12/01/2016

There is no space for dialogue here

A few hours ago, and maybe even until now (the time of writing), I was involved in a bitter argument with friends and foes alike – on Facebook.

I had asked, in one of my extended thinking, what the grounds were against the legalization of abortion in Malawi. I added, I did not want religious sermons. I wanted arguments grounded outside theology.

I should have known.

What I had imagined would be a civil discourse turned bitter. Sometimes, ugly. Even, horrible. I am thinking some people have even struck me off their friends list. Others, I saw them claim, have suddenly switched from a kind of adoring me to hatred. They would kill me, had they had the opportunity. Yet, they think aborting an unborn foetus is a crime, immoral, punishable and – of course – sin!

The moment I wanted that debate, I had asked myself questions on the subject of abortion yet I found that some of the grounds those against it are standing on are shaky. Actually, I established that they are mostly against abortion either because religion advises them to or just because they can be against it: the rational ones prefer to call that morality or the idea of right to life or somethings like that.

Such reasons, to me, appeared shallow and unconvincing. They sounded more of a tyranny of the majority just for its sake. So, I wanted something that would convince me that giving a couple – or just a woman – the choice to either live with a pregnancy or terminate it is wrong.

Unfortunately, almost 24 hours later nobody had come forth with the reasons for being against abortion outside the safety of Bible verses and because their religious authorities feel like it is wrong.

I tried to stir the water further. I argued that the issue of abortion, its legalization, is a gender issue much as it is a class issue. Yet no one, from the other side, moved forth comfortably – armed with facts – to disprove my argument. Instead, they employed emotions and madness. Those who know some dark secrets about me nearly resorted to throwing them in my face to blackmail me into silence.

Those courageous enough to be chickens finally moved out of that space, to a new space, where they leveled every argument against me – the person – and other people holding a stand such as me. We have either been labelled ‘bought’ (by the West of course because the West is a vast swamp of like-minded individuals with a lot of money to buy off people like me to propagate everything un-African – whatever this African thing is), ‘stupid’, ‘brain-and-white-washed’ and some other unkind terms exchanged in the privacy of Facebook and WhatsApp inboxes.

The reactions have had me thinking: what space do we have in this country to engage constructively, to dialogue and appreciate the other’s viewpoint? I feared if we have such a rational people ready to shift gears if presented with overwhelming arguments against their stand.

Not long ago, I faulted the US ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, on the way the advocacy for LGBTQI rights were being advanced. In a conservative society such as Malawi. I found her approach to have been harmful and risky, not to herself but the people whose rights she was advocating for.

I sensed that there was an alienation. Two schools operating from completely different realities. The debate I aimed to have – yet degenerated into a free for all bout, not of ideas but emotions – on abortion just alerted me to the chasm that is existing in this country each time an issue that sharply divides us appears on the scene.

We have quietly embraced our fundamentalism on issues. This has been exacerbated by the inability to distinguish people from the arguments that they make.

To us, these days, anybody who does not share a viewpoint is not to be one of us. We may be from the same family, even, but the moment they think night starts at 6 while the entire household thinks night starts at 5 then we are free to label them, abuse them and we would even kill them. 

We can no longer accept that people can take a different view from us and still be normal. Normalcy is sharing a viewpoint.

When I raised my arguments as to why abortion should be made legal – basing on the power and class perspectives -I steered clear of the religious leaders who are to be leading a march against the legalisation of both abortion and homosexuality. To me, as I remarked elsewhere, I had no problem with them protesting. I would actually provide them with water to make their journey manageable.

I thought it was – and it really is – important for all arguments to rest on reason. A bit of emotion, yes, but much of reason. I was ready, and I still am, to move from my point of view if somebody convinces me with constructive arguments on the issue.


Yet, for colleagues across the aisle, I found a few sober enough to appreciate fallacies, lies and attacks from their own side and call them out. Most are just relishing the prospect of being in a majority and, as long as they are in a majority, then their tyranny is welcome. Do you know what they call this tyranny? A democracy!

I think that is an abuse of the term: democracy. But, if that suits someone to abuse it, I think I should let them live with it. Which is what really is the problem in this nation: living and letting live. 

It seems, for a majority, man's only freedom can be ascertained if he does what they do. When man wants to do anything different, suddenly they should be bound. Use the law, if you may, or if it appears that rationality is creeping into the lawmakers then use intimidation. The fear is, this intimidation will soon degenerate into violence. 

That has to be a fear of any rational and righteous person: the prospect of violence for disagreeing with a viewpoint!