jamaican society. There are probably good examples of moral panics in Indian society but the recent escalation in anti-rape protests is not one of them.

Buju Banton’s Gay Inquisition

Sitting here wondering whether to have another cup of this wonderful brew i brought back from Costa Rica. Just the packaging alone is a joy to behold, and the coffee itself is decidedly superior.

Yes, we do have the most expensive coffee in the world in Jamaica but it’s a tad too delicate for me, and considering that you have to use twice as much to get a decent tasting cup, its even more expensive than you think. Also i do wish Jamaican companies would invest more in package design; the Costa Ricans could really teach us a thing or two there. I mean the burlap bag is a cute idea but when you remove the tinfoil pouch from the little jute sack there is nothing to identify what brand of coffee you’re drinking and it’s very hard to keep track of changes in taste, quality and so on unless you happen to scrawl the name of the coffee on the blank tinfoil.

Jamaica Coffee Roasters

Wallenford Blue (16oz) - 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Whole Beans

See what i mean? Two different Jamaican companies, Wallenford and Coffee Traders, both using jute bags but when you discard the bag there’s no way to distinguish one tinfoil pouch from the other! The Costa Ricans on the other hand print the tinfoil pouch itself with a super attractive, brightly coloured depiction of the landscape the coffee was grown in. There were so many different varieties available at the airport, all in brightly coloured packages. Fortunately there were also coffee salespersons available to advise. Now there’s a country that takes its coffee seriously.

Ok, i know this is a bit of a leap, but trust me I won’t let you fall. One of the things that caught our attention here in the last week or two was what you might call Buju’s Gay Inquisition in San Francisco. The so-called meeting produced the following photograph which was widely distributed and reproduced showing a serious-faced Buju surrounded by a group of gloating individuals who one presumes are gay rights activists.

Buju Bows, screamed headlines in Jamaica, “bow” being the local term for the subjection of a person to humiliating defeat at the hands of someone far more powerful. A comprehensive account of the meeting was carried in The Star.

The Jamaica Observer carried the responses of the local gay rights organization
J-FLAG which actually disagreed with some aspects of the strategy employed by the group in San Francisco. J-FLAG’s position is that no “tangible results” had ensued from the meeting nor were likely to.

“The Jamaican society has not necessarily increased its tolerance towards homosexuals over the last five years according to J-FLAG,” (says the Observer article). I beg to disagree. Change is a process, a time-consuming process that can neither be bullied or “bowed” into existence. This was vigorously discussed in the comments section of my recent post Eyeless in Gaza (Gully). Sometimes the comments section is almost better than the post itself, check it out.

https://i0.wp.com/www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/Entertainment/images/20091015T200000-0500_161898_OBS__NO_END_TO_THE_WAR_BETWEEN_ME_AND_THE_GAYS___BUJU_TELLS_MUTA_1.jpg

I marvel at the naivete of the gay activists who demanded at the meeting that Buju “hold a pro-gay town hall meeting and sing pro-gay lyrics”. Yeah right, the Jamaican public is going to listen and learn from a castrated Buju when he tells them he has recanted and they should all follow suit by becoming ‘pro-gay’–whatever that means.

They need to listen to Mutabaruka for the best expression of the Jamaican view on the matter (on his radio programme Cutting Edge). Not only is it a thorough and lucid exposition of local views on the subject he actually recieved a call from Buju Banton in California during the programme to discuss the latter’s much-hyped meeting with gay groups in San Francisco (about 15 minutes into the recording). Incidentally I don’t agree that Buju is being hounded only for his early 90s song Boom Bye Bye that was written in response to a widely reported man/boy rape case in Jamaica. It has been alleged that in 2004 he was part of a group of who brutally beat six men believed to be homosexuals at a house near Buju’s recording studio.

Muta’s discussion of the San Francisco meeting neglected to take into account the above incident and more recent pronouncements from Buju on the subject of homosexuality. Still, if you listen to the audio provided below you’ll hear Muta criticize DJs who threaten gays with violence during their stage performances (towards the end of the recording) and he has often said that he wished DJs would speak out as vehemently against the various forms of violence and criminality plaguing society as they do against the free expression of a person’s sexuality. His is a considerably more nuanced view of homosexuals, homosexuality and homophobia in Jamaica than the campaign of foreign gay rights groups would have you believe; And one that is representative of quite a few prople here. The campaign’s weakness lies in not having either an informed strategy or grasp of the local ground and mindset. So like Napoleon Bonaparte in Haiti approximately two hundred years ago, they may win the battle of the moment but they will lose the war. Is this what they want?

Here is the excerpt from Mutabaruka’s Cutting Edge. You will need to know some Patwa in order to understand the audio fully.

Buju Meets with Gays – Mutabaruka