(a translation of this article was published in the Korean edition of Newsweek on Monday April 29)
Last week the world chuckled when South Korea again made it into the entertainment and ‘bizarre’ sections of foreign media: in a beauty contest in Daegu all the faces of the contestants look eerily similar. ‘One dream, one face’, was one of the headlines on the contest that resulted in something that rather looked like a ‘best plastic surgery’ contest. What many foreign readers don’t realize is that this is far from funny. A great part of South Korean society is completely stuck in the uniform believe of ‘one face’: if you are different, there is no place for you.
A ‘big’ face with natural eyes, being gay, being fat, not having went to the army, having a Filipino mother, having a diploma from an unknown university. No matter how smart, brilliant or suitable you are for the job, a South Korean company will prefer to hire somebody without these ‘handicaps’, as they value all these non-relevant aspects to ridiculous levels. Recently there almost was a breakthrough to give South Korea the chance to start getting rid of forcing it’s citizens to model themselves after the one and only holy standard: a new anti-discrimination law. The UN Human Rights Council recommended South Korea to push forward the law, after which a group of politicians started the process.
Like in an earlier effort in 2007 the sound of resistance against such new law was loud. It were especially the extreme Christians who found it necessary to insult, degrade and – like the company culture I was mentioning – disqualify fellow citizens randomly. They stated that it would be the start of the sodomizing and devaluation of their country. Contradictory enough by repeatedly venting their quite dirty thoughts on that the new law would promote anal sex. One group said that in countries where anti-discrimination laws exist, students in sex education classes were “shown homosexual videos in class and taught about anal intercourse.” It is a tragedy these people in the first place only have such thoughts, while this is about people who fall in love with someone of the same sex and just want a normal life with normal love like everybody else.
The Christian extremists somehow got to believe that they will get affected by other peoples sexual preferences. That their survival depends on tastes and preferences of other people. Since they mongered themselves so deep into this irrational fears, they want to stick to their rights to degrade fellow citizens and take away basic human rights from them. Sadly enough they succeeded: after their protest politicians withdrew the law proposal. The example of the Christians does sound extreme, but it is not only them. And it is not only homosexuality. Looks, education, family background and military history: all these things determine a big part of someones life here.
Of course, the United Nations builds its norms on western values. ‘Thou shalt not discriminate’ is one of the modern western views that does not match with many aspects of Confucianism (submit to your senior) and Shamanism (blood type determining your personality), the two main pillars of values in Korea. Those values have set many norms that, from a western point of view, per definition discriminate. Though, I do not think it is fair to blame either Confucianism or Shamanism for discrimination. As it is not fair to blame the bible for the noisy extreme Christians. It’s the one who interprets and the time it is set in. If Korea would have had the luck to have stayed away from colonialism, war and dictatorships, it could as well have been a flourishing society build on those roots. Now those roots are cut off and partially replaced by western ideals, missing the cultural roots of the matter of what those western ideals are build on. So we see a confused Korea today.
That having said I could say the Korean people who adopted this western religion of Christianity without those roots, are thereby per definition confused. But that was quite obvious. I’d prefer not to hate them (I believe the bible promotes harmony anyway), but enlighten them with simple facts. I’m quite confident to tell them that Korea won’t devaluate its image in the world if it accepts homosexuals, if it focuses on individual qualities (I believe Confucius promoted self-creation) and stop judging by looks. On the contrary, Korea would be an awesome country, that will replace the bizarre sensational stories full of crazy extremists or plastic surgery with inspirational ones in foreign media. Imagine all the energy that this country has, being used in an environment that stimulates everybody to follow their hearts and that gives everybody the chance to create. A dynamic, modern entity build on its own historical roots – because, yes, a country can be diverse and respectful to human rights without needing to be western. Not ‘One dream, one face’, but ’50 million dreams, 50 million faces’. Step one: implement that anti-discrimination law. Now.