January 21, 2002

The gay glitteratti join the War Party

Manacled, hooded, and shorn of their beards, Afghan captives are dragged to Guantanamo behind the chariots of the conquering Americans. The pundits and the court intellectuals salute the victor – "Hail Caesar!" – while the US avers that these are not prisoners of war, but "illegal combatants" – since anyone who raises their hand to the Empire is, by definition, a criminal and not an enemy warrior. Such minor details as the disappearance of the Al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden, and the imminence of nuclear war between India and Pakistan are impatiently brushed aside, as the neoconservative punditocracy engages in an orgy of triumphalism over the glorious American "victory." To top it off, Gucci's "creative director," Tom Ford, hails Hamid Karzai, our new Afghan satrap, as "the world's most chic man." According to the haute couture contingent of the War Party,

"Mr Karzai has broken new sartorial ground by marrying classic tailoring with ethnic fashions, in a combination which may breathe new life into the way leaders dress around the world."


For those baffled by this odd admixture of fashion and foreign policy, the full meaning of Ford's latest encyclical is revealed in FashionWindows, where Godfrey Deeny solemnly announces the highlight of Milan's "fashion week" for Fall 2001 just as if he were, oh, Robert Novak or Michael Barone reporting from the campaign trail:

"The return of the right in fashion received a further boost in a Gucci show that was one of the most conservative Tom Ford has yet designed. Except for its racy ending passages, the collection was also largely lacking in one of the key components in Gucci's extraordinary success – sex. "

Quite a turnaround for the openly gay Ford, who once told a French magazine that "I am in favor of sexy clothing, all my career is founded on that." The long march of the neoconservatives through our cultural and political institutions has ended, finally, on the runways of Milan. It looks like Francis Fukuyama was right, after all, for surely this signals the End of History.


Ford also averred in the same interview that the "labels" gay and straight would soon disappear, plaintively asking why shouldn't male models wear lots of make-up since they're "even more beautiful like that"? His prediction, meanwhile, seems to have come true, at least in one part of liberated Afghanistan: the Times of London recently reported that Mullah Omar's former stronghold has now come out of the closet "as the gay capital of South Asia" since throwing off "the strictures of the Taliban." Tim Reid reports from Kandahar:

"Now that Taliban rule is over in Mullah Omar's former southern stronghold, it is not only televisions, kites and razors which have begun to emerge. Visible again, too, are men with their ashna, or beloveds: young boys they have groomed for sex."


Kandahar had a reputation as the San Francisco of South Asia long before Mullah Omar came to power, and even the former Taliban governor admitted that he faced a "dilemma" of what to do about homosexuality in a society where the sexes were so strictly segregated. It seems there were three main schools of thought on the issue:

"One group of scholars believes you should take these people to the top of the highest building in the city and hurl them to their deaths. [Other scholars] recommend you dig a pit near a wall somewhere, put these people in it, then topple the wall so that they are buried alive."


A third option, putting homosexuals on public display with blackened faces, was favored by a relatively moderate majority faction: for practical purposes, this was the punishment most often carried out, when it was enforced at all. Jamie Glazov, of Frontpage.com, and others have psychologized the Taliban as woman-hating homos, but this facile view overlooks the history of the Taliban movement and how it came to power. As the Times points out, "The rape of young boys by warlords was one of the key factors in Mullah Omar mobilizing the Taliban."


Before Omar's consolidation of Taliban power, Afghanistan was in the hands of what is called today the Northern Alliance, the loose collection of warlords and brigands who took over the country in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal. The various commanders, looting and raping their way from one end of the country to the other, often came in conflict over the spoils of war, until finally, as the Times reports:

"In the summer of 1994, a few months before the Taliban took control of the city, two commanders confronted each other over a young boy whom they both wanted to sodomize.

"In the ensuing fight civilians were killed. Omar's group freed the boy and appeals began flooding in for Omar to help in other disputes. By November, Omar and his Taliban were Kandahar's new rulers. Despite the Taliban disdain for women, and the bizarre penchant of many for eyeliner, Omar immediately suppressed homosexuality."

