Speaking to One Another and Speaking Out

A couple of days ago, I quoted Bruce Bawer on engagement. Since then, his words have rolled about in my head. This long spring, I started reconnecting with old gay friends; I’ve been struck by how many of them have become politicized, beset by BDS. In the sixties and seventies they were apolitical – as, most of the time, I was. Occasionally, I’d have a boyfriend who’d talk about politics, but then I’d retreat to my friends whose arguments were over the fictional and aesthetic.

Bush’s stance on gay marriage may irritate, but, frankly, this is the first White House in which a gay couple stood on the nominating platform with the presidential candidate, when the First Lady when asked if she would allow a gay couple in the White House answered, quite calmly, said she was sure many such couples had stayed there. But I must acknowledge my friends have a point. They feel something they know should be acknowledged: partnership, affection, duty. Besides, marriage has been tattered and torn. Some confuse weddings with marriage, rights with duties, conjugal responsibilities with conjugal visits, buying houses with raising children, keeping the core institution of society strong with being a social “couple.” But, then, so do a lot of heterosexuals.

The long history of marriage is of an institution that raises the next generation and transmits the community’s values. Arranged marriages, loveless marriages – those were marriages. But, now, this transmission is less important; indeed, in most western culture the replacement rate has dropped well below 2.1; on the other hand, surrogate mothers and test tube babies, in vitro fertilization and sperm donors – the babies we do have seem less connected to those old definitions of marriage. That many gays don’t see this as remarkable & ahistorical means they don’t really understand marriage, but, we all tend to see the world through the prism of our own time. And if what passes for marriage among heterosexuals is held up as definition, we can hardly blame homosexuals for making some of the arguments they do. I don’t expect homosexuals to feel it, but I suspect the defense of marriage is less inspired by antipathy for them than a sense it is the last of a series of bewildering changes. Having lost our anchor in the biological, we fear the swift currents tugging at our fragile boats.

Of course, some is antipathy – we fear the unknown. And some have led remarkably segregated lives: for some, the gay life is radically different; for some gays, the traditional family is. Listening to some “focus on the family” types or watching a few well-reviewed movies or art exhibition may make us suspect these two groups don’t live on the same planet. Both feel threatened – and that stokes fear. These thoughts have been brought on by one of those chance confluences: a letter from an old friend and a newer friend’s loan of Bruce Bawer’s book, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within.

The letter arrived from a friend from freshman English, forty-four years ago; he was my closest confidante through a series of disastrous love affairs but also because we could discuss literature and character and the ethical questions Henry James posed until dawn lightened the windows. He remarked in a letter as we slowly reach out to one another after so many years apart, that he, as a gay man, can only find acceptance in an anarchic socialist world, but of course, he says, I’ve become conservative, matronly, a suburban wife and mother. He isn’t critical but rather accepts that we’ve become different people than we were. I pause at his remark and recognize its truth. On the one hand, I understand that some & some customs of the world through which I move would make him uneasy, make him feel an outsider. Still, he enjoys his quiet life, having mated and stayed with his “significant other” for well over forty years, buying a house on a quiet street. I can’t, of course, imagine him finding peace in a world that is truly anarchic; certainly, he could not find the peace he has found in American capitalism in the practices that the Muslim minorities practice (and encourage) in socialist Europe. His partner’s success has been important and conventional. His triumphs are public.

So, when my friend asks, how could I become a neo-con, I think, how could I not? It is because of you and your partner, because of my daughters, because of a world I see threatening to you and those like you. Where you see socialist acceptance, I see a phony peace. At the hinge of the 70’s, I took a “homophile” course and spent a semester on Isherwood. I keep remembering his work of the late thirties: facile and shifting and blinking at what was going on. And I think of Beirut and the Cole and all the years between. And I think, well, I’ve wakened – have you?

I’ve come to appreciate the conventional and to distrust the dramatic gesture, but I know that the foundation of our rights & laws protects him in his house across the country as it does me in mine. I feel less that I’ve compromised than found a place where the values I always held can be expressed. (Actually even in those days I would say that was what I wanted, but few thought I’d achieve it, laughing at my protestations.) But some of those are values he, too, counts on. The universal still ties us – a respect for a western tradition, rights, liberties, individualism. We speak to each other with some difficulty; in some ways we have grown apart, but our vocabulary is not that different. Of course, I suspect, from his tone, that he, too, while still a bit entertained by his friends’ drama, relishes his domestic tranquility. He and his partner have worked hard to offer an oasis, a safe place for those tired of the drama.

And I think of how that gay couple would be viewed, how my daughters would be viewed in the future Bawer fears. The thought is not a happy one. Of course, I also wonder what drives a society to imprison, untutored and beaten, half its population, to kill another 5%. Of course, it fetters the minds of that remaining 45%, arguing death is preferable to life. To us, this seems immoral. I suspect it is also impractical (as Americans we also share an affection for the pragmatic – and we recognize that Sharia law isn’t that). In our society, all can be productive and vigorous and creative. In general, the oft-repeated argument that that society prefers death and we don’t doesn’t seem to me to make spiritual sense or moral sense; less important, perhaps, is that it doesn’t make material or economic sense. It is one of many reasons I can’t but believe in any coming contest, the society that uses (and respects) all its members is likely to be more successful.

