Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Times: A world besieged within a world

Tuesday, 10th August 2010 by Kenneth Zammit Tabona

The newly formed book club to which I belong has just discussed Giorgio Bassani’s post-war classic entitled The Garden of the Finzi-Contini; a very descriptive, almost languid and lush feast of words that narrates, through the eyes and sensibilities of the author, the story of an aristocratic Jewish family that for generations had lived in this magnificent garden in Ferrara.

Among other things it chronicles the slow and insidious whittling away of civil liberties for Jews by the Fascists in the late 1930s and early 1940s that led to the entire Jewish community of Ferrara, Finzi-Contini included, being herded off to Auschwitz.

Anti-Semitism did not happen all at once; especially in Italy where many Jews were initially enthusiastic and active members of the fascist movement until Mussolini got too embroiled with Hitler. At first many Jews thought that the racist laws were a bit of a silly joke. From being banned from county clubs and tennis clubs they were suddenly unable to employ Christians. Before they knew it they could not consort with Christians at all. Many of the young Ferrarese well-to-do Jews sought refuge on the tennis court and the superb library of the Finzi-Contini; for as long as that lasted.

Gay people find themselves between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they want to lead lives that are unremarkable in the sense that they want same sex relationships to be considered as normal as heterosexual ones. On the other hand, they inadvertently have to draw attention to themselves by having to fight for their rights. Most gay people do not want their way of life to be such a big deal. Although we have made great strides since Stonewall and since, in Malta, Dom Mintoff legalised homosexuality in the 1970s, there is one last frontier to be crossed: marriage.
Because of our ultra-Catholic heritage I do not expect this Bill to ever pass as such. It may be automatically included in some form or another as part of the cohabitation legislation that the government is working on, however, I have my doubts that, despite last week’s overturning of the 2008 ruling about Proposition 8 in California, it will never ever be officially recognised publicly as a marriage or even a legal partnership. The acid test will be if officially cohabitating gay couples would be asked to government functions. Therefore, although the civil aspects of being gay may not be satisfactory to most, they certainly are a damn sight better than they were when I was young.

Let us substitute the Jewish world within a world of the 1930s with the world within a world of contemporary homosexuality and let us return to the Finzi-Contini. During the last decade all but the most militant have largely ignored or merely poured scorn on the homophobic broadsides that have been launched relentlessly by the Catholic Church in an attempt to divert attention from the terrible and tragic paedophile scandals that today still rock it to its foundations. There is no direct relation between paedophilia and homosexuality apart from the fact that for one thing the clergy involved is all male and that many happen to be homosexual. That is logical. However, for the rest of us, being branded “intrinsically evil” and “pollutant”, among other things, is pretty unpleasant stuff, isn’t it?

Many gay people in Malta tend to treat the cruel attacks from the Vatican as if they refer to someone else. Maybe this is because for many of us in Malta our relationship with priests as sympathetic and understanding human beings makes the homophobic propaganda sound as unreal and absurd as those anti-Semitic edicts from Palazzo Venezia in the 1930s did to the Judaic jeunesse doree of Ferrara.

Adolf Hitler famously quipped that it was so fortunate for governments that the people they ruled do not think.

That, however, was before the days when freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of speech was taken for granted. Today, only the deliberately indifferent or brain-dead do not think. Because conservatism is unnerved by the information technology revolution it is getting cold feet and hence we have panic buttons being pressed wildly as conservatism backpedals for the safety of an increasingly Right Wing ideology, not only here in Malta but all over the civilised world. Again in the forefront of all this, the gay world lies smack in the line of fire. The latest barrage to come from the Catholic front was from a certain Emeritus Bishop Babini of Grosseto who declared that practising homosexual priests are worse than paedophiles.
This declaration was made in the aftermath of a revelation on Panorama Magazine about a ring of priests who frequent gay bars and brothels in Rome and who were secretly filmed in flagrante delicto and then subsequently celebrating Mass, not in a church, mind you, but in some nondescript room which makes me suspect that it was either a put-up job or that the particular priest was already banned from publicly practising his calling. Bishop Babini has made an episcopal horlicks of his comparisons.

Nothing, but nothing, can remotely compare to the intrinsic horror of paedophilia.
I do not hold with priests who have voluntarily made a vow of celibacy indulging in any sort of sex although I sympathise as, like me, they are but human; however, to say that homosexuality is worse than paedophilia is a statement that can have ghastly repercussions while the world, like Pavlov’s Dog, is fed increasingly insidious homophobic propaganda.

Sex between consenting adults of whatever gender is harmless and should be of no interest to anyone, but sex with a child by whoever is quite another story, Your Grace. It is an abomination; no more, no less. This sanctimonious and inexorable fanning the flames of homophobia must stop. If it doesn’t, it will be a matter of time before the first openly homophobic hate crime is committed, and then, Mgr Babini, who should we blame?

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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