I Stand with the World

~Terrorism Has No religion

I have been watching this very necessary yet disgusting debate on social media in the wake of the attacks in Paris. I have observed. I have my opinions. Most of which may not be palatable to some, especially some fellow Kenyans. I’ll share them now. This is simply my opinion, one which I am entitled to and one that is meant to make you think.

Who is to Blame?

Islam of course. Most of these attacks have been carried out in the name of Islam and I therefore would have no qualms placing the blame squarely on Islam. This is a reaction anyone would have. It is a reaction that has already been had by many people. It is one that has been and will be used to threaten the lives of and discriminate against millions of Muslim individuals around the world. But wait, I am not done yet.

Reza Aslan in an interview with CNN said something that I have carried with me ever since I saw it. When he was asked whether Islam promotes violence, his brilliant response was that Islam does not promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. He went ahead to give an example of what is considered the least violent religion, Budhism, being used to perpetrate the slaughter of women and children in Myanmar.

People, due to various reasons, are violent or peaceful. We therefore cannot, and should not condemn an entire religion based on the actions of a few individuals. There are 1.57 billion Muslims in this world. An estimated less than one percent of that population are at risk of becoming radicals. These are the people that need to be dealt with. They are the ones who perpetrate the kind of violence in the name of Islam that we see in the world today. To quote Dr. Aslan again, these kinds of oversimplifications only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS, Al Qaida, the militant Islamic groups like Hamas, Hezbolah and the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn’t really help us to deal with them when instead of talking about rational conflicts and criticisms of a particular religion, we instead slip so easily into bigotry by paining everyone with a single brush as we have been doing in this conversation.

To also quote the Holy Qur’an as my good friend Michael Timm highlighted in his quest to educate the masses, revealed approximately 1400 years ago, the Holy Book states most categorically: “There is no compulsion in religion”. (Ch 2 V 257) and “It is the truth from your Lord, where fore let him who will believe and let him who will disbelieve.” (Ch.18 V.30). It is our individual interpretations of religious texts that makes us do what we do in the name of religion. And it is the violent people’s interpretations of these religious texts that lead us to witness 9/11, Garissa, Beirut, Syria, Paris and countless other lives pointlessly lost supposedly in the name of religion.

Has there been a disparity in reactions?

Absolutely. I have seen many Kenyans (and non-Kenyans) on my timeline say that they will not put up the Facebook filter in solidarity with France. Reasons for this range from the fact that there was no such solidarity shown the previous day when Beirut was hit. The Garissa attack back in April came back to haunt us. Some even went to the extent of saying that they will not show solidarity because some African countries still pay colonial taxes to France. I cannot comment on this as while these sentiments may be valid, stooping that low when lives have been lost is something I will not do.

Halima Saadi, 33, and Houda Saadi, 34, sisters from Tunisia were celebrating a birthday in a Paris café when they were attacked. Ludovic Boumas a French national, tried to save them but all three eventually died. Juan Alberto Gonzalez Garrido, 29 from Madrid, Spain was also at the Bataclan concert. He was an engineer living in France with his wife who managed to escape after they got separated amid the mayhem. Italian national Valeria Solesin, 28, of Venice, had been living in Paris for the last six years. She was attending the concert at Bataclan Friday night with her boyfriend who survived with a minor injury.

Ali Awad, a 14-year-old, ran outside to see what had happened after the first blast in Beirut and was caught in the second. Adel Tormous, hailed by many as a hero died tackling the second bomber. Khodr Alaa Deen, a registered nurse, was on his way to work his night shift at the teaching hospital.

Before making blanket statements on whether or not to stand in solidarity with France, or Lebanon or any other country hit by terrorism, think about the young lives lost. These people had families and friends. They had vibrant lives before the cowardly actions of a few individuals hell bent on destroying the world. Think about these people and stand in solidarity with them. Granted there are discrepancies in the level of concern shown by the global media on atrocities happening in Africa and the Middle East but when lives have been lost, this is not the time to think of our differences. It is the time to think as one. As a global community terrorized by extremists. As people who, at any given time, could fall victim to the same heinous acts.

I stand in solidarity with a world facing terror from all angles. The cause being that we refuse to embrace the diversity that makes this world beautiful. We refuse to understand that we will all never be the same. We need to end these petty squabbles about what Facebook did or didn’t do and start thinking about the people who lost their lives, those who lost their loved ones and those whose lives will be eternally different because of terrorism. We need to figure out a way that works to end terrorism because what we have been doing clearly hasn’t worked.


Out Film Festival V: Speaking Out – Day 1

Gay Kenya Trust has once again teamed up with the Goethe Institute to screen LGBT themed films in Nairobi. This year’s partners also include AFRA Kenya and The Nest. The fifth annual Out Film Festival runs from Thursday 10th to Sunday 14th October.

The theme this year is “Speak Out”. To encourage conversation around issues faced by LGBT people in Kenya. The conversations began on the first day after a screening of episode 3 of the series Sense8 and Pride. Sense8 showed the life of a closeted gay man, a transgender woman not accepted by her family and an interracial relationship between a transgender woman and a cisgender woman. Pride showed that we live in a society with many other issues besides our own and in order to succeed in the struggle, we have to collaborate. We have to be in solidarity with others whose struggles some of us share.

