Saturday, August 21, 2010

Daniele Sauvage of Africa Family Life Federation on Danger of Western "Ideological Poisons" to Africa

In his usual prescriptive-as-descriptive journalistic style, John Allen continues to write about African culture and African Christianity as a corrective to the excesses of liberal Western values and liberal Western churches.  This week’s National Catholic Reporter carries an article by Allen entitled “Secularism, Africa, and Characters in Rome.”

And what I find absolutely fascinating in Allen’s article is this tidbit: Allen interviews Daniele Sauvage of the Africa Family Life Federation, who inveighs against (Allen’s words) “Western concepts such as ‘reproductive health’ and ‘gender ideology’ which, she argues, amount to ‘virulent ideological poisons’ being imposed’ upon the African continent by international organizations and special interest groups.”*  Sauvage has just peddled this pack of “ideas” to the Catholic bishops of Africa at their latest Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

And here’s what Sauvage tells Allen in his interview with her:

Africans are deeply rooted in their families and in the importance of the family. Women are happy to be women and men are happy to be men, so the idea of 'complementarity' comes naturally for them.

And, in response to a question from Allen about whether Sauvage thinks that Westerners are seeking to impose their “secular” notions of gender and family on Africans, Sauvage replies,

Yes, it’s really very sad. Outside groups often do not respect the dignity of Africans or their traditions. The mentality of safe sex,'  the pleasure principle, treating other persons as objects … all of that is coming from outside Africa and being imposed on us. The massive distribution of condoms by Western governments and NGOs is the most obvious example.

Oh, the picture at the head of the posting? That’s Daniele Sauvage.  No, silly, the one on the leftShe’s the one defending traditional African values against Westerners (where men aren’t men and women aren’t  women) trying to inject their “poisons” into African culture.

I agree with Daniel Sauvage: it’s really very sad when Westerners use African people and African lives to fight culture-war battles designed in and exported by Western nations.  It’s really utterly sad when Westerners who want to make absolutist claims about gender roles the key point of the Jewish and Christian tradition use their culturally skewed outsider reading of African history and culture to attack supporters of women’s and gay rights in the West.  

It’s sad, indeed, to use struggling people in developing nations as political pawns in games played for Western gain.  

Shameless, the pretense of the Christian right in the West that they’re not playing that game in Africa.

Just shameless.

* Note that the demagogic language about “ideological poisons from abroad” is built right into Pope Benedict’s discourse about the church in Africa in his 2009 concluding message to the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.  As Sauvage’s comments make clear, this dangerous fascist rhetoric has specific reference to questions about women’s roles in church and society, and the social inclusion of those who are gay and lesbian.  And those paying the real price for this rhetoric are women and gay folks in Africa, groups both of which are increasingly susceptible to violence in African nations where violence is being whipped up by talk about real men behaving like real men.