As if on cue, this week’s New York Times Magazine has a feature article on the increased repression of gays in many Arab and Muslim countries. Many of the details are harrowing: men being beaten, tortured, and blacklisted for nothing other than their sexual orientation. Perhaps even more disturbing is that one of the reasons given for this rise in anti-gay oppression is that tolerance towards gays is associated with “Western” culture, which many in the Arab and Muslim world violently reject.
A number of points which this article brings to mind are worth emphasizing:
1. Islamic fundamentalists do hate our freedoms
President Bush has often stated that we have been targeted by Al Queda and other Muslim radicals because they hate our freedom. Many have ridiculed the president for this simplistic notion, and correctly pointed out that many jihadists state clear political goals that are only marginally related to what America does or does not stand for. But there is still considerable truth to what the president says: Muslim fundamentalists despise a culture that allows what it perceives as hedonistic and lustful behavior in the name of freedom. The Taliban is the closest we have to the ideal world of Muslim extremists, and it is so authoritarian and repressive that everything from music to dancing to kite flying is prohibited, let alone displays of sexual desire.
2. The Christian Right has much in common with Muslim fundamentalists
Only on what are considered fringe leftwing blogs is this point ever mentioned, but it simply cannot be denied. While the Christian Right’s ideal America would never go as far as the Taliban, it shares many viewpoints, not the least of which is the disdain for and hatred of homosexuals. This is impolitic to say, but it needs to be said.
It also relates directly to what has always been one of my greatest criticisms of the Bush Administration, and why I do not think it has moral legitimacy. At the same time as the Administration has been fighting Islamic fundamentalists overseas, it has been busy empowering Christian fundamentalists at home. While I would never have supported the Iraq War (because I thought it was simply bad foreign policy), I would have at least believed that Bush was sincere if he had used his political capital from 9/11 to argue for a more inclusive and less fundamentalist vision of America. Instead we have the worst of both worlds: a terribly articulated and executed foreign policy and a radical fundamentalist agenda at home.
3. The struggle is for human rights above all
As I have argued in earlier pieces, while democracy is a worthy and noble goal and essential to any long-term peace in the Middle East, the global struggle we face is more about human rights than it is about democracy. Due to many factors, not the least of which is the insecurity and rapid change brought about by globalization, we are experiencing a reactionary moment in history when people of all stripes yearn for a fictional ‘golden age’ that is characterized by what they perceive as more stability. Invariably, however, what comes with this stability is less freedom and fewer human rights. The only way to combat this is to argue for and support universal human rights on all fronts and at all times.
Whether a gay man is beaten and killed in America or executed on the streets of the Iran, at bottom it is the same oppression with the same underlying motive. Until we see all these acts as part of the same larger struggle, our efforts will be only partial and largely unsuccessful.