Eyeliner on men – bizarre? My hate-crime alarm is going off. Besides, if Tom Ford says "they're even more beautiful like that" then, dearie, that settles it and I give it "Two snaps up!"


It's interesting to see that certain prominent members of the gay community have now become the spearhead – so to speak – of the War Party. Andrew Sullivan, the openly gay commentator and former editor of The New Republic, is the virtual commander-in-chief of the pro-war bloggers. Having made a cottage industry out of berating war critics like Susan Sontag, and other easy targets, Sullivan has turned his site into a virtual compendium of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim diatribes alternating between potshots at John Derbyshire and highly edited passages from the works of George Orwell.

According to Ron Rosenbaum of the New York Observer, Sullivan, along with fellow expatriate British writer Christopher Hitchens, is Orwell reincarnated. If indeed there is something Orwellian about Sullivan, then he brings to mind Orwell's scathing description, in "Politics and the English Language," of the writer who abuses words in the service of ideology. (See especially the section on "pretentious diction.")


While Hitchens, as far as I can tell, is a hetero – or else my gaydar is on the blink – the man who exulted that we have "bombed a country out of the Stone Age" belongs to the same high gloss milieu as Sullivan and Ford. As the resident leftie at Vanity Fair – a magazine with more homoerotic appeal than the stodgy old Advocate – he fits right in with the gay neocon glitteratti who hail President Karzai for his chic attire and sing the praises of "liberated" Afghanistan. Vanity Fair just featured a series of photographs depicting "the White House in Wartime," by Annie Leibovitz, personal photographer to the rich and/or famous, whose overdramatized style perfectly illustrates Hitchens' vapid sloganizing.


Not everyone, however, is pleased by this rather obvious manifestation of imperial decadence. Button-downed Tunku Varadarajan, over at the War Street Journal, doesn't know quite what to make of his glitzy new allies. Ford's florid endorsement of the Afghan President may be "too, too flip," and that sound we hear may Gucci's glamour boy "letting the air out of his head," but on the other hand:

"This war, to be sure, has been a good one for those who would find glamour wherever they can. The people of Afghanistan are handsome and rugged, their hair and eyes improbably lustrous for denizens of a dusty war zone."


Mr. Varadarajan, it's plain to see, missed his true calling. Instead of editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, he should be over at Vanity Fair, or perhaps working for Mr. Ford, recruiting butch Afghan types for the runways of Milan. In the interests of popularizing this war, even the dour Wall Street Journal is willing to abate their "don't you know there's a war on?" puritanism long enough to allow for a little glamour. "The Afghan effect," says Varadarajan, has us all "agog" and we are all "swept up" in the "exoticism" of this war:

"To give you a concrete example of this Afghan effect: Lucianne Goldberg, the talk show host and publisher of the Lucianne.com news forum, has embarked on a fashion project called 'American Burkas,' velvet hoods with silk linings that cover the hair and, as she puts it, 'make women slightly less visible on a bad hair day.' Seamstresses in China are currently engaged in getting these items ready for sale in America."

They say "everything changed" after 9/11, but surely this can't mean that people have suddenly become a lot tackier. Not that Lucianne Goldberg, the Queen of Dish who parlayed a bit part in Monicagate into an ongoing gig, was ever anything but tacky – and proud of it.


As New York fashionistas make war propaganda for fun and profit, and the Beautiful People go to war in the name of "modernity," the "liberation" of women and homosexuals has been a central theme. Much is made of the burka, and the un-liberated state of Afghan women under the Taliban – although the victory of the Northern Alliance is not likely to liberate them from either the burka or traditional Afghan gender roles.


On the gay rights front, Rich Tafel, the Log Cabin Republican, is linking the war to the gay rights agenda in a series of pro-war newspapers ads, starting in the Washington Post. And as for the San Francisco-ization of Kandahar: to be fair, Sullivan did mutter disapprovingly in his weblog at the news of rampant pederasty in that city. But it's also true that he has regularly excoriated the Taliban as well as the Saudis for their medieval treatment of gays and even devoted an entire essay to arguing that if "war changes everything," it could change American attitudes and institutions in ways that would advance the gay cause. This war, he argued, is more than an opportunity to sneak through gays in the military, it would also give gays the chance to strike back at their mortal enemies

"For of all wars, this is surely one in which gay America can take a proud and central part. The men who have launched a war on this country see the freedom that gay people have here as one of the central reasons for their hatred."


