I’ve been mulling this topic for a couple of days, not sure whether I should leave it alone — although Bruce Bawer is a friend of mine, after all, and a wonderful mentor figure, Andrew Sullivan and I have also been intermittently friendly with one another. So it’s not exactly with pleasure that I find myself compelled to write a piece like this.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the details of these men’s histories, the two of them are something of the intellectual godfathers of the gay non-left. In the early 1990s, Bawer penned the wonderful “A Place at the Table,” which was followed by Sullivan’s “Virtually Normal” just a couple of years down the road. These two books together were like a blazing comet in the night sky for hundreds of thousands of gay men who simply did not identify with the predominantly leftist, hedonistic attitudes of the gay subculture — and when I say hundreds of thousands, I mean it — maybe millions, in fact: people who have never heard of either of them are living in a post-90s gay culture that they helped shape.
Their roads quickly diverged — which was hardly surprising, in light of their differing temperaments. Sullivan, who also served a stint as the editor-in-chief of the New Republic, revels in the spotlight of the media and seized on every bit of notoriety he received — today, he is one of America’s best-known pundits and writes a regular blog for the Daily Beast. Bawer, who began as a literary critic and erstwhile poet, stumbled into politics and cultural criticism almost by accident. He moved to Europe in the late 90s, looking forward to a more enlightened cultural attitude, but instead found a plethora of unpleasant surprises at the hands of Muslim immigrants that had been invited to Europe to make up for a labor shortage — little issues such as having to endure his boyfriend get gay-bashed at the hands of Muslim immigrants, for instance. In response to what he saw, he penned “While Europe Slept,” a deft mixture of memoir and investigative journalism, and the follow-up “Surrender,” chronicling the obliviousness of our culture’s institutions in dealing with the problems that Islam presents us.
“While Europe Slept” as a big hit — alas, with a few of the wrong people, as it turned out. Anders Behring Breivik, the culprit behind last week’s mass murder in Norway, turned out to have enjoyed the book. Bruce Bawer writes of this unfortunate truth in his recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, which I will quote at length simply because it is important (emphasis mine):
It came as stunning news that Norway had been attacked by a blond, blue-eyed, anti-Islamic terrorist. It should not have been: Several of us who have written about the rise of Islam in Europe have warned that the failure of mainstream political leaders to responsibly address the attendant challenges would result in the emergence of extremists like Breivik.
I was stunned to discover on Saturday that Breivik was a reader of my own work, including my book “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within.” In comments posted in 2009 on a Norwegian blog, document.no, Breivik expressed admiration for my writings, but criticized me for not being a cultural conservative…
Norway, like the rest of Europe, is in serious trouble. Millions of European Muslims live in rigidly patriarchal families in rapidly growing enclaves where women are second-class citizens, and where non-Muslims dare not venture. Surveys show that an unsettling percentage of Muslims in Europe reject Western values, despise the countries they live in, support the execution of homosexuals, and want to replace democracy with Shariah law. (According to a poll conducted by the Telegraph, 40% of British Muslims want Shariah implemented in predominantly Muslim parts of the United Kingdom.)
Muslim gay-bashing is driving gays out of Amsterdam. Muslim Jew-bashing is driving Jews out of Gothenburg, Sweden. And let’s not forget about the shameful trials of politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and historian Lars Hedegaard in Denmark, which demonstrate how the fear of Muslim wrath is squelching the freedom of speech of those who dare to criticize Islam.
There is reason to be deeply concerned about all these things, and to want to see them addressed forcefully by government leaders who care about the preservation of individual liberty and human rights. But this cause has been seriously damaged by Anders Behring Breivik.
In Norway, to speak negatively about any aspect of the Muslim faith has always been a touchy matter, inviting charges of “Islamophobia” and racism. It will, I fear, be a great deal more difficult to broach these issues now that this murderous madman has become the poster boy for the criticism of Islam.
Please keep the bolded section of the piece in mind — and consider, too, that in Bruce Bawer’s books about Islam in Europe, it is a recurring theme — as you read Andrew Sullivan’s mind-numbingly callous response to the revelation that the shooter admired Bruce’s work, pinning the blame for it on him:
[Bruce Bawer] fails to assess for a second whether the rhetoric used by him and so many others, was an inspiration for this political mass assassination. In fact, he uses the occasion to mourn the fact that it could hurt his cause…
Note the floating abstraction, here: “the rhetoric used by him” (what rhetoric is that?), “and so many others” (who?). As we will see later in the piece, Sullivan claims to agree with Bruce Bawer’s points — so what’s the deal?