Both films showed an intersectionality of struggles. I moderated a panel consisting of Professor Ian Govendir, founder of an incredibly brilliant charity, AIDS Orphan (please support them by sending your contributions here or by becoming a guardian angel) and Barbra Murunga, one of the founding members of Jinsiangu and an amazing gender and sexuality activist.

Barbra shared her experience as an outspoken feminist and the work she does for Jinsiangu. The Professor shared his experiences marching at gay pride in London in the mid 80s (the time depicted in the film Pride). This generated an incredibly vibrant discussion around the rights of women, feminism, the boy child, and how the LGBT movement ought to be in solidarity with the striking teachers.

One member of the audience noted that we do not live in a vacuum. That we live in a society and that we need to get more of our friends realizing just how amazing we are.

Day 1 was as amazing as we are! The film schedule as advertised has been slightly altered…but shouldn’t be a problem. Join us for the rest of the festival. More fantastic films. Brand new panels with amazing individuals and conversations that will take Kenya to even greater heights in understanding and accepting the diversity that makes this country so beautiful.


Beyond Legal Reform

Criminal Law is meant to give society the power to protect itself against those who cause harm and are dangerous. It also gives society the power to protect itself against prospective wrongdoers. Consensual same sex activities have been criminalized in law in more than 70 countries in the world. These acts do not cause any harm to society. Morality should not be used as a basis to set laws yet that is the main argument in most of these countries for the existence of the criminalizing provisions. This therefore creates the need for legal reform. In order to achieve legal reform however, a lot more than strategic public interest litigation and policy reform has to be done. In order to get successful results in litigation, societal attitudes towards LGBTI individuals and concerns need to be addressed. The legal fraternity needs to be sensitized on what exactly it is that they are advocating/ruling on. While in the process of advancing the legal rights framework and to give credence to the initiatives that go into the said process, there is a need to work on changing societal perceptions towards LGBTI individuals. There is a need to show society that the rights being sought here are not special rights rather they are the same rights that everyone else has but are denied of LGBTI persons. A need to show the society that the LGBTI individual is a human being just like the rest of the society and shouldn’t be treated any different due to actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In order to do that, several aspects of society need to be targeted and addressed. One of the most common reasons why LGBTI rights are curtailed thus is because of lack of information. The LGBTI movement is for the most part underground and not known or simply completely misunderstood. Society ends up relying on common stereotypes when dealing with LGBTI persons. There is a need for the movement to become more “open”. To create a level of visibility that cannot be ignored by society and by extension, governments. The health sector is one which every person goes through at some point for one reason or the other. LGBTI persons are not exempt from this. Instances of LGBTI persons denied treatment for nothing else but their sexual orientation or gender identities have been reported and recorded. This goes against the individuals’ constitutional right of the highest attainable standard of health. It is therefore imperative that persons working within the health sector be informed on the fact that health rights apply to everyone despite the person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They need to be informed on various health concerns faced by LGBTI individuals. They also need to be informed on exactly how to handle an LGBTI patient without attempting to impart their personal views on the patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity on them. The media is a tool that has potential to reach a large number of people in the society within a very short time. Its purpose is to educate, inform and entertain. With regard to LGBTI issues however, the media has been known to report in a way that paints a bad picture of the LGBTI community. Sections of the media have been known to take LGBTI related stories, sensationalize them and publish them in order to gain more sales. There is therefore need to sensitize the media on LGBTI issues and cause objective and non-discriminative reporting. There is also a need for the LGBTI movement to use the media for its benefit. Due to the reach the media has, the movement should use the same to sensitize society on the various concerns. Use the media to demystify sexual orientation and gender identity. In most jurisdictions, religion has been a big stumbling block in trying to create a non-discriminative environment for LGBTI individuals. There is therefore a need to sensitize the religious leaders and opinion shapers on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. This way, there would be a religious atmosphere which is tolerant towards sexual orientation and gender identity issues. How to go about this is the tricky bit. Depending on the situation in the jurisdiction in question, the movement could supply alternative interpretations to the scriptural provisions on sexual orientation. The movement could also present LGBTI individuals as human beings in need of love and acceptance like anyone else. All in all, the extremely negative perception of LGBTI individuals by persons within the religious sector needs to be addressed in order to get to a situation where there is an “open society”. Instrumental societal players including the police, education providers, corporations, and persons within the various arms of government also need to be sensitized on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. This will create a society that understands and appreciates sexual orientation and gender identity issues beyond the stereotypes. These societal players affect the lives of LGBTI persons in one or the other capacity. It is therefore important that they understand sexual orientation and gender identity wholesomely. In the quest for legal reform, the judiciary is often heavily involved. It is therefore important to sensitize and inform persons working within this sector on sexual orientation and gender identity. This ought to come from the perspective of the LGBTI movement. This way, any decisions coming from courts are made not out of ignorance but out of actual understanding of the concerns of the movement. If all the above initiatives are conducted alongside the quest for legal reform, it will not only make legal reform more easily attainable, but will also garner support for the LGBTI movement from other sectors and ensure equality and non-discrimination for all despite their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity.