The Hollywood outrage over Sharia law in Brunei, accompanied by celebrity boycotts, doesn’t represent a real awakening, but it does represent an opportunity.
Gay rights activists have mostly overlooked the impact of Islamic law in party spots like Dubai and Doha. The UAE has had the death penalty for homosexuality on the books for some time. Iran, a cause célèbre for the left ever since Bush considered bombing its nuclear weapons program, executes gay men.
So why is Brunei being singled out?
It might be that activists believe that while it’s too late to change Kuwait or Qatar, they can still prevent Brunei from imposing Sharia law. But it may just be random. The story of Brunei may have simply pinballed around the media and blogsphere and collided with a few of the right people.
The Human Rights Campaign may have been looking to fill an international slot after its campaigns against Russia and Uganda. Brunei’s local presence through the Beverly Hills Hotel also made it easy and convenient to go after in a way that Russia and Nigeria aren’t. And it probably didn’t hurt that HRC’s corporate partners include a hotel chain and several resort chains.
Add on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial trade agreement that will include Brunei and is opposed by many on the left (and the right) for a variety of reasons, and the protest gained critical mass. When Leno protested outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, he was surrounded by signs denouncing the TPP.
If the Brunei moment isn’t a sea-change, what, if any, are the implications of it for the Counterjihad?
Since 9/11 Islam has been untouchable in the United States. Its activists achieved a status that placed them in the top ranks of the left virtually overnight. Muslims became the most victimized of the victims.
The Brunei moment is significant because it’s the first time in a long time that Islamic law has been questioned and that Islam lost its grip on the sympathy of the American left. It’s not a serious defeat, but for organizations such as CAIR it has to be viewed as a warning sign of trouble ahead.
Feminism had already been subverted by the “Women of Color” attack which accused white feminists of privileging gender over race. It’s one reason why American feminists have so little to say about Islamic law. They’ve had it beaten into their heads that they have no right to presume that Muslim women don’t want to wear hijabs or be second-class citizens. They’ve embraced the comforting myth that a woman in a hijab or a burka is just as empowered as a Western woman who can dress as she likes.
When it comes to Muslims, a conventional feminism that argues for equal rights hardly exists among professional American feminists. Gay rights groups however have demonstrated now that they are unwilling to subordinate their agenda to the larger agenda of the left. Unlike feminists, they don’t intend to just take a seat in the back and show up as representative props at generic protests.
Still it’s one thing to beat up on evangelical Christians, but another thing to challenge Muslims. And for the moment gay rights groups are staying far away from criticizing American Muslims. Or even Islamic law in general. And yet the Brunei moment has made protesting against Islamic law socially acceptable.
The left has yet to come to its own Satanic Verses Moment in which it is forced to realize that it must choose between a secular society and a multicultural society. The European left made the choice that put it on the road to oblivion and that conflict over Salman Rushdie’s book helped sharpen the lines between a secular left and a multicultural left that is willing to criminalize blasphemy as bigotry.
The European Counterjihad is characterized by this contrast between nationalists, traditionalists and the secular left. The United States has not had the same kind of militant secular left as Europe, but as the number of religious believers falls that may be changing. As Islamic law begins to have more of a domestic impact, the future of America’s Counterjihad may be less Conservative and more Libertarian.
The United States is becoming Europeanized and it is approaching the same crisis points that defined Europe. One of these crisis points is the moment when the left realizes that its original vision of a secular society is incompatible with the multicultural means that it has been using to achieve it. In the UK, Salman Rushdie became the casualty of that multicultural moment. And he has yet to come to terms with that in any coherent and intellectually honest way.
Brunei isn’t America’s Rushdie moment, but it is a warning that the left’s harmonious vision of a secular society is incompatible with multiculturalism. Through all the caveats, the left has been forced to admit that its current leading cause is incompatible with Islam. It is an unpleasant revelation that it will do its best not to dwell on, much as even many of the writers and thinkers who supported Rushdie, and even the man himself, avoided thinking too hard about the larger implications of the Rushdie moment.
Unlike Europe, the United States has yet to have a debate about Islam. Instead both parties have set out a consensus that everyone is expected to accept. That consensus is premised on the compatibility of Islam with the preferred way of life of Americans. Too few have asked the question of how Islam can possibly be compatible with every possible way of life in America when in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Kuwait and Brunei it is incompatible with every single part of the American political and social spectrum.
Islam is incompatible with everything from gay rights to Christianity. It is incompatible with every form of religion and the lack of religion. It is incompatible with traditional marriage in which a woman is a human being, not an interchangeable piece of property. It is incompatible with gay marriage or any of the casual lifestyles. It is incompatible with everything except Islam.
The Brunei moment hasn’t opened up a public debate, but it has embedded a private debate by resurrecting the pre-9/11 understanding of Islam as totalitarian theocracy, rather than oppressed minority. It’s not a true awakening, but it subverts a false consensus that Islam is part of America.
If Islam becoming a deeper part of Brunei means the death penalty for gays, what does Islam becoming a deeper part of America really mean for everyone from traditional Americans to the celebrities and gay protesters outside the Beverly Hills Hotel?
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