Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Identity Crisis

I read in the papers last Friday that an advocate - Zahir Omar - had publicly criticized a Judge solely on the basis of her sexuality. The title of the article was particularly amusing - "Lesbian judge lashed". This sounds very kinky. Can I join in?

Less amusing however, was the evident antagonism displayed by Omar, who seems to think a Judge unworthy of holding the position in the Constitutional Court simply because of who she loves. Omar is reported to have told the JSC: "Learned Judge Satchwell's unconventional lifestyle is not something that the majority of South Africans can relate to. The majority of South Africans are God-fearing and follow some or other religion. There is no religion that condones homosexuality. Therefore the major portion of the South African people will not be able to identify with the learned judge."

I wonder, who exactly is left in the world today that these "God-fearing South Africans" Mr Omar talks about can identify with?

They have issues with everybody, don't they? They have something to say about people of all walks of life - Christians, Jews, Muslims, communists, gay people, transsexuals, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, divorce es, abortion clinics, liberals, conservatives, politicians... the list goes on and on. In fact, it seems today that real people of faith are having their image tarnished by folks calling themselves "God-fearing South Africans" and spilling tubs of verbal toxic waste across the landscape in the name of some or other deity - whom they unwillingly share with fellow believers.

People fly themselves and innocent bystanders into tall buildings to prove how "God fearing" they are. They walk into crowded places and blow themselves up to kill innocent people. They walk into churches and shoot people for their liberal love for fellow human beings. They march in the streets to oppose freedom and liberty for specific groups of society - not including themselves - but their own neighbors, friends and relatives. "God fearing"? Such acts - and such hatred - certainly don't lend that phrase (or those who use it) much credibility, do they? I would think fear of God would have encouraged them to miss the towers, ditch the explosives and turn to their God instead of a gun.

I wonder how the rest of us ordinary South Africans would identify with judges claiming to be "God fearing South Africans" - and appointed simply because of it? It would seem they are clearly a breed apart in the mind of Omar, but I wonder if he would care to explain how being "God fearing" has any influence on the Judge's interpretation of the law of the land? Is the law religious? Is mercy restricted simply to the religious? Also annoying and ill-informed and rather peculiar is the clear undercurrent which implies that because Judge Satchwell is gay, she is automatically not "God fearing".

I wonder if Omar is aware that Judge Edwin Cameron, who is also gay - is already serving in the Constitutional Court of South Africa? Funny that he has nothing to say about how "god fearing people" relate to him? Even stranger is the total absence of complaints against Cameron in his professional capacity, despite something which in his opinion is clearly a disqualifying factor for the job. So what (you may ask) is Zahir's agenda? Is he simply using the sexual orientation of Judge Satchwell as a convenient excuse in an attempt to settle some obscure personal grudge? Or should we expect to see Mr Omar leading some kind of campaign to "de-pink" the Judiciary in the near future?

Zahir Omar is linked to various recent and interesting cases, including the 2005 deportation case of a foreigner linked to a terrorist group, and more recently to some obscure case involving the ritual slaughter of chickens. He has claimed that Judge Satchwell "is known to become very emotional in court proceedings" and had, on one occasion, "began shouting at a counsel and eventually slammed her hands on her desk in fury and stormed out of court". "It is evident that this learned judge does not have the maturity and discipline required to fulfil the office of a Constitutional Court," he said.

Judge Satchwell is a renowned anti-apartheid activist who was nominated for one of four vacant positions at the Concourt by the Black Sash, Wits Law Clinic, People Opposing Women Abuse, advocate Marisa Mathebula, advocate Zinhle Buthelezi and attorney Ronald Bobroff, has responded by saying that Omar's claims were false.

"I have never shouted at counsel, slammed my hands on the desk or stormed out of court. Fortunately, all proceedings in court are mechanically recorded. Any discourtesy by any judge to any legal representative is on the record. This record and a typed copy thereof is available to anyone to peruse... What did or did not take place in court is recorded for posterity."

To their credit, the SA Human Rights Commission head Jody Kollapen has criticized Omar for his "deeply offensive comments about Satchwell's sexuality". "These types of complaints undermine the very spirit of our constitution." Indeed they do.

"Pointing out that "many gay and lesbian people fought in the anti-apartheid struggle", Kollapen questioned whether Omar was "saying that these members of the gay community are no longer good enough to serve in our democratic society". "That's a shocking double standard," he said." And yes, I agree.

Ironically, (I love that word) by this action, Omar who is a member of the Society for the Protection of Our Constitution - which indeed claims to "protect the Constitution" - it is pretty clear that he certainly does not condone its contents - or agree with the list of people it protects.

By this action, he undermines not only human and moral decency, religious principles of love and compassion, but also the spirit of this very same Consitution of South Africa. I do not want to make the obvious even more painfully obvious, but is this not typical of the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalists?

Omar says: "The majority of South Africans are God-fearing and follow some or other religion. There is no religion that condones homosexuality."

Here Omar admits that he clearly doesn't know what he is talking about and furthermore counts on the off-chance fact that his audience doesn't either. Buddhism for one, has no specific issue at all with homosexuality, nor does Wicca, Paganism, Vedic Hinduism or more liberal Christian, Hebrew and even Muslim interpretations of the very same faiths Omar claims "do not condone" homosexuality. In fact, every faith known to man today has contradicting views on homosexuality simply because, like all forms of religion, scriptures are open to the personal interpretation of the reader - which depends on the reader's own personal views and prevailing prejudice. The prevailing voice of religious opinion on any topic simply depends on which opposing group has the louder voice at any given time. I suppose I should add, which group happens to be on the soap box, stomping on the fingers of those trying to climb up and have their own say on the matter.

Lastly, to bring the glaringly obvious to the attention of Mr Omar, how does religion become relevant in determining a judge's fitness? South Africa is a secular state, not a religious one. ALL CITIZENS have the right to freedom of religion and conscience - and as such, no religion is upheld over another, making all religions - and even absence of religion - equal before the law. Mr Omar's point is therefore moot - and pointless, save for his obvious prejudice against gay people.

The pink community is a part of every society, and has played a significant role in building this society - are they now suddenly not good enough anymore to be protected by the same constitution they helped put in place, or to be a full part of the same nation they helped to defend, nurture and build?

This man is acting unwittingly as a literal representation of the biblical example of the foot telling the hand of the same body that it doesn't need it anymore - a destructive force bent on ruining the whole for the sake of its own selfish glory and superiority over the other parts. And in true form, completing the logical sequence of such a vicious circle, those who think as he does, do not even comprehend that their suppression of diversity and exclusion of the other will be bad for everyone, and not just Judge Satchwell and the pink community - but for them as well.

"God fearing"? I have to admit that if God were as intolerant and unforgiving as some of his followers, there would be a need to fear him (or her) indeed.

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