Understanding what we’ve gained, I have become conservative. What we’ve gained, in part, is a greater openness about homosexuality. My neo-con sentiments arose in part from their importance in my life and that of our society. Some of my best employees were gay, ones who made the early years of my business fun as well as endurable. Two of my husband’s closest friends, waiting until their late forties, acknowledged what we’d assumed all along. For these people, we wanted the best – and the best, as we understood it and perhaps as they did, too – was a meaningful relationship, someone with whom they could walk through life (in that wonderful explication of fairy stories by Bettelheim, who seemed to truly understand our human nature).

So, the memory of these men, my affection for them and the importance they held in my life has been one of the reasons that, since 9/11, I’ve become so conservative. Of course, my affection for America and for American literature has sharpened a feeling that is, I guess, patriotism; it is inspired by the passion of and respect for the works I teach. And, of course, the nearer I come to being a grandmother the more I want those children to be brought up in a world in which they can stride joyfully down the street, feeling none of the restraint of Sharia law. The more I want music and tolerance and dancing to be a part of their lives; the more I want books and speculative thought and wit to be expressed in a daily and natural way. And, frankly, the less interest I have in speculative sympathies for the kind of rigidity of radical Islam. I want my daughters and my granddaughters to enjoy sex; I want my grandsons to see it as a mutual joy, not a bitter and sadistic pleasure. Of course, my heterosexuality, my connection by blood to those generations, has led me to a stronger and more conservative stance.

I certainly want for my children a maturity, an imagination, a freedom from obsession that they would be hard pressed to find in a society that encourages the immaturity and willfulness Bruce Bawer describes. One of the least violent but most evocative passages is the one in which he describes “a catalog of refusals” by Muslim students reported by the French Ministry of Education.

Increasingly, Muslim students were refusing to sing, dance, participate in sports, draw a face, or play an instrument (all of which have been permitted by Islam in the past, but not by the fundamentalists now dominant in Europe). They refused to eat school cafeteria food that isn’t halal (that is, prepared according to sharia law) and refused to draw a right angle in math class because it looks like part of the Christian cross. They refused to swim because they didn’t want to be polluted by “infidels’ water.” They refused to read Enlightenment authors such as Voltaire and Rousseau because they’re antireligion, Cyrano de Bergerac because it’s too racy, Madame Bovary because it promotes women’s rights, and Chrétien de Troyes because, it’s, well Chrétien. They refused to accept basic facts of Christian and Jewish history and they rejected outright the existence of pre-Islamic religions in Egypt. Many refused to learn English because it’s “the vehicle of imperialism” (an opinion one can imagine many of their teachers sharing). (209)

The report, Bawer says “noted the powerful influence on pupils of young Muslim intellectuals whom they look up to as “big brothers” and who teach them to think of themselves solely as Muslims, not French.” But we recognize in so much of this the fear of – and obsessive temptation by – anything that might distract the mind. Surely, the effect, like such radical Muslim’s attitude toward sex & fully hidden women, must be not unlike being told never to think of an arctic bear while sitting in a straight-backed chair before a white wall for an hour. Most of us, brought up in a Christian society, would seldom think of right angles in terms of the Christian cross.

It is easier to believe others tempt us than within us are desires we must (and with difficulty) control. To many, the shift from the Old Testament to the New may be theologically one of grace, but is also from the tribal to the universal, from the external to the internal. Whether this is the lesson of the Bible or of the slowly modernizing world, it is clearly one that restrains us in ways that those who see temptation in a right angle can not understand and leads to quite different understandings of guilt. The man’s lust, we believe, not the woman’s clothing, causes rape. This and so much else is the mark of a value system internalized and assumed universal. We think it is right. Sure this assumption of a certain universality may impose upon others, but it is more practical than narrow: it is also the only way that people with varying beliefs can easily live beside one another.

And thanks to Jewish psychologists, we began to find words for this internalization, as well as a dawning sense of the barely conscious nature of our desires and fears. This is the secret of stream-of-consciousness narratives – a character thinks around and around and around until finally, at the story’s climax, we realize what hasn’t been spoken but has always been at the obsessive center. But we, too, blink. We sense the fragility, the temporary nature of civilization. But, we don’t want to face that fact; it is much easier to project on Bush the cause of our unease.

The fear is greater in Europe because they must fear – how can they not – that the violence lurking beneath (not so far beneath of course) the burning of the cars in Paris is the burning of Paris. Their dark past is not so long ago, after all, and their present chaos not so far away. And what lurks within those rampaging youths lurks within them as well. Much that Bawer describes is of a barely contained violence, a violence of words, of symbolic actions, and sometimes of quite terribly real ones – the knife through van Gogh’s chest holding the note, Pim Fortuyn’s assassination. Reality is scary and reactions irrational if we begin with that list of “refusals” and view it as we do, in terms of the internalized. How does the Parisian deal with the craziness of the Muslim – how does the Muslim deal with modernity when his leaders speak of a seventh century utopia? What doesn’t each want to know about himself?

