In the second ever post on this blog, I tried to distinguish between an embrace of a reactionary worldview and pursuing reactionary politics. I am sympathetic to some reactionary politics, and almost always find something of value in its critique of modernity. Whenever I encounter reactionary politics in the wild though, it manifests as cruelty and nonsense.
The most obvious example I can think of is President Trump's language. Many supporters of the president, some online and others in personal conversation with me, have said that the President's loose speech and refusal to abide by polite standards of communication are a victory for the forces of anti-PC in the culture war. While admitting I occasionally take a sort of sick pleasure in the President's transgressions against the scolds, I don't think anyone really believes he is going to change the trajectory of the culture. If anything, Trump is the kind of offensive boogeyman I would've argued would never emerge to more liberal friends who support informal but restrictive speech codes. Intensifying a conflict is not the same thing as winning a battle, and Trump has only raised the stakes in our debates over language. I think the speech-policing side of this cultural argument is likely to lose in the long-run because its requirements are too burdensome. Trump, while an enjoyable spectacle for the anti-PC crowd, has likely delayed their inevitable victory by rallying the forces of censure.
Again, I'm not sure anyone really believed Trump would change language, but by now it should be obvious to everyone that running the country has limited impact on the direction of the culture. If anything, Republican presidencies (or control of Congress) have the tendency to produce only moderate gains for conservatives in political terms, while accelerating progressive movements in the culture. The sense of menace they create for a number of minority groups, fair or unfair, galvanize all the self-elected cultural gatekeepers who believe the public needs to be spoon-fed particular ideas about gender, race or religion. Trump can't change that, and honestly he doesn't want to. The binary works for him as well. If the press stopped being insane, what would animate his rallies?
I thought of all this while following an unfortunate story from a place I used to live. One of the most popular bands in the Middle East, the Lebanese group Mashrou' Leila (meaning overnight project or Leila's project) has been taken off the roster of a Byblos music festival because the lead singer is openly gay. Interestingly, and I think because of the festival's location in the historically Christian town of Byblos, it was Christian (as opposed to Muslim) groups that objected to the group's inclusion in the lineup. The music festival justified the group's exclusion as the only means to "prevent bloodshed" given the large number of violent threats directed at the band. Local MP's, in the typical fashion of Lebanese politics, displayed cowardice, ignorance and incompetence, only commenting on the matter at the 11th hour to say that gay people really should stay out of the public square.
There are a number of issues with the way this has played out that I think show the wrong-headedness of a certain kind of reactionary politics. First of all, there is the laughable issue of Lebanon's sexual morality. Lebanon is not Saudi Arabia, one of their most famous musicians is the kind of surgically altered monster that makes the Kardashian's approach to the knife look subtle and restrained. Brothels are shamefully ubiquitous across Lebanon, seemingly the result of a bustling trafficking industry, and distressingly for Christians, these so-called "super night clubs" are almost always in Christian areas/neighborhoods." In other words, Lebanon is already a sexually modern place, and Christians have played a significant role in making it so.
Lebanon is also mostly on-board with a number of other modern projects. Just because your secular democracy regularly features the election of religious zealots does not make a country a theocracy, and Lebanon's television, print media and broader cultural output are decidedly modern. This is why it is so irksome to see particular venom reserved for gay people. Lebanon, perhaps unfortunately, has already surrendered to the global sexual revolution. In Beirut, one-night stands are common, you can be drunk in the street and women dress as scantily as anywhere in the West. This has all taken place with some objection from cultural conservatives in the country, but in general, they keep it to themselves and police their own communities because they know they don't have the social or political power to create a Taliban for downtown Beirut. The gays though, they wonder, might be small enough to push around.
And this is how religion comes to look small and backward. In every sense, Lebanon has given itself over to the modern world, and religious conservatives are not even effectively resisting this tendency in their own lives. Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims in Lebanon shop at malls, vote in secular elections and probably watch pornography. None of this would be a problem, except they've decided, as have many countries with strong religious traditions, that tolerance of homosexuality is the hill to die on.
Objection to homosexuality is the most dangerous and hypocritical of spaces for religious conservatives to make their stand. To be clear, I am not saying that religions should alter their doctrines on the issue, simply that in an age where Christians all around the world have let rules slide pertaining to contraception, infidelity and divorce, it is insane to single out gay people for moral censure. Beirut is an international city, and its children have friends on multiple continents, speak various languages and consume culture from all over the world. If one of those children is gay, any attempt to restrict their life will not de-familiarize them with the international LGBT movement. You might, on the other hand, ensure that all gay people in Lebanon become atheists.