The Imprint of Nationalism and Fundamentalism on Sexuality

By Sarda, Alejandra | Women in Action, August 2004 | Go to article overview

The Imprint of Nationalism and Fundamentalism on Sexuality


Sarda, Alejandra, Women in Action


I would like to share with you some ideas and experiences about the relationship between nationalism, fundamentalism and sexuality in Latin America. When I refer to "fundamentalism," I follow the definition I learnt from my colleagues in Women Under Muslim Laws, that is, fundamentalism as the use of a distorted version of religion and/or culture to maintain or achieve political power.

In Latin America, the relationship between nationalism and fundamentalism has a very long history. It started with the indigenous empires that were ruled by an alliance of priests and warriors. Those empires subjugated other indigenous nations; exploited them economically, and offered women and men from the defeated nations as human sacrifices so their gods would grant them even more power. They tried to uproot all customs that did not fit with the empire's militaristic and hierarchical vision, such as the power held by women in many of the subjugated nations, or the diversity of sexual practices and identities.

It continued with the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors, with the genocide perpetrated by the military on the bodies, and by the catholic priests on the souls, sexualities, artistic expressions and languages of indigenous peoples in Latin America. The church and the military became allies again to traffic female and male slaves from Africa, who were subjected to the same genocide to destroy their cultural, sexual, religious and linguistic practices. During colonial times (before the 19 century), the catholic church, with the support of the secular power, persecuted and murdered hundreds of women that practiced their sexuality outside marriage (with men or with other women), male homosexuals, as well as religious and political dissidents, to preserve "natural order and public morals."

With the 19th century came the builders of the new American nations, free from Spanish rule but slaves to English capital. The states that exist today in America were created, and nations had to be made up for them. That is how flags, national anthems and legends came to be--all of them of a military nature. All American national anthems are war songs.

The fundamentalist use of religious symbols is also common to all our countries: a virgin who incarnates the spirit of the nation, who goes to war with the troops, and to whom the national flag is consecrated. The indigenous, Afro and mestizo genocide continued, because the new nation-states needed more land and more wealth. Migrants from Spain, Italy, Russia, China, Japan, as well as Slavic, Arab and Jewish people without states, came in droves to the continent. The nations that were making themselves up needed homogeneous and strong identities, so the migrants were also forced to silence their languages, customs and particularities to be included. Church, police and medicine came together to persecute, torture, and in some cases, murder any person who wanted to live her or his sexuality outside the "natural order and the public moral," as preserving these was key to building and then preserving the new nations.

With the 20th century came the USA empire, to impose the rule of McDonald's and Coca Cola, of structural adjustment plans and privatisations. The military contributed with the "war against subversion" that meant death, prison, torture and forced exile for hundreds of thousands of people fighting for social justice. With some remarkable exceptions like Brazil or Chile, most of the catholic hierarchies in the continent joined in and blessed this new genocide, which was deemed necessary to preserve the "moral order" of the nation. They spread the idea that political dissidents also lack morals and engaged in a disorderly sexuality--something that was not true, because revolutionary groups were as puritanical and militarist as the system they were trying to destroy. It is worth noting that libertarian movements--from women to sexual dissidents--that started with much strength in the 1960s and 1970s were eventually "erased from the map" due to the urgency and violence of the genocide against fighters for social justice. …

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