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Intersectionality’s Newest Victims: Women

How the regressive left’s new campaign against Hillary Clinton represents the cannibalizing of American liberalism

by
James Kirchick
February 24, 2016
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Good satire mocks the Zeitgeist. Great satire anticipates it, ridiculing a social phenomenon or article of conventional wisdom before it has even emerged. By such criteria we can now place South Park in the pantheon of satirical genius alongside Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Arriving at a time when American university campuses are embroiled in debates over “microaggressions,” trigger warnings and contrived traumas over non-existent racist Halloween costumes, the show’s 19th season introduced viewers to a genus of species so improbable as to seem absurd: the “P.C. Bro.” Instead of engaging in paddling, the elephant walk, and other homoerotic hazing rituals associated with Greek Life (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), these dudes apply their energies to a nobler cause: the aggressive enforcement of political correctness. Combining the tanked-up boorishness of a fraternity pledge to the inflexible self-righteousness of a social justice warrior, the Bros shout misogynistic abuse at little girls, threaten to break the legs of a student newspaper editor who publishes the word “retarded” in a piece about the cafeteria, and inflict violence upon anyone who refuses to acknowledge that Caitlyn Jenner is “stunning and brave.”

What initially seemed like just another silly invention from the minds of series creators Trey Stone and Matt Parker, however, has come stunningly to life in the form of “Bernie Bros,” a conspicuous subset of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ young male support base who take to their keyboards and heap sexist abuse upon Hillary Clinton, her female backers, and practically any liberal journalist who has a kind word to say about the former Secretary of State. Though some Sanders supporters insist that the entire phenomenon is a fabrication concocted by the Clinton campaign, the insurgent Vermont senator has himself acknowledged and condemned their loutish behavior.

To be sure, left-wing misogyny is not a new thing. In a Slate piece about male Sanders supporters, Michelle Goldberg saw the reemergence of “ostensibly enlightened men” who “seem to believe that their class politics exempt them from taking sexism seriously,” a description that could apply to men active in any number of progressive movements throughout history, from the Black Panthers to Occupy Wall Street. And it’s not coincidental that one of the most vocal “Bernie Bro” deniers is Glenn Greenwald. The principal journalistic disseminator of Edward Snowden’s pilfered American national security secrets, Greenwald is a Hamas apologist and one of the noisiest and most persistent voices of an “anti-imperialist” left that is characterized by innate and uncompromising antipathy to American power and silence on contemporary imperialism, which is real, and is almost exclusively practiced by non-Western countries like Russia, China, and Iran. Like the Western “imperialism” it decries, this regressive left is vestigial in its own political commitments, which are essentially cribbed from Third Worldism, the Cold War-era concatenation of socialist economics and authoritarian politics. Central to the occult politics of Third Worldism, in which soulful headgear and free lunch programs oddly always seem to combine with brutal violence towards outspoken women, Jews, gays, inquiring reporters, and other devilish embodiments of “bourgeois” rights-based democratic societies, is the belief that the “global south” is poor, backwards and benighted because the West is rich, racist and powerful. This obligates not only massive and ongoing monetary transfers by developed countries to undeveloped ones as perpetual recompense for what they “stole,” but also excuses the non-Western world’s every existing social, political and economic affliction—from corruption to migration to terrorism.

Greenwald’s vituperation for Clinton and embrace of Sanders is predicated entirely upon the candidates’ foreign policy track records, namely, the former’s official participation in what he considers the criminal American national security state and the latter’s principled refusal to bow and scrape before it. On a good day, those who disagree with Greenwald are slandered as “war criminals” or “warmongers.” Of Clinton, Greenwald complains that “She’s a fucking hawk and like a neocon.”

The misogyny directed at Clinton from within progressive ranks marks a significant moment in the evolution of the American left, reifying a crude yet increasingly influential form of identity politics known as “intersectionality.” As I’ve written here before, this dogma assigns varying levels of righteousness to groups based upon their claimed “marginalization” and victim status. A powerful force on both college campuses and in the broader left-wing activist community, intersectionality is now threatening to subsume the old Democratic Party coalition of ethnic minorities, Jews, gays, intellectuals, and the working class—in which the various elements supported one another in achieving the universalist goal of a more equitable and just society—and replace it with a hierarchy that relegates certain groups, by definition, to lower places on the victim pyramid. The first to get kicked down were Jews, followed quickly by gays. Currently, it’s a war on women, symbolized by Hillary Clinton and anyone who supports her. For reasons that are important to understand, the ones at the very top of the pyramid are now always—no matter what day, or situation—Muslims.

