Robert Ganshorn

The Political Uses of Sodomy Laws

Filed By Robert Ganshorn | July 19, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Islam, Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, National Front, oil, Petronas Oil, sodomy laws

Here on CNN Asia there are constant and beautiful commercial spots for Malaysia featuring singing children, exotically dressed dancers in the forefront of the Petronas Tower (tallest building in the world when built) located in Kuala Lampur. Petronas has oil reserves in the amount of three billion barrels. And the chorus sings: "Malaysia truly Asia!" I could get to Malaysia easily by bus, train or plane, but would never consider going there. Here is why:

For more than thirty seven years Malaysia has been run by a single political party the "National Front." They still maintain some of the most restrictive "anti sodomy" laws in the world (up to 20 years in prison) originally ushered in by the British Colonial administration in the 1870's. Islam is the state religion. With a small population (today just twenty seven million), disparate "colonial kingdoms" cobbled together in 1963, this place has a severe identity problem that has been subdued by oil wealth. There are deep divisions and little intermarriage between the native Malays and nearly half that number of other persons composed of ethnic Chinese, Arabs, and Aboriginal groups. Islam is practiced by 55% to 60% of the population, followed by less than half that number practicing Buddhism with the balance practicing small splinter religions like Christianity (3-5%).

The "National Front" has lost support and was in the process of being finally forced out of power after it's very long reign supreme, balancing interest groups to maintain itself. At the forefront of this movement is Anwar Ibrahim, who promises to bring about much needed reforms in a country where people can be fined, and even beaten with canes, for the scandalous act of holding hands in the park. And that is just the boys and girls mind you. How can Petronas Oil, the National Front, and sitting prime minister Abdullah Bin Ahmad Badani, maintain power when it has lost public respect resulting from the divisive politics it has used to maintain control?

The sodomy laws.

Ten years ago Anwar Ibrahim was convicted of sodomy with his driver. He maintained that this was not true and fought the matter all the way to his country's supreme court to have it overturned. He had been deputy Prime Minister at the time of the accusation and he spent six years in prison until exonerated. He then resumed his position as head of the opposition to the National Front only to have a new accusation of sodomy leveled against him by a 23 year old aide of questionable reliability. Nonetheless, the government operated by Petronas Oil, er, the "National Front," has created a completely new group of charges against the man who would shortly have taken over the government as prime minister. He has been taken to jail, he has been strip searched, he has maintained his innocence in the face of these new charges and has declined to give a DNA sample (as is his right under Malaysian law) as he insists that the sample would be tampered with to produce the result the government wants.

The Malaysian population has endured 45 years since it's independence by being played off one another over issues of ethnicity, religion, and the politics of oil. It sounds strangely American... While they could afford to have American skyscraper builders construct a design plan created by an Argentinian, in a traditional Muslim shape facing Mecca, they have ruined rain forests and created a cesspool out of the Strait of Malacca. The average person earns about $5,000.00 per year while the truly well off are very well off.

There has yet to be a trial of Anwar Ibrahim and I have no opinion about whether he is bisexual. I do have an opinion that the political use of sodomy laws to silence a government critic is the most backward use of power imaginable. I also know that whatever gay society there is existing in this country must be extremely covert, and being driven underground, cannot protect itself in any way. It is a situation ripe for abuse, blackmail, spread of HIV, intimidation and horror if you are imprisoned. Sadly, even if Ibrahim has these present charges overturned, it does not bode well for legalization of sodomy, even with a power change. Why? Because the critics will say that he was legalizing his past and future acts of sodomy. Only when there is adequate world pressure on this country can this situation be changed, but they are oil rich, and who will put pressure on them?

It won't be Saudi Arabia (Mecca), which the Petronas Towers face. In Saudi Arabia, homosexual acts are punishable by death. Just another reason to use less oil.


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Ah, yes, the economic usefulness of sodomy laws. It's working well for Malaysia...and it's nothing new.

In the 14th century, when King Philip of France was broke, he looked around and noticed that the Knights Templar were rolling in money. Indeed, the Templars WERE the bankers of Europe, and they had already tendered a loan to the king, but refused to extend his credit further. Big mistake. So the king set in motion an elaborate intrigue that even involved the Papacy, all so he could get Papal cooperation on having the French Templars arrested in 1307 and accused of sodomy (among other things). After being tortured for an extended period of time, most of the Knights confessed to the sodomitical "abominations," and could be conveniently executed. Meanwhile their personal wealth was confiscated by the King.

King Henry VIII used the gambit when he gave the Pope the bird and created the Church of England. He took over all the Catholic monasteries and churches, and stripped them of their wealth. The fact is, Henry was broke and needed to freshen up the royal exchequer. It helped to launch accusations of sodomy against some of the churchmen, in order to provide the convenient excuse. To put it another way -- part of his agenda for divorcing Katherine of Aragon and marrying Ann Boleyn was not just his need for an heir, or even personal lust...but money. Just plain money.

It would be an interesting project for some historian to sift through the 2000 years of so-called "Christian civilization," and see exactly how many self-righteous crackdowns on "sodomy" provided somebody with a new cash flow. The last chapter could reveal how many billions of dollars the religious righters in the U.S. have made off our backs with their fund-raising.

We are still using sodomy laws to intimidate in the US!

so many states still have them on the books...

great post Robert.

MAX! bring me...

Wouldn't it be nice if reasonable, common-sense non-theocratic government actually reigned supreme?

After it comes to the US, and is successful, maybe the Malaysians might also consider adopting it.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 20, 2008 9:35 AM

Patricia, I have to laugh because Henry even used the lead in the roofs of the monasteries to make bullets and armaments. What a use of a place that would have often housed a hospital!

When I was in college there were several Malay students there learning English. Most were Muslim. Most were very rude and stand-offish to the gay students.

I've watched this case play out and Jerame and I were even talking about it Thursday night. This is simply outrageous; they are obviously using it for political reasons.

This should be an example for all Americans if we continue down the path of using federal prosecution to keep anti-administration elected officials out of office...

To help conflate matters, I'll just like to add that as a Muslim country, Malaysia has a parallel Syariah (Islamic) Court system that further muddles the issue, thus has been a bone of contention in discussing the jurisdiction of the criminal courts on sodomy charges. Had Ibrahim escaped the jurisdiction of the penal code (i.e. not the initial nine years that the criminal court had given him), he could have still face a jail term of up to three years under Syariah jurisdiction.

Good times.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 22, 2008 8:11 AM

mark d thank you for that additional information. I was unaware of it. I am very pleased at the response and comments to this piece. For anyone Gay who considers visiting Malaysia this should serve as a warning. It is not "truly Asia" as you may have heard if you are getting the same CNN commercials I see. It is a cobbled together conglomerate of people of a variety of religious and social traditions and the only way to visit there is if you know how Gays had to act in the 1950's.