|50 lashes: Punishment for being gay in Iran While LGBT organisations stand in solidarity with those in some Muslim majority societies who face brutality and even capital punishment under sharia law, it's worthwhile to recall the Western European past of antigay capital punishment.
Granted, no conservative Christian-dominated society now carries out state-sanctioned execution of gay men (and some lesbians). In Jamaica, though, violent homophobic offences or homicides have reached a crescendo, while Uganda and Nigeria have vociferous fundamentalist elements that are intent on attacking the LGBT communities of those African nations. In Russia, Mayor Yuri Luzkhov banned Moscow pride marchers yet again, leading to violence and arrests last weekend.
Let's deal briefly with antigay capital punishment in the western world. Even Renaissance Venice wasn't free from this taint, as it burnt 'sodomites' at the stake from the fourteenth century onward. In Spain, Phillip II's Counter-Reformation absolute monarchy incinerated hundreds of gay men in fiery auto da fes, as it did with Protestants, Muslims and Jews. In Britain and the Netherlands, fundamentalist revivalism took a fearful turn under the Society for the Reformation of Manners and their Dutch Calvinist equivalents, leading to the gallows, unless one escaped to more humane overseas climes. At the close of the eighteenth century, though, Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian ethics influenced Napoleonic France, leading to the decriminalisation of male homosexuality throughout its former imperial domains.. Britain took somewhat longer to get there, although it mitigated the savagery of its earlier antigay capital punishment to long-term imprisonment. This was later written into penal codes within British colonies, and still persist across much of Africa, South Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Carribean and the Southwest Pacific.
In the case of Britain, Canada, Australian states, New Zealand and South Africa, decriminalisation of male homosexuality finally occurred in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Shortly before the rise of movements for lesbian and gay law reform, capital punishment was also abolished across much of the British Commonwealth and European Community.
From time to time, one hears calls from the fundamentalist fringe for return to the brutality and carnage of antigay capital punishment, mostly from Christian Reconstructionists, who believe that Calvin's Geneva in the sixteenth century was a model for all subsequent societies, and who believe that fundamentalist Christians should be the only ones who enjoy full citizenship in such societies. It's a forelorn dream, but in its charnel house fantasies of a christo-fascist state and society, certain troubling tendencies are highlighted in more 'mainstream' conservative Christian political activism and ideology.
In conservative Christian religious imagery, there is morbid emphasis on the whipped, punished, pain-wracked, bruised, battered and bleeding Christ during the crucifixion. It is almost as if there is oscillating identification between the battered and abused body of Christ and his tormentors on the part of fundamentalist spectators.
Three centuries later, the Roman Emperor Constantine authorised Christianity's rise to power as official imperial state religion. However, it didn't learn from the intermittent periods of antichristian persecution, and promptly began to bloodily suppress alternative religious contenders for public attention. It also attacked Judaism in periodic anti-Semitic pogromsm as well as Muslims during the Crusades of the early Middle Ages. When Protestantism arose in the sixteenth century, it behaved little better than the Catholic Church of the medieval era, which incinerated 'heretics' who didn't accept that institution's interpretation of Christian dogma. As secular absolute monarchies arose, they adapted the use of torture, incineration, mutilation and decapitation for their own purposes, although this was mostly commuted to asphyxiation through the noose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Under absolute monarchy, the death penalty became a spectacle of dreadful excess, as unfettered sovereigns held arbitary and absolute control over military and security agencies in such societies. Unfortunately, the French and Russian revolutionaries were brutalised by their adverse experiences of their respective absolute monarchies, and merely took over the whole gory apparatus of state torture and control for their own ideologies.
Fortunately, penal reform movements mitigated the worst excesses of imprisonment and arbitrary abuse of prisoners and political dissidents or prisoners of war in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and fought to abolish capital punishment. That is, apart from the United States, where the efforts of liberal reformers have been stymied.
Given their insistence on punitive criminal justice legislation and capital punishment, it is no accident that other disturbing signs of moral callousness toward the suffering of others are becoming hideously evident in modern fundamentalist political activity. It is not surprising to witness fundamentalist lust for the restoration of parental corporal punishment in New Zealand, nor is it particularly surprising that some US conservative Christians are so desensitised to the humanity of others that they condone the use of torture in interrogation of political prisoners. Or, equivalent enthusiasm for violent Left Behind-based video games that show fundamentalists shooting up naughty secular humanists et al.
In conservative Christian political theory, there is a worrying tendency toward unaccountable brutality, persecution of religious, sexual and political minorities and dissidents, and the permissibility of flayed, battered and eviscerated human bodies. They appear to believe that they have the 'right' to persecute "non-Christians" and deny them human rights and civil liberties because fundamentalists are a 'redeemed' and 'infallible' 'elect.' Sorry, but that way lies Hitler's 'master race' and Stalin's 'vanguard party of the masses' During our lifetimes, will fundamentalist enthusiasm for brutality, torture and arbitrary violence culminate in the resurrection of old obscenities and malignancies that should have perished in Nazism's funeral pyre in 1945?
Michel Foucault: Discipline and Punish: New York: Vintage: 1977.
Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others: New York: Vintage: 2002.
"The Truth About Torture": ChristianNews (NZ): 24.04.09: http://christiannews.co.nz/2009/the-truth-about-torture/ Craig Young - 18th May 2009