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To intersectionality’s rigid and impersonal classification system the regressive left has applied the Third Worldism of Frantz Fanon, who wrote romantically of “the wretched of the earth” as noble savages. Today’s noble savages of the left are Muslims, who, after 9/11, assumed the role traditionally occupied by the proletariat in radical chic regressive left imagination: an undifferentiated mass of people perceived as the greatest victims of Western imperialism. Before embracing the aims of political Islam as their own, progressives should do their due diligence and investigate whom they’re getting into bed with. The 2013 Pew Research Center report, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society,” is perhaps the most comprehensive study ever done of global Islamic attitudes. Conducted over the course of four years, the report comprises the views of 38,000 Muslims, gathered through face-to-face interviews across 39 countries and in over 80 languages. According to its findings, “solid majorities in most of the countries surveyed across the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia favor the establishment of sharia” and in “most countries surveyed, majorities of Muslim women as well as men agree that a wife is always obliged to obey her husband.” Seventy-five percent or more of Muslims in 33 of 36 countries believe homosexual behavior is wrong, a similar number in 29 of 36 countries oppose pre-marital sex, and at least half in 11 of 37 countries support polygamy. Eighty-four percent of Palestinian Muslims support stoning adulterers, and 66 percent support the death penalty for apostasy. As horrifically demonstrated by last month’s mass migrant sexual assault in Cologne, the Arab Muslim world has a “sick relationship with women,” in the words of Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud, a relationship that, among other evils, produces forced veiling, clitoridectomy, and reconstructive surgery for broken hymens.

What does the logic that licenses such attitudes as a higher form of political morals make of the competing interests of gays—who wish nothing more than to live unmolested—and Hamas, which wishes to throw them off the rooftops of high buildings, or the Iranian theocracy, which, when not denying their existence, hangs them from construction cranes? Merely mentioning the mutual incompatibility of these wants is itself a sign of Orientalism and imperialism, for, in the words of Columbia professor Joseph Massad, it is a “Gay International” whose “discourse … produces homosexuals as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist” in Muslim lands. A “gay identity,” you see, is a devious Western notion with all sorts of political and cultural connotations that do not pertain to the Muslim world, where guys sometimes just fuck other guys without being at all gay. Flipping the entire, decades-long struggle for the recognition of gay people and their equality on its head, Massad insists that the very notion that someone can “be” a “homosexual,” as opposed to merely performing homosexual “acts” upon an underage boy or one’s cousin (a common practice in Muslim countries where sex of all types is highly policed), is not only confining but also deeply racist—since it is used to portray as backwards and barbaric Muslims societies that are in fact, yes, wait for it, far more sexually enlightened and liberated than Western ones.

Morally warped as this reasoning may seem, we have abundant examples of how it has been used within the progressive movement to advance the cause of parochial “Muslim” interests and deny the aspirations of other groups. Last month, I wrote about the sad spectacle at Creating Change, the country’s largest LGBT rights convention, where a group of regressive left activists violently shut down an event held by A Wider Bridge, an organization that connects the gay communities in Israel and North America. Around the same time, the Columbia University Queer Alliance expressed its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctioning of Israel, the only country in the Middle East where gay people can live openly. Garry Trudeau, whose “Doonesbury” cartoon was the baby boomer equivalent of South Park, used intersectional third-worldist reasoning when he attacked his fellow cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, faulting them for “punching down” against Muslims. (That it was Muslims who had actually grabbed a bunch of guns and killed the cartoonists did not disturb Trudeau’s post-facto analysis.)

One of the most pathetic recent acts of Western intellectual masochism was that performed by Adam Gopnik in response to the French government’s cancelling a lunch with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani after the latter insisted no wine be served at the meal. News coverage of the event, sniffed the Pepé Le Pew of The New Yorker, had all the markings of the “Sacre Bleu! Division of the Oh-Là-Là! School of Foreign Reporting from France.” Though of course no one would have forced the Iranian delegation to consume alcoholic beverages, Gopnik concluded that, “If our norms are offensive to them, then we owe them some shifting of our own—particularly if ours have been the imperial norms of the past, and the guests’ assertion of theirs is a form of understandable counterprogramming.” Never mind this highly tendentious association of wine with imperialism, France never colonized Iran. Moreover, Islamic abstemiousness has nothing to do with anti-colonial resistance; it’s about self-control (there are also, for that matter, Muslims who do drink; which would have made French placation of the Iranians’ demand a craven indulgence to obscurantism). Desperate to find some rationale for French submission, Gopnik concluded that, “The wine is not on the lunch table to insult the Iranians but to please the French, but try telling that to the Iranians: We can’t always tell other people what they ought to be offended about.” The same could be said of the Mohammed cartoons, or gay couples holding hands on the Champs-Élysées, or unveiled women: All these things are manifestations of Western freedom and none of them are intended to “insult the Iranians.” But they very much do. The question then becomes: How low are you willing to stoop to conciliate such reactionaries?