This is not just a war on America, but on Gay America: the way Sullivan goes on about it, you'd think that he believed – along with Jerry Falwell – that Al Qaeda's next target is likely to be San Francisco. Naturally Sullivan will make the same arguments to call for strikes against Iraq, Iran, Syria, or even the Saudis: well, you see, they don't like gays (although they bugger each other every chance they get – gee, is this what it means to be "bi curious"?). So, of course, we have to start bombing them, and, say, why not invade and occupy the entire region? After all, we mustn't rest until they have same-sex marriage in Saudi Arabia and gays in the Iranian military.


Some of the loudest voices in the chorus of war whoops are coming from the gay side of the aisle – not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just, with the war being presented in these terms, this particular gay guy can only reject Sullivan's call to arms with the disdain it deserves. For how many countries on earth fail to measure up in the gay rights department? Half? 90 percent? In that case, why not just invade the world – all of it! – as Murray N. Rothbard once ruefully suggested, and be done with it?

It's too bad, though, that all this brouhaha about the liberation of gays in Afghanistan leaves us American gays relatively unaffected. They're having a gay old time in Kandahar, but right here in the good old USA yours truly is coming under some pretty heavy fire from pro-war types in a real snit over somebody else's sexuality – mine.

A fairly typical response from the pro-war "bloggers" to my column on their little sub-universe was the following from someone by the name of Damien Penny, a Canadian whose "warblog" is cleverly titled "Daimnation!":

"FUN WITH GOOGLE: I used that great search engine to find some dirt on anti-blogger Justin Raimondo (see below). Turns out he was a GOP candidate for Congress in 1996 and a supporter of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign. Oh, yeah, he's also gay.

"WHAT?!?" I hear you asking – an openly gay person who supports a notorious homophobe for President? This is getting more surreal by the minute."

I understand that they don't have a lot up in Canada, including a sense of their own national identity – which is perhaps why a foreigner like Mr. Penny takes such an inordinate and unseemly interest in what is, after all, an internal American debate over foreign policy. Call it xenophobia, and politically incorrect to the max – Mr. Penny, it should be noted, likened me to David Duke – but this is what American unilateralism really means. When it comes to deciding whether we're going to stay a republic, or become an empire, I'd rather foreigners stayed out of it, or at least had the tact to keep their voices reasonably low and their tone civil.

Yes, they don't have a lot up there in the Canadian wilds, including right-wing libertarians such as myself who have never made a particularly big deal about being homosexual. I suppose it's inconceivable that an openly gay man could speak for the candidate of Canada's right-wing Reform/Alliance party as I did for Pat Buchanan at the 2000 convention of America's Reform party, held in Long Beach, California. But then, that's just one of the many benefits of the Internet: to open formerly closed circuits in some pretty narrow minds.

Homosexuality was also a theme of Ken Layne's relatively affable response: it was kinda scary, though, to see how quickly certain straight guys can tease a homoerotic subtext out of practically anything: out of an entire essay of 3,500 words, he zeroed right in on my description of his prose as "overly muscular." He came back later and said I should "chill out." Okay, Ken: but you first.

Joanne Jacobs also played up the gay angle, writing:

"Antiwar.com opposes U.S. military action – apparently, even in self-defense – because of its libertarian isolationism. It's also rabidly anti-Israel. I've noticed that warbloggers are strongly (but not rabidly) pro-Israel. Here's a question for libertarian warbloggers: What's the connection? Is it because Israel is a Western country? A democracy? Because we were attacked by Islamic militants and our enemy's enemy must be our friend? Or do you think it's just a Raimondo peculiarity – a Gays for Buchanan thing – that he makes excuses for Arab leaders and condemns Israel?"


Israel is no enemy of mine: it is Israel's self-appointed lobby in the US, and the policies of the present government, that has me questioning her value as an ally. When I hear, four days running, Carl Cameron of Fox News tell me that Israel maintains an extensive spy operation in the US, and that this Israeli intelligence network may have had foreknowledge of 9/11, I begin to have my doubts. When I see the story covered up, and not pursued, except by the heroic Newsmax, and Antiwar.com, I can't help but think: where are all these warbloggers who boast that they can "fact-check your ass" now?