Living in Scandinavia, this danger is not lost on Bawer. Few are as philosophical as Lee Harris, but Bawer writes clearly and his tone is remarkably reasonable; he comes off as a thoughtful, interesting & companionable person who appreciates Europe far more and far more thoughtfully than most – but he sees that the virtues he appreciates nurtured a passivity he finds less attractive. As page after page piles on examples, the reader is struck by the horrible quantity and reductive similarity of reactions – ones seldom heartening. He divides the book into three chapters (though the division is not always neat): “Before 9/11: Europe in Denial”; “9/11 and After: Blaming the Jews”; and “Europe’s Weimar Moment: The Liberal Resistance and Its Prospects.” Weimar does not, of course, indicate optimism.

He begins with the murder of Theodore van Gogh, returning to it again and again. Although he has settled into Norway, he first moved to the Netherlands; his joy at a slow mastery of Dutch and a delight in Amsterdam are palpable. Within a few pages, he tells us why he cares about what Holland can become – what he sees as lost by passivity and accommodation. He describes the quiet pleasures of life in this quite different culture in which he, already apparently a quite mature man, immersed himself.

Amsterdam seemed to me the leading edge of a world that has moved beyond bigotry. It was the one place I’d ever been where homophobia really seemed to have disappeared. When groups of straight teenage boys walked by the open door of a gay bar, they didn’t yell “faggot”; they didn’t elbow one anther and point and make nervous jokes, they didn’t show any discomfort or anger at all. They just walked by. It was remarkable. (8)

But it wasn’t merely Amsterdam’s sexual openness, much about the culture was attractive:

Then there was gezelligheid, a cherished value in the Netherlands, as it is, under different names, in much of northern Europe. Ask a Dutchman what gezellig means and he’ll tell you proudly that it’s untranslatable – it describes a concept so essentially Dutch that it can’t be rendered into English. The dictionary offers these equivalents: “enjoyable,” “pleasant,” “companionable,” “social.” . . . . The Dutch [unlike Americans] are more appreciative of and satisfied with everyday pleasures; they aren’t reaching for the unattainable; nor do they feel compelled to claim more for a person or experience than it merits. (9)

He describes the Dutch who “attend to the present moment and its small rewards.” This, of course, comes closer to the rewards of domesticity that I – and to some extent my old gay friend – found as we reached middle age. But where that is sometimes expressed in fairly conventional religious loyalties, in Scandinavian countries it is bound to a Dutch secularism. Bawer welcomes this, coming directly from research for his earlier work, Stealing Jesus. He tells us

this project had obliged me to immerse myself in American fundamentalism, and I hadn’t quite gotten over it – the claustrophobic narrowness of its conception of the divine, its adherents’ breathtaking combination of historical ignorance and theological certitude, and its dispiriting view of religion as a means not of engaging life’s mysteries but of denying and dispelling them through a ludicrously literal-mined reading of scripture (9).

Of course, as he comes to realize, this celebration of the domestic has its charm but its own claustrophobia. He continues, page after page, assembling compromises and toothless responses, hypocrisy and weakness as Western values are besieged by Islamic codes that we thought we’d moved beyond millennium ago. These fully intend to first marginalize and then destroy productive, useful lives. Resistance, truth-telling are important. So, again, when my friend asks, how could you become a neo-con, I ask, how can you not? The modern neo-con fights against those who would deprive the world of productivity and spirit, that would destroy you. Theirs would be a world without the expressive stride of a woman down the street; it would be a world without you.

And, so, this love of the small things, this love of peace may have been bought at too great a price, the diminution of these graceful moments leads to a diminution of the values they embody. Certainly Bawer sees that pattern. Europe values the comfortable, the amiable. We are more belligerent, more accustomed to confrontation. And we listen to the voice within and it is often willful and it is often rebellious. Quite often, of course, it is wrong. But we are accustomed to listening to it, to a rough and open marketplace. Really, our tradition is individualism and rebellion. We always think we know better – than our parents, our children, our society, our church, our government. Melville describes Hawthorne (and, perhaps more so, himself):

He says No! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes. For all men who say yes, lie; and all men who say no, — why, they are in the happy condition of judicious, unencumbered travelers in Europe; they cross the frontiers into Eternity with nothing but a carpet-bag, — that is to say, the Ego.

No one would have convinced Melville that the world Bawer saw as utopian was, indeed, ideal. But, then, of course, in the end Bawer doesn’t believe so, either.

Perhaps we are more comfortable with argument, since it is a long tradition here. And we weren’t marched over in the twentieth century. Or perhaps the devastation of our Civil War taught us a lesson. We are like an old married couple – well used to fighting but understanding that it needn’t lead to violence nor divorce.

But despite Bawer’s appreciation of the Dutch, his conclusion is ominous:

The irony was tragic: having protected themselves with nothing short of genius from the violence of the sea, having instituted a welfare system meant to safeguard every last one of them from so much as a moment’s financial insecurity, and having built up a culture of extraordinary freedom and tolerance that promised each of them a life of absolute dignity and perfect equality, postwar Dutch men and women had raised up their children into tall, strapping, healthy, multilingual young adults – veritable masters of the world for whom (they were confident) life would be safe, pleasant, and abundant in its rewards. They seemed to have brought Western civilization to its utmost pinnacle in terms of freedom and the pursuit of happiness, and the road ahead, very much like the actual roads in the Netherlands, seemed to stretch to the horizon, straight, flat, smooth, and with nary a bump.