But why pick on some smarmy New Yorker writer when the Obama presidency itself has been one, long protracted indulgence of Islamism at the expense of Muslim secularism? Barack Obama’s first television interview as president (to a Saudi-owned network), his first major speech overseas (to the Islamist-dominated Turkish parliament), and his second major speech overseas (at Cairo’s Islamic Al-Azhar University), were all characterized by a tone of contrition, apologizing for perceived past American slights against Muslim sensitivities. His 2012 speech before the United Nations General Assembly declaring that “The future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” not only reassured Islamists that they would triumph over secularists, it implicitly denigrated the brave men and women, (including my heroic Danish friend Flemming Rose, original publisher of the Mohammed cartoons), who deigned to draw or reproduce images of a 7th-century mystic. When the president wanted to make yet another speech assuaging Muslim feelings earlier this month, he chose, of all places, the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a gender-segregated institution (this, just days after announcing efforts to achieve equal pay for women in the workplace and new measures to improve the status of women in the military). “While the free world awaits a Muslim reformation, the leader of the free world shows blatant disregard for gender equality by visiting a mosque that treats females like second-class citizens,” wrote Muslim feminists Asra Q. Nomani and Ify Okoye.

Indeed, the notion that Third World-hued, intersectionalist ideology can take control of major political parties in the West is hardly idle speculation. After hard-left entryists seized control of Britain’s Labor Party and thrust the terrorist-sympathizing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn to power last year, the class-conscious agenda that has always been the mainstay of that once-proud social democratic party was shunted aside to make way for Islamist identity politics and other Third Worldist commitments. Elsewhere in Britain, the gay students organization at London’s Goldsmiths University expressed its support for an Islamist mob that tried to shut down a speech by an Iranian-born feminist and secularist. Greenwald, a gay, Jewish apologist for some of the world’s most viciously homophobic and anti-Semitic governments and movements, personifies the entire bundle of perverse contradictions mandated by intersectional third worldism, as does Ali Abunimah, a gay Hamas enthusiast whose lifespan in Gaza City might be considerably shorter than it is likely to be in Chicago, even if Hamas never fires another rocket into Israel.

Which brings us to the Jews, whose millennia of victimization, culminating, in living memory, in the worst mass-murder in the history of mankind, would appear to guarantee them pride of place in any coalition predicated upon historical victimhood. Except it doesn’t. Because “all oppression is connected,” and Muslims rank higher than Jews on the victim pyramid, those who oppose institutionalized racism and police brutality in the United States must therefore oppose Zionism, secularism and Western “imperialism” in the Middle East, because Muslims say so. The Jewish interest in national self-determination—as opposed to the Palestinian interest in national self-determination—doesn’t even factor into these discussions.

To achieve this tiered totem of torment, the regressive left has racialized an ethno-religious conflict over borders in the Middle East into one whose moral touchstones evoke the anti-apartheid struggle and American civil rights movement. Speaking of African-Americans and Palestinians, Noura Erekat, an anti-Israel activist who produced a solidarity video with Black Lives Matter activists, told Al Jazeera, “Here were two groups of people dealing with completely different historical trajectories, but both which resulted in a process of dehumanization that criminalized them and that subject their bodies as expendable.” Though anti-black racism is remarkably prevalent in Arab societies, where dark-skinned people are often graced with the name “abd” or “slave,” activists from the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter joined last month’s raid on A Wider Bridge, which works with the Ethiopian-Israeli LGBT community. Not even the tragic lead poisoning of the Flint, Michigan water supply could escape the intersectionalist grinder. Writing recently in The Nation, blogger Juan Cole observed that, “Both in Flint and in Gaza, people are suffering from lack of clean water. In both places, the ultimate crisis is a crisis of democracy and full citizenship.” Cole could have buttressed his analogy if he had cited any instances of rocket attacks from Michael Moore’s depressed hometown into Bloomfield Hills.

