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Trump Discovers Sexual Nationalism

19th August 2016

Mehammed Amadeus Mack discusses the dangers of nationalist policies and his new book, Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture.

This week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a policy speech in which he introduced the idea of submitting both visitors and immigrants to “ideological tests,” which would assess their compatibility with US cultural values (whatever these may be). Such tests, similar to those existing in Europe in their implicit targeting of Muslims, would be unprecedented in the sense that they target not only those who seek to regularize their immigration status, but tourists as well. The Netherlands launched an entrance exam in March of this year to familiarize would-be immigrants with the country’s liberal values (even providing test prep), and the state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany (whose capital is Stuttgart) previously instituted a highly controversial exam in 2006 that it ultimately did not preserve after a significant uproar. Question 29, for instance, asked for reaction to the following situation: “Just imagine that your grown-up son tells you that he is homosexual and would like to live with another man.” These tests have a tendency of backfiring in their aims: putting the same questions to the home population could reignite old culture wars about LGBT and women’s rights which are far from settled, rather than create unity against a foreign “enemy.” (How would the Republican base answer questions about abortion or transgender rights?) Furthermore, those taking the test quickly grow wise to its internal logic and answer correctly, and in this way the test fails in its aim to screen out the “intolerant.” The tests ensnare or could ensnare not just Muslims but all immigrants and visitors from countries with less than friendly policies on gay rights, even European ones: Poland or Russia for example. Like Trump’s previous proposal– a temporary travel ban on all those who come from countries with a recent history of terrorism– this classification could apply to Western European countries (Belgium, France) in addition to Middle Eastern ones.

The sincerity of Trump’s newfound concern for sexual minorities and women is highly
questionable, not least because of its strange timing (in the wake of reprehensible comments making light of sexual harassment), but especially because they are a clear-cut case of sexual nationalism. This form of nationalism refers to support for women’s and
LGBT rights among conservative commentators or politicians who have previously never expressed such support: their discovery of the importance of sexual rights comes as a result of a political calculation that assumes immigrants (especially Muslim ones) harbor the most regressive attitudes about sexual freedom. The idea that Muslims maintain unmodern perspectives on sexuality, no matter their sexual diversity in the Middle East or Diaspora, is one that I explore in my book: Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Cultureset for release in January.

More largely, the whole business of devising entry and citizenship tests is about maintaining “chosen” immigration: when you choose your immigrants, you can be selective (even discriminatory) in the way you expect them to outperform national standards, but more insidiously, you can ask of them what you would never ask of your own compatriots, in terms of tolerance in this case. One perilous consequence of wedding nationalism to sexual rights is that you lose all sense of history: in Europe and in the US especially, LGBT parental, marriage, and adoption rights have only recently been acquired, with some countries waiting until the 2010s, and others still waiting. Under sexual nationalism, these newly agreed-upon values are retroactively enshrined as an eternal cornerstone of their respective cultures, because they are perceived as the best platform with which to discriminate against Muslims.

Stateside, members of the “alt-right” greeted Trump’s statement with enthusiasm, especially those belonging to his small but vocal gay base. Gay tech journalist Milo Yiannopoulos of the right-wing website Breitbart.com, famous for fanning the flames of Gamergate and the Ghostbusters controversy, took credit for inspiring Trump’s turn to gay-friendliness as a means to unite voters against alleged Muslim homophobia. Yiannopoulos used choice words to describe the test, and the fact, no longer concealed as it was with the European tests, that it targets Muslims: “The test will apply to all immigrants, yet its obvious target is Muslims, who, as we know, get a bit bomby in the presence of gays, a bit rapey in the presence of women who wear skirts shorter than their ankles and generally a bit hostile and violent around anyone who doesn’t have their bum in the air five times a day.” While Yiannopoulos celebrated Trump for outdoing Hillary Clinton on sexual progressivism, he was unable or unwilling to recognize the regression inherent in sexual demonization that casts all Muslims as homophobic. The alt-right is notorious for decrying political correctness and liberal sensitivity, which makes the espousal of sexual nationalism all the more interesting, since Trump’s test essentially measures applicants’ political correctness on the topic of sexual tolerance.