One of the most disturbing aspects of modern Islam for post-feminist Westerners and liberals generally (I would include Koreans and Japanese, e.g.) is its continuing insistence on harsh sexual mores and discrimination. Islamic divorce law, the covering of women, polygamy, and the persecution, even execution, of homosexuals are deep cultural divides between the West and the contemporary Middle East. (Go watch Osama to catch Islamic patriarchy at its misogynistic, chauvinistic worst.) (In fact, with a little less stricture, one might say these are value break-points between post-Christian Europeans and evangelical Americans too.) In any case, the expansion of freedom in the 60s and 70s to include sexual choice and empowerment for women and homosexuals is a major achievement in the West. Countless people are happier, because they can find sexual fulfillment in ways they truly enjoy and love-relationships they actually want to have. (Just read this.) This is why gays like Andrew Sullivan turned into hawkish neoconservative supporters of the GWoT. If the Islamists win, homosexuals will be swinging from the lampposts.
And now we have the prospect of a homosexual foreign minister of a great power confronting the steady homophobia of the Middle East (as well as much of the former third world). I find this absolutely fantastic. This is a moment rich in clear lessons about just how different liberal societies are from traditional ones, why progress from the narrow, bitter conservatism of tradition is so important, and why the West is fighting the GWoT. The Taliban would have buried Guido Westerwelle alive for inter-male sexual contact. And Ahmadinejad made a fool out of himself before Westerners when he told a Columbia University audience that Iran had no homosexuals.
In the 1980s, the Regan administration pointedly sent a black to be the US ambassador to South Africa. We had the guts then to stand up for an important principle. But in the GWoT we have been giving way far too much. Too frequently the West has looked the other way as the most harsh, anti-modern versions of Islam demand respect in the West. (How come no one looks to the rather tolerant Islam of SE Asia, btw? Why do ME extremists always dominate these conversations?) So all sorts of demands Western liberals would never tolerate from, say, conservative evangelicals or the Amish are indulged – halal food in public institutions (Holland), gender-segregated washing facilities and beaches (France), equivocation on press freedoms (Muhammad cartoons), the endless pieties about ‘peaceful’ Islam in the place of real discourse on Islam’s dalliance with extremism since 1967, informal censorship of books and films through religious intimidation like the Theo van Gogh murder.
So here’s hoping Westerwelle sticks it to Islamic bigotry the same way the US did to South African bigotry. I hope he wears a pink tie or a rainbow lapel pin the next time the Iranians or Saudis ask the Germans for aid or to counterbalance US pressure. I hope the Saudi foreign minister worries whether his fingers will fall off if he shakes a gay’s hand. I hope the mullahs at Qom go through theological spasms and sleepless nights about issuing a fatwa so their officials can talk the gay guy without getting polluted or contaminated. I hope Middle Eastern leaders everywhere worry that they will contract AIDS/SARS/syphilis/bird flu/Ebola/Judaism just by talking to him. And good for Merkel for having the guts to appoint him. Westerwelle is qualified; he’s been around for awhile. Germany has looked the other way on Islamic sexism and homophobia for too long because of its Turkish population and commercial ties with Iran. Welcome back to the fight for tolerance and modernity.