Will & Grace meets Shock & Awe
: Nick Denton (on IM) is amazed at the appeal of the Salam Pax encounter with journalist Peter Maass (the Maass story and the Denton post about it are both high on Blogdex at this hour). Nick later points to a post by Eric Deamer saying that part of Salam’s appeal to American liberals is that they’d want to have dinner with him. True.
But I think everyone is tiptoeing — as American liberals will do — around another important factor in Salam’s appeal: namely, his gayness. (OK, “gayness” is not a real word, but in this cultural context, “homosexuality” sounds so damned Master & Johnson. And the truth is that “having dinner with” is probably code for “gay.”)
Being gay makes Salam appealing to American liberals on so many levels: Here, being gay makes you culturally cool. Andrew Sullivan aside, it probably makes you liberal. It makes you an underdog (boy, is that an understatement in a repressive Muslim nation) and we Americans love underdogs. On top of that, Salam’s constant undercurrent of skepticism toward America (if not anti-Americanism) also makes him appealing to the left.
In sum, what makes Salam so appealing is that he is so Westernized. In his context, being gay and being Westernized aren’t that far apart, for either could get you killed. For me, that means that his gayness is far more than a mark of cultural charm; it is a mark of bravery. And that is worthy of respect.
Now that we find ourselves in Iraq, Salam is more familiar, less alien, and less threatening than so many other Iraqis we see on TV. He’s not going to go around slapping his back with razors and chains; he says “thingie” a lot.
Mind you, I don’t separate myself from those opinions, not by an inch. I would quite like to have dinner with Salam; he’s a charming, fascinating, smart, articulate guy with an amazing story. And he’s Westernized. That is precisely what makes him a bridge between us and them. He’s both.
But all of that is what makes him so atypical. And that is why it’s silly for people to try to read too much into what he says. He doesn’t speak for all Iraq; he doesn’t try to. He’s a unique man in unique circumstances with a unique viewpoint that’s compelling to read. As I’ve said before, I enjoy and value reading his blog; I’ll read his book and watch his movie; I’d be honored to have dinner with him. And I also want to hear more Iraqi voices.