Monday, August 12, 2013

As New York Times Reports Violence vs. Gays in Russia, National Catholic Reporter Lets Hate Speech Stand

As a new work week begins: I read David M. Herszenhorn's article today in the New York Times about what's happening to gay folks in Russia right now. It's headed by one of those photos* we've come to expect as an accompaniment to these reports: a young activist who has marched for rights for LGBT citizens with his head bashed in, blood running down his face and onto his hands. Friends hold him, crying. 

The article states,

Despite the breathtaking wealth and vibrant culture in the metropolises of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia remains a country where discrimination and even violence against gay people are widely tolerated.

I won't bore readers of this blog, who are thinking, educated folks, with links documenting the many cases of brutal violence against--including murder of--gay citizens of Russia in the recent past, after the anti-gay legislation in that country made those people even more susceptible to open, hateful oppression than was the case previously. It's easy to find these reports online. They're everywhere. They're sickening in the extreme.

Then I turn from the New York Times to one of the leading voices for Catholic values and human rights in my U.S. Catholic church, the National Catholic Reporter, and I find still standing there the following comment about which I blogged on Saturday:

Russia, Nigeria and Uganda are poor countries. Their children and young people are terrifyingly vulnerable to exploitation by privileged Western ephebophiles. It is not unreasonable for them to want to enact legislation to protect them.

The New York Times shows me a photo of a young man with a bashed-in head, blood running down his face, whose sole offense was that he was demonstrating for human rights for LGBT citizens of his country. One of the most widely respected Catholic journalistic voices in my country, the National Catholic Reporter, directly counters this testimony of the Times--it allows a commenter at its site to counter that testimony--with a defense of what is happening in Russia right now that employs outright lies:

Gay men molest children. Rich gay Western men are seeking Russian and African youths to molest. Russia and Uganda are enacting laws that subject gay people to violence because children must be protected from this kind of molestation, which is par for the course for gay men.

Can you see why this hate speech (which continues toxic memes of discourse based on outright lies)  disturbs me tremendously, and why it appalls me that a leading Catholic journal continues to allow such lies to be spread in its comments threads, with impunity? As I stated yesterday, this discourse is in and of itself an act of violent assault on gay people, on gay men in particular. 

But permitting discourse like this to stand in the name of free speech, and to represent the religious views and values of a highly regarded religious tradition, gives carte blanche to further violence. It paves the way for actual violence, in the same way that permitting people to spread lies that Jews kill Christian children and mix their blood with Passover bread paved the way for the murder of Jewish people repeatedly for centuries in Christian countries.

Hate speech spreading toxic lies about a targeted minority always leads to outright violence against that minority. The contributor to discussion threads at National Catholic Reporter whose comments I've noted above is being permitted (and has been permitted repeatedly) to spread an outright lie that laws savagely repressing gay human beings in several places in the world are necessary to protect children against a sexual exploitation by gay people that is not happening in those nations. 

As Fred Clark says eloquently at his Slacktivist site this morning (and I'm deeply indebted to Fred for linking to my recent discussion of these issues), the only defensible and moral response when people engage in this kind of hate speech in the name of religious values is not to call for a discussion in which the relative merit of the toxic lies are debated. It's to shout back at the toxic lies.

Because they're hurting real human beings. They're designed to do precisely that.

And Catholic publications that care about promoting human rights and healing the world have no business contributing to the kind of hurt we see depicted in that photo heading today's New York Times article about what's happening to gay folks in Russia today.

P.S. Please see this subsequent posting, which is a footnote to this one.

*I've placed the photo at the head of this posting; it's by Dmitry Lovetsky for AP.

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