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The politics of horniness

By Lawrence Henry
web posted January 14, 2002

Andrew Sullivan has a shtick. The widely published pundit, proprietor of the influential "me-zine" www.andrewsullivan.com, cable show guest commentator, burly, Oxford-educated, check-shirt and khaki-wearing pop personage straddles two cultural-political worlds. He takes conservative positions on taxes, war, Clinton corruption, and the economy. And then - not so sub-rosa - reveals that he's gay and (gasp!) HIV positive. Why! He must be all right (you can practically hear some liberals thinking).

Or he argues forcefully and frequently for the legalization of gay marriage and against every manner of real or imagined enemy of homosexuality, while still supporting Republicans and George W. Bush, so (you can practically hear some conservatives consider), He must be all right!

Andrew Sullivan

No, he's not. Andrew Sullivan, despite his highbrow education, his usefulness in exposing contemporary liberal cant, his willingness to engage serious contemporary issues, his prodigious energy, and his better-than-middling (but not much better than middling) prose style, has devoted his career to the politics of horniness: Whatsoever I desire, that is right. Whoever opposes me must be defeated, by all means.

Including lies.

Sullivan's most serious lie is this one, in his own words:

"...This war [against terrorism] is not, properly speaking, between Christianity and Islam, as between a Fundamentalist, Illiberal Jihad and a Secular, Liberal Society. The temptation of fundamentalist politics extends to all religions, including Christianity, as we see in the United States."

He wrote that on January 7 of this year, summarizing the point of his October 7, 2001 article in the New York Times Magazine, "This Is A Religious War."

Read www.andrewsullivan.com's "Daily Dish" for any short period, and you find out what Sullivan means by "the temptation of fundamentalist politics." At least every week, and often every two or three days, he will slam his favorite targets on the American religious-conservative wing, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. And he will directly accuse them of being totalitarians, the exact equivalent of Mullah Omar or the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Why does Sullivan do this? Not because it's true; it's manifestly false. He does it because of this, which he wrote on December 17 last year: "For years, I have tried to channel what is really a profound rage at the way society has treated gay people for so long into something more constructive and reasonable."

The politics of horniness: basing one's entire system of belief and values on one overriding physical desire. Not for Sullivan the Edwardian sang-froid of Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who famously remarked that one could do anything, as long as one didn't do it outside and scare the horses. No, for Sullivan, that amounts to repression. And, for Sullivan, it is beyond the pale that anyone could express disapproval of the exercise of that desire - that disapprover must be...must be...Hitler! (He made that exact comparison, Robertson and Falwell to Hitler, just a week ago on his website.)

This is, of course, the height of immaturity, the kind of thinking familiar to the parents of any headstrong, wiseacre sixteen-year-old. It is, truly, beneath notice.

So let's just dispense of Sullivan's lie instead, piece by piece.

First, Christianity is a religion of exhortation, not extortion. Participation is purely voluntary. Nowhere in the world does a Christian court administer civil law. By contrast, religious courts are standard practice in the Muslim world.

Second, there is no such thing as a secular, liberal society in the Muslim world. The day-to-day character even of Islam's sole democratic government - Turkey - would appall Sullivan. Militant Islamism melds with utter smoothness into custom, tradition, values, and practice throughout the contemporary Muslim world. Christian fundamentalism, even the most passionate, melds smoothly with, depends on, and supports the tolerant American society outlined in our Constitution.

Third - it is amazing one should even have to say this - Christians don't murder Muslims. Muslims murder Christians.

Fourth - even more amazing one should have to say this - Christians don't execute sinners, or cut off their hands or feet. Muslims do. Saudi Arabia recently beheaded three men for performing homosexual acts (which prompted Sullivan to express thanks for America; at least he got that right).

Fifth - miracle - there is no Christian government anywhere, nor anywhere the credible impulse to form one. There are more than a dozen Islamic states, of varying degrees of viciousness, backwardness, and danger, and the thrusting impulse throughout the Islamic world to form more of them.

No, Andrew Sullivan's ego is so fragile that he can't stand disapproval. He reacts to it with fury ("profound rage"), and builds a fantastic political-intellectual construct from that fury. (If he gets that het up over disapproval of homosexuality, he ought to take up smoking.)

We must pay attention, unfortunately. Andrew Sullivan is an "opinion-maker," as they say. Any cursory search of contemporary news will turn up dozens of columnists parroting the Sullivan line - that the "Christian right" is the same thing as the Taliban. Newsweek's Howard Fineman even reported that the Democratic Party's bullyboy operatives are developing a political strategy based on just such an equivalency.

In the world, in this war against terrorism, Sullivan's lie obscures and drowns out the more important truth: That, as the scholar Daniel Pipes has pointed out, America must somehow develop a complex and difficult policy toward the Islamic world, a policy that helps ease Islamic opinion and Islamic countries toward the benignity of contemporary free-market politics.

Now, that task constitutes a real intellectual challenge. It is not merely self-referential preening. Real people like George W. Bush, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld are doing a real job, trying to get that done.

What does Andrew Sullivan really mean? If Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are no better than Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, what should we do? Send Green Berets to root out The 700 Club? Or does Sullivan mean that Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are no worse than Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? If so, we could simply exile them from the A-list of the Eastern seaboard. Maybe let them host a late-night down-market cable television show.

A shtick like Sullivan's can spoil the aim of serious men, with deadly consequences.

Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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