And yet they’d turned a blind eye to the very peril that would destroy them. (237)

But rather than leaving this with his close, I’d like to go back a couple of pages to his “suggestions.” I quoted some in an earlier post, but we so seldom see an argument to do, they are worth repeating. Bawer observes:

A couple of suggestions may be in order. When visiting Europe, many Americans, to avoid discomfort and court easy praise, take every opportunity to put down their country in terms designed to gratify European sensibilities and reinforce European stereotypes. Those who do this are traitors – not to America, but to the truth, to themselves, and to their interlocutors – and should cut it out. All their lives, Europeans have been fed a severely distorted image of America that has poisoned their minds against the very values that might save them; every conversation between an American and a European is a precious opportunity to challenge that image and give Europeans something to think about, believe in, and act on.

It strikes me as perverse that current U.S. immigration policy penalizes Western Europeans. I know plenty of America-friendly Europeans who’d move to America in a heartbeat. The United States should let them in. Educated, law-abiding, ambitious, fluent in English and gung-ho about American values, they’d be a terrific asset to their new nation. (235)

He also would encourage more high-school exchanges. Certainly, the two young Germanic girls who lived with us have appeared to see America quite differently after a year of life in an often chaotic and not always charming suburban household. Indeed, the father of one appeared was disappointed his daughter returned with a certain pride in Texas and a sense that being a Texan, even one like George Bush, is not necessarily a terrible thing.

So, it is a bit my job in this life to do what he suggests – not to put letters aside, not to let remarks go by. A young narcissist, I moved between the guys I dated and my friends in a kind of perpetual self-absorption. I’m too old for that now. But I, too, prefer peace and quiet sociability. What my two worlds think they “know” is not always true. And I have become conservative because of my sense of universality, an extension that leads to sympathy for those threatened thousands of miles away. And, reading the examples Bawer piles up, listening to threats spoken and implied, I know that while the worst may not be realized in Europe nor here, the threats are real. They diminish the human spirit. We didn’t spend those long and bloody millennia not learning anything – we spent them learning to grow that spirit, to encourage it. And losing what we learned is something we shouldn’t blink at. It may not happen here – but it is happening elsewhere. And the threat is a truth we need to acknowledge, whatever amiability it may cost.

18 thoughts on “Speaking to One Another and Speaking Out”

  1. “Both feel threatened – and that stokes fear.”

    You’re drawing a false parallel here. One side feels threatened legitimately, because they are threatened. Your right-wing friends deny the rights of lgbt folks as couples, parents and individuals. Some in your crowd would deny them their freedom or worse.

    The other side has been worked into a lather based on a small minded fear of the other, getting worked up about an absolutely meaningless “threat.” And you’re defending them and perpetuating their silly paranoia.

    Some friend you are.

  2. Sophie Brown,
    Define what you mean by my “right-wing friends,” the rights that they want to deny gays as individuals, the freedoms they would deny gays, and the “worse.”

    The only change that I have heard from the right is an argument against a proposed new right, only lately promoted by rights groups – gay marriage. This is not an additional restraint on gay lives but rather a belief that this is a right that has insufficient grounding in the institutions and traditions of our culture. I have not seen any additional restraints of gay sex or gay lives. Perhaps I missed something – have various laws been added to the books to persecute these groups? I thought the additional laws tended to be of hate crimes against such anti-homosexual bigotry. More and more businesses are treating homosexual partners as married partners in terms of hiring, insurance and retirement. You find an understandable paranoia; I see it often being manufactured.

    And, of course, Bawer’s point and mine as well would be to compare those examples with Sharia law.

    I would not argue there is not some bigotry on the right toward homosexuals – but I have seen that on the left as well. However, it seems to me obvious that what many fear in backing such movements as the Defense of Marriage Act is not homosexuality but rather the further break up of the family. I don’t think it will make much difference – I think divorce, changed attitudes toward giving birth and child raising have changed our definition of marriage in my lifetime; these have often undermined marriage and gay marriage may point to its importance or make it more fragile – I’m not sure which. But others quite honestly believe that it will hurt the institution of marriage. If the breakdown of this basic building block of society isn’t something to fear, I’m not sure what there is to fear in terms of society as a whole.

    Self-consciousness is always helpful; when we see ourselves purely as victims we tend to lose the long view.

  3. Yeah, sure, gays should support the dumbest president and his inane policies.

    Smoke up another bowl, Ginny. Sprinkle a little more angel dust in it this time.

  4. I’m a matronly, suburban woman whose 25th College reunion is just taking place this weekend and I’m afraid I can’t figure out what college would have accepted you 45 years or so ago–or what college or university would have graduated you–with prose like that. It is literally incomprehensible. The period, the comma, the semi-colon, brackets and quotation marks are all your friends, please learn to use them correctly.

