One of the most annoying tics of the politically correct is their tendency to employ the label “provocative” as a term of abuse. Statements and actions that people in a free society shouldn’t think twice about making or doing are now deemed rude or improper when the offended party belongs to a particular group. Lately, it’s Muslims who most often protest being victimized by provocation, as the endless complaints of their self-appointed leaders and the asinine news stories in the mainstream media attest (to wit, a recent headline in The New York Times: “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?”). We’ve now reached the point where it’s as provocative to construct a gay bar in Manhattan, the epicenter of international gay life, as it is to draw cartoons of Muhammad.
In response to the announcement of the development of an Islamic community center two blocks from ground zero, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld proposed in a blog post that a gay bar be built next door. Backers of the mosque project leaped into action, accusing Gutfeld of the highest crime that can be committed in the home of the humorless and land of the easily offended: insensitivity.
“If you won’t consider the sensibilities of Muslims, you’re not going to build dialog,” tweeted a spokesman for the organization behind the mosque, known as Park51. Media Matters, all but an official arm of the Democratic National Committee, complained about Gutfeld’s “PR stunt.”
Gutfeld, who is straight, claims to be completely genuine about his intentions. “As you know, the Muslim faith doesn’t look kindly upon homosexuality, which is why I’m building this bar,” he wrote in his post. “It is an effort to break down barriers and reduce deadly homophobia in the Islamic world.… Bottom line: I hope that the mosque owners will be as open to the bar as I am to the new mosque. After all, the belief driving them to open up their center near ground zero is no different than mine.”
Whether or not Gutfeld’s proposal is indeed a stunt, he raises serious questions about religious freedom and the limits of tolerance that liberals, of all people, should want asked. In the same way that many in the West deemed cartoon drawings of Muhammad to be a “provocation” (former French president Jacques Chirac) that “pick at the same wounds” (Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria), Gutfeld’s ostensibly liberal critics decided that standing up for the fundamentally liberal principle of free association just wasn’t worth the effort. As Salman Rushdie has experienced after he published The Satanic Verses, it’s those people exercising their right to free speech who are condemned for bringing the trouble upon themselves, rather than emotionally stunted Muslims threatening violence because their precious religious sensibilities have been offended.
A phobia is an irrational fear of something, yet there is nothing irrational about questioning some of the more reactionary and violent strains of Islam, which are hardly fringe elements. Indeed, they are endorsed and funded by several states (Iran and Saudi Arabia come to mind) and can credibly claim tens of millions of adherents in the Muslim world. This nonsense word, which graced an August cover of Time (“Is America Islamophobic?”), is the pernicious catchall that has come to be employed against those who merely raise questions about the propriety of this particular project being built in this particular location with these particular backers.
And it appears that the man behind the center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, isn’t as moderate as he might like you to believe. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, he seemed to accuse the United States of bringing the murder of 3,000 civilians upon itself.
“I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened,” he told 60 Minutes. He has refused to answer whether Hamas is a terrorist organization, as designated by the U.S. State Department. And in the midst of the Iranian government’s brutal crackdown on demonstrators protesting that country’s stolen election, Rauf, in a piece for The Huffington Post, encouraged President Barack Obama to “say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution—to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.” The doctrine Rauf cited, Vilayet-i-faqih, was formulated by Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the man responsible for that country’s descent into religious tyranny.
Concerned citizens have every right to ask Imam Rauf and his apologists about their beliefs. Alongside his views on the right of Israel to exist (about which he’s vague) or whether Hamas is a terrorist group, should not Rauf also be asked his views on homosexuality, particularly the Koranic injunctions that those who engage in same-sex relations be put to death? Do not those who defend him as a moderate have the duty to ask him such questions before assuring us of his bona fides?
Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee chairman and campaign manager for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection bid, put a partisan cast on this issue in his coming-out interview with The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder. In private conversations over the past several years, Ambinder wrote, Mehlman “often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called ‘the greatest antigay force in the world right now.’ ” The question of whether Republicans are better than Democrats at fighting Islamic jihadism (or if such a question is even possible to answer) is a separate matter, but the advance of Islamic extremism is certainly something that gays should consider in forming their political worldview. Regardless of what one thinks about Mehlman, his latter-day embrace of the gay rights movement, or his views about the relative wisdom of Republican foreign policy, there can be no argument with his contention about the threat Islamic fundamentalism poses to gay people.
Afraid to criticize the tenets of a religion romanticized by the American left—whose practitioners are sympathetically viewed as the victims of U.S. imperialism and right-wing fearmongering—we gays have no such compunction about provoking conservative politicians and the Judeo-Christian religious community. Whenever people like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich—who have emerged as the most outspoken opponents of the mosque—open their mouths, gays and their allies in the liberal media condemn their bigotry and intolerance. Yet when the individual espousing views that fall short of the gay liberal threshold happens to be a Muslim, cries about fascism suddenly evaporate. As Commentary’s Abe Greenwald aptly put it, “Liberals who two years ago abandoned their humdrum lives to become career alarmists about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism now wish to be taken seriously as misty-eyed champions of America’s tolerance of diverse faiths.”
It used to be that provocation was seen as a positive trait, especially in the gay community. From Oscar Wilde to Larry Kramer, gay people have always been trendsetters, sometimes needlessly outrageous but nevertheless often ahead of their time. There’s still an appreciation for the artistically outré—just look at the success of Lady Gaga. But her provocation titillates; it doesn’t stimulate. The same goes for much of the political discourse among gays today, which assumes that posing for glamorous photo shoots with duct tape over one’s mouth and the phrase “No H8” painted on one’s cheek is a courageous statement. It says something about the stunted state of gay activism that it’s taken a puerile Fox News host to be doing the work that gay people should be doing themselves.