Intersectionality may be deeply idiotic, but it is wrong to dismiss the effects it has on the sort of young people who actually want to do good. “I was always encouraged to take initiative on issues and movements that didn’t directly affect me,” a left-wing Jewish student activist at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Tower, betraying a naïve innocence about the intersectional forces that would later force him to choose between his progressive political ideals and his belief that the Jews have a right, just like every other people, to statehood. At the school’s Students of Color Conference, he heard a speech declaring that Jews poisoned Palestinian water wells, an update of the ancient blood libel. Another Jewish student attending the event reported that, “Over the course of what was probably no longer than an hour, my history was denied, the murder of my people was justified, and a movement whose sole purpose is the destruction of the Jewish homeland was glorified. Statements were made justifying the ruthless murder of innocent Israeli civilians, blatantly denying Jewish indigeneity in the land, and denying the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were murdered.” At the University of Missouri, the most high profile locus of last year’s campus controversies, Black Lives Matter activists reportedly defended Palestinian stabbings of Israeli civilians. “It’s started to feel like Jewish lives don’t matter,” a Jewish supporter of the group said.

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Jews are used to getting pushed out of places. The real surprise, even for some observers on the left, is the swiftness with which other groups have been punted down the intersectionality ladder—particularly the first genuinely competitive female presidential candidate and her supporters, who must now prostrate themselves before Third Worldist agendas or else admit that they’re actually enemies of progress. Finished with Jews, who have all but been told to leave the left unless they’re willing to denounce their fellow Jews as violent usurpers of Arab land, the regressive left has now moved on to women, who are being told that they must support anti-feminist cultures as, in fact, feminist. After the Cologne attacks, Laurie Penny, a popular writer for the British left-wing New Statesman magazine, wrote an article titled, “We can’t let the bigots steal feminism.” Stating that there was no difference between the sexism prevalent in Western societies and that in Arab Muslim ones, she warned against the “theft of feminist rhetoric in the name of imperialism and racism.” I mean, right on. What, in the end, could be more feminist than wearing a burqa, or having your clitoris cut out? The latter of which, according to two U.S. gynecologists writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, should be tolerated in the form of a surgical procedure euphemistically called “female genital alteration” because opposition to such practices—and not the barbaric practices themselves—is “culturally insensitive and supremacist and discriminatory towards women.”

If it seems bizarre to assert victimhood for a religion with 1.5 billion adherents and that commands majorities in nearly 60 countries (FBI statistics show that Jews are four times as likely to be the target of a hate crime than Muslims; similarly disproportionate statistics pertain in Europe), so too is it difficult to comprehend how the broader left would ever allow itself to be taken advantage of in such fashion. In the case of gays and Jews, one can argue the math and determine that, because there are far more Muslims in the world, these two smaller minorities need to take one for the left-wing team. However, this logic clearly doesn’t apply to women, since they are a majority of humans on the planet.

Which is why the virulence of the progressive anti-Hillary campaign is so revealing: It shows that the real logic here is not about respecting everyone’s pain or even building a winning coalition to pursue social justice. It’s about asserting the supremacy of the Third Worldist camp of the “New New Left.” After all, the potential coalition of people targeted by Muslims is substantially higher than the number of Muslims. The only way the regressive left can win is by getting other minority groups to defer to them within a space they control. Outside of university campuses, the regressive left is too small to win electoral victories, which necessarily makes their strategy a Leninist one: They need to use violence, coercion, and allusions to the inevitability of their victory to frighten liberals into line. They need fellow travelers—weak-kneed college administrators, foundation executives, the white liberals who, through half-terrified virtue signaling, outdo one another with deep knee-bends to the brilliance of the latest Ta-Nehisi Coates essay—to round out their numbers.

Indeed, the harder you look, the more you see and hear the voices of white men wrapping themselves in the banner of progressive virtue and reenacting the very sins that their newfound coalition is ostensibly organized to cure. Indeed, who is inside the progressive Wizard of Oz’s booth? Is it the head of the Muslim Brotherhood? Mahmoud Abbas? Nope. It’s actually a bunch of white guys like Glenn Greenwald and his groupies, which is how Leninism has always worked: Fellow travelers get to wear the cloak of virtue, while the extremists they front for get to continue to murder and oppress people in their own countries.

Despite its endless gobbledygook and constant cries of helplessness and feeling “threatened” by “unsafe spaces,” intersectionality politics is actually quite simple: It’s about power. Unless liberals are willing to resist its rise, intersectional Third Worldism will destroy the fading hope of an internationalist left based on the principles of solidarity, equality, and individual rights.

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James Kirchick, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a columnist at Tablet magazine and the author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age. He is writing a history of gay Washington, D.C. His Twitter feed is @jkirchick.

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