    Oh, and as for your blithering, self regarding, essay–you don’t speak for the rest of us suburban matrons. I’m proud to live in a state that legalized gay marriage, and proud to know many gay families. They deserve respect and support not only from muslims around the world (which they may or may not get) but also from their fellow citizens who have no excuse other than bigotry and hatred not to accord them equal rights and free expression.


  5. Wow. Four comments on Ginny’s post so far, of which three are personal attacks and the fourth is poorly reasoned by someone who obviously didn’t read the post carefully. I assume that the authors of these comments are all readers of the blog that linked to this post, since the style of the comments there matches the ones here.

    Obviously, some people don’t value civil disagreement. That’s a fact of life, like motion sickness or mosquitoes. What I don’t understand is how such people get along in the world. Do they launch into a tirade of snark and insults every time they disagree with their spouse or coworker or the kid at the supermarket checkout about something? Or is the abuse reserved for people whose positions on particular topics make them “the other”? Or do they physically avoid all people with whom they disagree? Being a deep thinker can’t be as easy as it looks. Maybe some of these people will share their secrets with us.

  6. Jonathan,

    You know, “conservative” is a particular word with fairly serious political connotations. It doesn’t mean whatever cindy means when she says it. It doesn’t mean “very nice people who are patriotic” and it doesn’t mean “people who remember world war II” and it doesn’t mean “people who think hard about geopolitics and don’t like Ishwerwood but really like gay people.” It just doesn’t mean those things. It means the *opposite of progressive.* Cindy may want to reconcile her tremendous fear of the muslim hordes and the “non western tradition” with the history of actual political progressivism which has given us (among other things) habeus corpus, the right to free expression, religious liberty, the weekend, a food and drug administration etc…etc…etc… but none of these are “conservative” things. So when she gently and nauseatingly chides her (former) gay friends on their own behalf, explaining (as far as I can tell, since her prose really is excerable) that they don’t know how good they’ve got it here–well, I’m sickened. The current administration, which she appears to be defending, isn’t “conservative” in any particular sense if by that we mean “conserving” our political heritage–they’ve tossed that right out the window in favor of torture, pre-emptive war, spying on US citizens etc…Cindy seems to think its “conservative” to be patriotic but, of course, the rest of us think its conservative to protect the rights we do have, extend those rights to everyone we can, and not to kill civilians in a country with which we weren’t at war. I object strenously to Cindy claiming the mantle of conservativism when she doesn’t seem to know what it means and I object to her posing as an expert on what gays need and want when she has only the most condescending and blinkered things to say about her “Friends.” With friends like these, who needs enemies.

    And as for her daughters–well, I’ve got daughters too. And I’m just as worried about their rights to education, health, and safety in this country as it tries to placate america’s taliban as I am that somehow, by some process that is utterly unclear, we will wake up under sharia law. When the citizen muslim population of this country gets as big and as angry and as activist as the “conservative” right wing christian religious movement I’ll start to worry about sharia here. Until then? Its just more childish fear mongering.

    As for civility? well, its in the eye of the beholder. I’m tired of the cindy’s of the world whining about their return to fear as the motivating force for their political and civic lives. Cowardice isn’t an American virtue, even when it gets dressed up with references to a distant english language education.


  7. aimai,

    It looks like you and Ginny define “conservative” differently, in which case why not drop the labels and focus instead on what she says? Some of her positions are typically conservative, others may not be, but in any case they are her positions and can be evaluated on their individual merits. You might even agree with some of them. Surely her observations and perspective, which are atypical, have some value even if you don’t agree with her conclusions.

    Her concern about the threat to our society posed by radical Islam, which I share, may or may not be reasonable (I wish it weren’t) but is it not an empirical question? People who express concern about this threat draw a parallel between American society and that of Europe where, on the margins and in some cases more centrally, governments have been appeasing radical Islamists and trying to silence critics of Islam and of appeasement. The people making this argument also point out the long history of anti-western terror attacks, and of hostile, imperialistic statements by the Islamists themselves. I think it is at best much too early to dismiss that threat as you seem to do. Moreover, to make light of the Islamist threat to our society while suggesting that the threat posed by American religious conservatives is in any serious way comparable seems like an inversion of reality. And if your fellow citizens who are peaceful religious conservatives are such a big threat, why is it so ridiculous, to the point where many “progressives” are not even willing to discuss it seriously, to consider that a worldwide movement of Islamic fundamentalists who preach violence and conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims is not perhaps the bigger problem?

  8. Ginny – How did you pass freshman English? In fact, did you pass freshman English?

    You might want to pick up a copy of Strunk & White.

    I’ve been struck by how many of them have become politicized, beset by BDS.

    The pretense that Bush hasn’t earned the disapproval of two thirds of the country (and most of the rest of the planet) is a sure sign of BEMS (Bush excuse-making syndrome). Get help.

