Tolerance and democratization?

This column is in react response to the article ‘Violence at Gay Demonstration Exposes Darker Side of Georgian Culture’ published in Georgia Today’s May 25 issue. In the piece, the author, Teona Betlemidze, discusses the clashes that happened on May 17 in Tbilisi, as the NGOs Identoba and LGBT Georgia organized a peaceful march to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The march was interrupted by the ‘radical religious groups’ such as the Union of Orthodox Parents and the Union of St. King Vakhtang Gorgasali. As a result, there was a confrontation.

This day was first celebrated globally in 2004. The date of May 17 was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. According to the official site of the event: “An International Day Against Homophobia belongs to no one individual. It’s about all people hoping for a prejudice-free world that can provide a place at the table for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.”

The article also cites Ekaterine Agdomelashvili, Director of the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group, a local human rights organization, who associates the case with a cultural problem: “Providing her explanation about these latest developments, Agdomelashvili said she sees the problem [intolerance toward gays] lying on the darker side of Georgian culture, the part which prioritizes religion and tradition over human rights.” At the same time, the author cites a comment by the French Ambassador to Georgia, Renaud Salins where he states that “It’s a struggle which is supported by the European Union, by many international bodies and it’s about more than tolerance, it’s about acceptance.”

All in all, the reader would conclude that tolerance toward homophobia and transphobia seems to be an inherent part of the democratization process; which is supported by international bodies. Meaning: that confrontation over the rights of gays is an aspect of the ‘darker side of Georgian culture.’

Is that credible? Is intolerance toward gay rights and other minorities a sign of a non-democratic, backward society? The examples show a different picture.

Democracy means that when the majority governs the state, as a consequence, the minority is governed by the majority. The rights of the minority are based on the goodwill of the majority. Everyone must have civil liberties without taking into account race, skin color and sexual orientation.

Nevertheless, human rights and- in particular- the rights of minorities as we know them, are the brainchild of Western culture. These are really unique principles, but they are not universal. Therefore, an attempt to push them forcefully against the wishes of the majority of society sows the seeds of confrontation.

Samuel Huntington, the famous American political scientist, became prominent for his book The Clash of Civilizations, where he developed a thesis of a post-Cold War new world order. According to Huntington, during the Cold War era, conflict occurred between the capitalist West and the communist East. Thus [conflict] is most likely to occur between the world’s major civilizations. He identified seven, and a possible eighth major civilization: (i) Western, (ii) Latin American, (iii) Islamic, (iv) Sinic (Chinese), (v) Hindu, (vi) Orthodox, (vii) Japanese, and (viii) African. The main point of his work was that the West, particularly the US, must abandon its imposition of its ideal of democratic universalism and its associated military interventionism. An attempt by the West to universalize its values and spread it along the world pushes other civilizations into confrontation. Huntington put forth the idea that Western civilization and its culture is unique, but not universal; therefore, other nations should have an opportunity to choose whether to accept them or not.

In his book, The Middle East, Space, Society, and Politics, Professor Revaz Gachechiladze, former Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Georgia to the State of Israel wrote: “Judaism is actually a national religion. In Hebrew, individualism uses one word – Yuhudi, to emphasize his ethnicity [Jew] and religious affiliation [Judaist]. And even the secular Jew is closely tied with Judaism by hidden, but strong threads.” Consequently, for the hundreds of thousands of Arabs living in Israel it is impossible to become a full member of Israeli society. No matter how unbearable for them, becoming a citizen of Israel means becoming a Jew.

Moreover, Jews do does not consider Arabs as equals. According to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in November 2010, “more than half of Israeli Jews believe that the state has the right to encourage Arab citizens to emigrate… The study found that 53 percent of Jewish citizens would prefer to see Arabs leave Israel. While 55 percent said Jewish cities should receive more government resources than Arab communities.” And still no one doubts that Israel is one of the most democratic states in the world with a developed society and culture.

Hence, an attempt to consider intolerance toward gays or other minorities in a multi-cultural, multi-civilized world as a sign of an undemocratic, retrograde, retarded society with ‘dark’ stains in its culture, without taking into account such factors as politics, religion or moral issues, seems to be a shortsighted approach and a hasty conclusion.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

You may also read a counter-responce by King William here.

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