Sullivan is also too much of a coward to pose his point as a simple declarative sentence, instead preferring to make his point in a phony, roundabout way: Bawer fails to assess the impact of his rhetoric for even a second, Sullivan writes. Well, what should he consider? Is Sullivan man enough to say it in clear, unequivocal terms?
No, of course not. Continuing on…
In fact, this “madman” was, by Bruce’s own judgment, “both highly intelligent and very well read in European history and the history of modern ideas.” It is precisely this blind spot by the anti-Islamist right that made me and others get off the train. They have every right to point out supine government capitulation to restrictions on free speech, and the worst forms of Islamist violence and rhetoric. I second every one of them. Where they went over the top was in the demonization of an entire religion, and in fomenting the Steynian specter that Muslim aliens were bent on destroying Christian Europe by demographic numbers, and that all this was aided and abetted by every European leader in a multicultural, left-wing conspiracy to destroy Christendom.
If you buy those very arguments, as expressed by Berwick (and Geller and Spencer), what option do you really have but the fascist solutions he recommends and the neo-fascist violence he unleashed? When an entire population in your midst is the enemy within and your government is acquiescing to it and your entire civilization is thereby doomed, what does Bruce think a blue-eyed patriot like Berwick should do? Is the leap to violence so obviously insane? Or is it actually the only logical conclusion to the tyranny Berwick believed he faced?
Oh, where to begin? Certain parts of this section are almost transcendentally idiotic. Sullivan, for instance, obtusely contends that any objective evaluation of the shooter is something akin to support for his act: note his phony indignation at Bawer’s suggestion that he was well-read in European history, as if this somehow mitigates Bawer’s outrage toward mass-murder.
The difference between the two of them that this illustrates is that Bruce Bawer is a thoughtful cultural critic, one less interested in getting involved in media knife-fights than in expounding upon nuanced ideas in article- or book-length format. Sullivan’s lifeblood is the daily give-and-take of the blogosphere, which is more conducive to petty fights and dumb arguments over nothing in particular.
Was the shooter well-versed in European history? Sullivan, who, unlike Bawer, has not read his writings, scoffs at this notion, preferring moralizing cant to a serious look at the evidence. Bawer said that the shooter knew something about European history? Well, then he must be okay with neo-fascist conspiracy theorists who engage in mass-murder!
I’d chalk this up to a typical ill-advised rant — plenty common in the blogosphere — if it weren’t for the fact that Sullivan is supposedly Bawer’s friend. One would think that such a circumstance would merit special consideration. Apparently not.
But worst of all, I am now completely convinced that Andrew Sullivan has never actually read any of Bruce Bawer’s books about Islam. Nobody could possibly read “While Europe Slept” — indeed, even the Journal piece — and take away the message that there is a secret conspiracy amongst left-wing politicians to destroy Christianity. Nor could anyone have read either and missed the fact that Bawer continually points out that European governments have a special responsibility to address the problems — which Andrew acknowledges in his very blog post! — because there is a danger that madmen like Anders Behring Breivik could emerge. Bawer actually saw this coming — does Sullivan know this? Does he care? Or is he too busy trying to publicly smear his “friends” by pinning the blame for mass-murder on them?
Sullivan asks: “[If you agree with Bruce Bawer,] what option do you really have but the fascist solutions [the shooter] recommends and the neo-fascist violence he unleashed?” Gee, I don’t know — maybe you work through the culture in a peaceful, intelligent manner, like Bawer suggests? Let’s turn the tables, here: if, as Sullivan admits, the problems are legitimate, then what is wrong with Bawer’s critique, and what improvements would he make upon them? Ah, but such a piece would require Sullivan to actually read the damn book…
Bawer’s message is actually infinitely more educated and subtle than Sullivan’s disrespectful caricature. One would think that friends would have at least a passing interest in reading each other’s published books. But it seems that the Andrew Sullivan method of reading major published pieces by friends is to skim the first few paragraphs to look for something to angrily blog about. It’s no wonder that Sullivan has nothing to criticize about Bawer’s work beyond floating abstractions about “rhetoric” — he’s never read his books, and he doesn’t want to: he’s far more interested in accusing his friends, behind their backs, of causing mass-murder.
Cross-posted at The Minority Report Blog.
(Full disclosure: Bruce Bawer is a personal friend, and I have received money for pieces published in Norway because of his actions. He translated two of them. Andrew Sullivan is a friendly acquaintance and has linked to my writings before.)