  9. Jonathan,
    Your point seems to be that Ginny is probably a nice person and that her political opinions run the gamut from what a reasonable person would call conservative to something else (“liberal” because she isn’t also calling for death-to-fags presumably) and that a nice person would care and would engage with her on her own terms. But I see it rather differently. First, may I say, that I know many “ginnys” and they are uniformly “nice people” in a personal sense. What “nice” seems to mean to them, in that it is often rhetorically opposed to those “not nice islamofascists” is that they wouldn’t, themselves, actually kill someone they thought was in the wrong religion/wrong sexual preference/wrong race. They would, and did, support George Bush’s war on people of the wrong religion/wrong race and they do, by their silence, support many a war on people of different sexual orientation. In my book failing to stand up for the principle of “niceness and not killing people” when you have the chance puts you on the side of the enablers–in this case the enablers of mass murder in Iraq (the bombing of a civilian population not at war with us in the capitol city of a country not at war with us is a definitional war crime and included mass murder of civilians however you slice the excuses).

    As for all Ginny’s talk of “her girls” the Bush administration which she charges the rest of us with “BDS”for opposing has routinely stood with the most retrograde islamic cultural standards when pursuing its policies against abortion and birth control around the world. We are the only industrialized country to agree with Sudan and Iran on birth control and abortion and we have pushed those far right/islamic attitudes towards ginny’s girls whenever president bush and his right wing enablers have been able to do so in international fora. The whole love affair with the women of Afghanistan is another example of the ways in which Ginny’s girls (here and there) are betrayed by ginny’s daddy figure bush. It was feminists like me who opposed and oppose the talibanization of Afghanistan. Bush was willing ot turn a blind eye to everything going on in Afghanistan until 9/11 and even went so far as to offer millions in aid to the Taliban despite what we knew they were doing to women there. And for all the hard work and great intentions of our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq women in those countries are not only no better off they are substantially worse off than they were before. Certainly women in Iraq are worse off in a sectarian civil war than they were under secular but awful Saddam.

    What I object to in Ginny’s writing, aside from the abysmal and incoherent prose, is the magisterial tone of sweet reason and light that masks what appears to be a deep and abiding contempt for facts, history, and reality. I don’t personally object to Ginny. As I said I know many Ginnys and if its not too difficult for them or it doesn’t take too much thought or time they can be wonderful friends and neighbors. As much as anyone can be a wonderful friend and neighbor if, while you are out shopping and taking the kids to school, they give your housekeys to a drunken, psychopathic, spend thrift, mass murderer and tell him to spend what he wants and do what he wants with your stuff. When you get back to find the house wrecked, the copper plumbing pipes gone, the cat strangled, and the bank account looted this neighbor looks at you with pity and contempt and says “well, who would have guessed he’d be this bad at decidering! He sure seemed to know what he was doing. You never liked him anyway. What’s wrong with you? Are you unamerican or something?”


  10. Your point seems to be that Ginny is probably a nice person and that her political opinions run the gamut from what a reasonable person would call conservative to something else (”liberal” because she isn’t also calling for death-to-fags presumably) and that a nice person would care and would engage with her on her own terms.

    My point was that you were ignoring the substance of Ginny’s arguments. You’re still doing it. The gist of the argument in your latest comment is that 1) Ginny supports the policies of the Bush administration, 2) Bush and/or his policies are evil and, therefore, 3) Ginny’s arguments are ridiculous. This would be a shoddy argument even if I accepted your assumptions about Bush’s evilness and the evilness of his policies, and I don’t. It seems to me that the questions Ginny raises deserve serious consideration in light of the history and philosophical underpinnings of Muslim societies, radical Islam and the West. Instead, you and the other commenters dismiss Ginny’s concerns because you don’t approve of how she voted.

    As for your inferences about the tone of Ginny’s post and about what you imagine to be her real nature beneath the surface (i.e., you have no evidence for your slurs), all I can do is reiterate that you and your ideological pals have a serious problem because you can’t handle civil disagreement. How do you expect to convince anybody of anything if every contentious discussion about current events or public policy becomes a sneerfest where you dismiss people you disagree with as stupid or evil?

    The great irony of this exchange is that Ginny is obviously deeply committed to tolerance and civility while the people who parachute into this blog to call her a bigot are themselves intolerant of anyone whose views differ from their own.

  11. Aimai,

    Of course, it is difficult to engage with someone who makes some of your arguments – I’m supposed to apologize for voting for Bush, admit that my writing is incoherent, and acknowledge that your positions are obviously correct, only misunderstood by someone with an “abiding contempt for facts, history, and reality.”

    May I first point out that neither Jonathan nor I use the word “nice” although it appears repeatedly in your posts. Jonathan doesn’t know me in any personal way, but that is irrelevant – neither he nor I see “niceness” as having much to do with the validity of someone’s argument – although, of course, we may rhetorically stipulate that the other is arguing in good faith. Much of your argument, on the contrary, discusses the motives of those who think differently than you.

    Let’s take one of your arguments:

    What “nice” seems to mean to them, in that it is often rhetorically opposed to those “not nice islamofascists” is that they wouldn’t, themselves, actually kill someone they thought was in the wrong religion/wrong sexual preference/wrong race.