Ms. Jacobs is one blogger who's stingy with her links: she asserts that I "make excuses for Arab leaders" – but when? Where? How? There's no link. You guys had better start fact-checking your own asses, and quit being so damn smug.


I hold no brief for any Arab regime, although I must admit to a grudging admiration for Pakistan's General Musharraf, who is very skillfully walking a high tightrope. I have an even more grudging admiration for the Israelis, the right-wingers like Sharon and Netanyahu in particular, because at least they know enough to put their own country first. But Israel's national interests and ours, far from being identical, are in my view mutually antithetical when it comes to the Middle East.

The "connection" you're asking about is the connection between so many of Israel's biggest supporters in the US and the drive to expand the "war on terrorism" to Iraq, Iran, and beyond. Just as in the Gulf War, so today, the very same people – notably warblogger Sullivan and the neoconservative grouping in both parties – are exhorting us to bomb Baghdad once again, and, this time, "finish the job." But the proposed targets are not immediate threats to US interests so much as a laundry list of Israel's worst enemies.

No, it isn't Israel, per se, or its ordinary citizens who provoke some special ire in me – and I'm sure you didn't mean to imply anything by that, now did you Ms. Jacobs? Israel can take care of itself, and I respect them for that. What I don't respect – and, indeed, find really offensive – is that country's loud and rather obnoxious lobby in this country. Not only did they unfairly and relentlessly smear Buchanan for opposing the Gulf war, they are working day and night to trap us into a protracted conflict against all Islamic peoples – a world war that would be madness even to contemplate.


Coming from a commentator who challenges political correctness in so many other areas, Ms. Jacobs' reference to my sexuality in tandem with my politics is ironic (or is that hypocritical?). Apparently it isn't only the Berkeley left and the Foucaultians who still take identity politics so seriously.


Hey, look, whaddaya say we forget about liberating the gays and the women of Afghanistan, and start liberating ourselves from the bounds of political correctness and tribalism in America? I know, I know, I'm supposed to stand up for my own tribe – gays – as they demand special privileges from the government and status as an official victim group. For me, however, loyalty to libertarian principles trumps tribal loyalties every time. I have a far different view of homosexuality – and of many other matters – than my good friend Pat Buchanan, and yet, somehow, I came to the conclusion that Buchanan's commitment to keeping us out of World War III outweighed his opinion of homosexuality.


It's strange to think anybody would seek that kind of approval, or self-validation, out of a presidential candidate: that sounds more like the role of a psychiatrist. I had written about my own homosexuality – or, at least, casually referred to it in my column over the years, though I never made it a constant theme, like Sullivan – and it was no secret to most of the Buchananites that a gay man was up there on the platform. A more gracious and welcoming group would be hard to imagine, starting with Pat and his wonderful wife Shelley.


Oddly, for all the alleged "homophobia" of the Buchanan Brigades, the only times I've been dissed for being gay was by vicious liberals like Bill Maher, the local gay left-liberal press in San Francisco – and by neocons like Jonah Goldberg, whose Mommy has an official notice on her website: please post no articles from Antiwar.com – and now the bloggers, whose uncrowned king, Andrew Sullivan, hails the war on terrorism as a war of liberation for gays. If the age of irony is past, then it has been quickly succeeded by the age of absurdity.


There were many more responses from the "war-bloggers" to last week's column than I could reasonably be expected to answer, and not all of them were vicious attacks. Jim Henley's remarks in particular were thoughtful and showed an understanding of where Antiwar.com is coming from beyond a knee-jerk reaction of "Chomskyite!," the usual tiresome allusions to Ted Rall or even (shudder) the dreaded Arundhati Roy. Alas, there is no room for an extended analysis, just a note that the attempt at a dialogue is greatly appreciated, and we'll get to the rest sometime later in the week.

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Archived columns

Gucci Goes to War

Manufacturing Dissent

The Warbloggers

The Vanishing Imam

The Pilot Who Lost His Cool

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The Big Change (Part I)

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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