    Well, frankly, it is fairly important to note that some belief systems don’t kill others because they are any of these things; in addition, it wouldn’t hurt to pay some attention to the arguments for and against invading and then staying in Iraq. I suspect many would argue for the secularization of the laws of these countries, for a greater emphasis upon the internalization of guilt, a richer tolerance of difference, an opening of the great market of religion as well as ideas. Few (no one I’ve heard speak or write) sees the goal as the conversion of its people. The people being killed now by those equipped by Syria and Iran and those killed under Saddam were of “the wrong race” – assuming you are referring to Iraqi citizens. (Of course, race is your term and I’m not quite sure what you mean here.)

    I assume it is the incoherence of my prose that led you to ignore the assumptions and arguments of Bawer’s book – a man who has seen that accommodations with Sharia law are not pretty. I assume it is my contempt for facts that the tens of thousands of sorties over tbe no-fly zone to protect the Kurds might indicate less that war was declared on Iraq by Bush Jr. than that the war under Bush Sr. never ended.

    Reality is engaging with what is and with the arguments you oppose. It is not useful to imply that the motives of others are inferior to one’s own. (I would argue it is also not realistic, but I tend to have an optimistic view of human nature that assumes others are both moral and rational.) While I am willing to grant you your “niceness”, I’m not willing to grant you your interpretation of my motives.

    Nor the “reality” of your arguments. Abortions, six years into his term, are still more available and more numerous here than in any Western country (of course, Russia’s rate is higher). Acknowledging that others might view abortion and even birth control differently than you do might lead you to make your arguments for both in a more thoughtful way. This is the virtue of such modes of argument – it helps us think out our own positions. Saying our policies are like those of the Sudan and Iran ignores the way our policies are derived and what they represent; it certainly ignores reality.

    And I recognize we all are less rational when angry – and you clearly are angry. And I’ll acknowledge that my argument should have been better presented; one that invokes anger and self-righteousness is probably not reasonable nor clear enough. Nonetheless, your comments, too, are the kind that are likely to harden opposition.

  12. Ginny,

    Thanks for your response. Its so badly written that I literally can’t tell what you think.

    Take “some belief systems don’t kill others…” Which would those be, exactly, and where in Texas can they be found? Certainly some christian groups actively opposed the killing of others we call the Iraq war. The Pope and the methodist church actively opposed the war but I didn’t see any too many Texas christians or the christian in the white house subscribing to that view. And though *I* am opposed to the death penalty, honor killings, and death in forced childbirth I don’t see that the strong movement against those things which include, of course, muslim and non muslim peoples, is wholly identified with any particular belief system. Do let me know which belief system you are talking about–other than buddhism. Christianity, which I presume you are hinting at, has a less than stellar history on the violence front.

    If you are talking about the Englightenment, which I personally am all for, the current administration has pushed the clock back on many important Englightenment insights and customs: habeus corpus, the rule of law, civil service over patronage, a movement towards equality rather than away from it, exaltation and respect for human freedom, the love of reason, suspicion of blind faith, exaltation of and respect for the scientific method. This current administration and the republican party that has spawned it has produced the shocking sight of actual presidential candidates rushing to affirm their ignorance of the scientific method and the advances of science in favor of the know-nothing religiosity of a pre scientific age. Evolution? what’s that? Geology? a myth.

    As for whatever garbled theories you have about the relationship of “the west” to “islam” it does not now and never has been a “clash of civilizations” but an interaction of mutual interests. They have what we want–oil, and we had (until recently) a monopoly on what they wanted: democracy, science, and money. If relations have broken down it isn’t because they stopped liking our money, but because we started screwing around even more with their local cultures and political systems.

    Let me clue you in on something, since its actually something I know quite a bit about. There isn’t a single “islam” but many islams. We have been actively supporting one branch of Islam, Wahabi islam, as we have as a country actively been working with and financially supporting Saudia Arabia since the 1940’s. We have supported and fostered their very repressive version of islam over more liberal versions because we needed their oil. In the case of Saddam we supported him despite his internal terrorism of his people and we supported and encouraged his eight year war with Iran, which led to millions of deaths, because it suited us. We had been, essentially, at war with Iran since we deposed their democratically elected leader Mossadegh a decision that led directly to the eventual overthrow of the shah and the hostage situation. Osama bin laden is a product of our first love, Saudi Arabia, crossed with our second love, Iraq and Iraqi oil. In order to throw saddam out of Kuwait in the first gulf war, we positioned troops in Saudia Arabia where Mecca is. That was considered a huge slap in the face to powerful Saudi families (other than the royal family) and we essentially stepped into the middle of a quiet feud within Saudi politics. Osama bin laden attacked us to make a statement to other muslim radicals around the world and to demonstrate to them that our country was at war with them. He got what he wanted and we wound up attacking Iraq and deposing a *secular* muslim leader and creating a vaccuum in Iraq that various religious factions rushed to fill.

    Well, why does any of that matter? According to you, it doesn’t. Nothing we have done as a country, no money we have spent, no people we have dealt with, no bombs we have dropped affects your opinion that we represent the apotheosis of civilization: we don’t kill people (over religion), we don’t kill people (over race), we don’t oppress women (even though, of course, we do when it comes to population and birth control issues.)* Let me footnote that point by explaining to you very, very, slowly that I don’t deny for a moment that you probably think that birth control and abortion are issues of “pro life or pro death” and not anything else. Its a fact, however, that very mysteriously your president and his policy people end up on the side of the muslim bigots and anti-feminists that you claim to deplore on this issue. If your policies and the policies of the (muslim) people you think are the worst of the worst are identical its not exactly clear to me how the rest of us are to distinguish them. Is it ok to let a woman die of a rape induced pregnancy because you choose to forbid her access to abortion for *your* moral purposes but not ok for an imam to do so for *his* moral purposes? I fail to see the difference.

    You are right, I angry and quite angry specifically with people who voted for Bush twice and refuse to apologize. You see, ignorance is pretty much natural in our political system once. But twice? And now? No. I take responsibility for my own actions, and for the actions of my elected leaders. When my country bombs civilians and children, I accept that what is done in my name is done *by me* unless I protest it. When my country tortures in my name and on my behalf, I accept that it is as though it were done *by me* unless I protest it.

    To the extent that you are satisfied with what your vote has brought you and the rest of the world I don’t expect you to accept any blame. Certainly, you don’t need to apologize. you did what you thought was right, and you still think it is right. But just have the courage and decency to admit that what was done was done with your approval, in your name, and as though done y you. That means that when a bomb was dropped on some Iraqi children you did it. Not some belief system, but you. When our soldiers were sent off without enough body armour, when the wounded come back to bugs in their food at walter reed–you didn’t protest. When the President ordered an end to Habeus Corpus and the creation of secret prisons–you didn’t care or you thought it was swell.

    You may be able to square all that with a very comfortable view of yourself. In fact, you appear quite comfortable with the choices you and yours have made for the rest of the country and the rest of the world. But oddly enough I see really no difference between the woman who pulls the trigger on death and destruction from the comfort of her own house, professing either not to know what is done in her name or not to care, and some hypothetical islamic bogeyman who does the same face to face with his enemy. People are dying right now because of decisions you acceded to politically and that you still champion. What is the difference between you and some mujahadeen other than dress and speech? That your intentions were good? Tell it to the marines.


  13. Ginny,

    Don’t feed the trolls– it only encourages them. Any reasonable person (I like to think of myself as one) can see them for what they are– their preference for ad hominem attacks, the tone in which they write, and their choice of words display their meanness and smallness of mind.

    Why give them the satisfaction they crave– the knowledge that they can get you to waste your time trying to rebut that which is not worth rebutting, and is in any case an exercise in futility?

  14. Technically, I suppose anyone who comes to a site whose politics they dont agree with and writes any kind of response that the site’s regular bloggers don’t like is a troll. I’ll accept that definition. But although Cindy and her friends don’t like the way I’ve written my responses, and don’t like the fact that I don’t hold them in very high regard as american citizens (since they don’t prize what are for me foundational priviliges and duties for american citizens) I don’t think that what I’ve done is particularly trollish. I am clearly not a “hit and run” insult artist, nor have I tried to divert the other posters from their own discussion by short and misleading posts. I’ve simply stated my disagreement with Cindy’s position of lofty superiority over her gay friends by pointing out (albeit with perhaps too many historical and factual references for her dreamy, peggy noonanesque style) is phony. In Cindy’s “chicago boyz” world the free market is good and the invisible hand will save you because consuers and political actors have al the power and information they need to make appropriate choices– except for all those people who inexplicably fail to see where their real interests lie: so, gay men who are at daily risk of physical harm from good ol boys *and* sharia law are wrong if they decide that they think local political realities trump distant ones. And women with “daughters” from Texas have a real appreciation for the dangers of this world posed by sharia law but women from somewhere else who have studied these historical and political trends at the graduate level, who have daughters (some skin in the game) and are actual feminists with some serious understanding of Islam just don’t get it? How does that square with the other sturdy laissez faire ideas you all seem to spout about the world?

    I don’t think the cindy’s of this world owe the rest of us an apology, exactly, for being so gullible, self satisfied, and generally ignorant of the forces and historical events that shaped the world they were lucky enough to be allowed to vote in. But if the last six years isn’t sufficient education for them to stop and reconsider their totally absurd sense that they understand anything (from what their old friends were thinking to what shapes the political scene) then nothing ever will. You know, when I oversalt the stew, or burn the pan of brownies because I put the oven on too high, I don’t necessarily apologize to my family. But I take a good hard look at what I was doing and I vow never to do it again.



  15. I don’t think the cindy’s of this world owe the rest of us an apology, exactly, for being so gullible, self satisfied, and generally ignorant of the forces and historical events that shaped the world they were lucky enough to be allowed to vote in. But if the last six years isn’t sufficient education for them to stop and reconsider their totally absurd sense that they understand anything (from what their old friends were thinking to what shapes the political scene) then nothing ever will.

    You don’t have much sense of irony, do you.

  16. Dear Ginny: I have always enjoyed your writing and this was one of your best pieces. I am sorry this note is late, but as usual, I have to print your essays out and sit down to read them with some care. Unfortunately, I am often not very prompt about doing that.

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