Saturday, December 17, 2016

Books by Friends

As excited as I am by the recent publication of my own book, I'm equally stoked that several of my good friends have books out this season, all of which should be read by you and your loved ones. They are, in no particular order:

Searching for John Hughes, by Jason Diamond
I grew up in Manhattan and the movies of John Hughes were farther away from my experience than Kids, but Jason's memoir is relatable, moving, and enjoyable for its wit and emotion without the necessary pop culture sympathies. 

Hot Sauce Nation, by Denver Nicks
Denver's cross-country survey of hot sauce covers history, science, and personal stories with brilliant prose. 

Stuffed Animals, by Divya Anantharaman and Katie Innamorato
My friend Divya makes incredible art from dead organisms and with her new book, you can too!

Atlas Obscura, by Ella Morton, Joshua Foer, and Dylan Thuras
Atlas Obscura is one of the best sites on the internet, chronicling the most interesting places and things in the world. Ella's labor of love is a masterpiece that should be read for decades to come, if not centuries. 

The Good Immigrant, by Coco Khan and others
I'm still waiting for this one to arrive in the mail, but it's been making waves in the UK, with Coco's essay garnering particular critical acclaim.

Amberlough, by Laura Elena Donnely
This one's not out yet, but you should pre-order it. Lara's fantasy-espionage novel, set in a kind of Weimar dystopia, is a work of unique vision and lush prose. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

We Are Dandy is here!

Dear Readers,

The moment is finally upon us to celebrate “We Are Dandy,” our second survey on international dandyism, this time adding two continents and ten countries to this mighty project. As the world seems increasingly fractious and unmoored, eminent photographer Rose Callahan and I are pleased to report that dandyism not only perseveres but does indeed flourish, even in unlikely and infertile soils.

We spent several months canvassing North America, Europe, Japan, and South Africa for elegant gentlemen, and found ourselves saddled with a surfeit of rakish toffs and sporty knaves all eager to preen and proclaim for our camera and pen. We also somehow managed to convince elegant icon and legendary smokeshow Dita von Teese to write the book’s preface.

I’ll take this opportunity to share a couple of my favorites with you, but I urge you to purchase the book when it goes on sale in the US very soon, ideally from our publisher Gestalten or at your local bookstore. (Although you could also have some company send it to your door via flying robot, I hear.)

Ever yours,
Nathaniel “Natty” Adams

This is the cover, featuring Tokyo's dandy barber Yoshio Suyama

 George Skeggs, the dandy of Soho, London

 "Fresh" & Ntabiso Sojane in Johannesburg, South Africa

 Mark Haldeman and James Aguiar in Brooklyn, New York

 Baron Ambrosia in the Bronx, New York

 Poggy in Tokyo, Japan

 Makoto Iida in Tokyo, Japan

Loux the Vintage Guru and crew in Johannesburg, South Africa

Monday, June 13, 2016

On Islam and Orlando

Updated: See below

More than 50 civilians are dead and dozens more have been wounded in the worst mass shooting in modern American history. The perpetrator, a familiarly pious fanatic, targeted these men and women for the crimes of loving whom they please, expressing themselves, living freely, and enjoying their lives, because in his petty, pathetic, filthy, narrow-minded religion, these people are less than human and their rights as such are forfeit. This is not only because of their sexuality, but for their rejection of his particular brand of his faith.

There are some clear failures on the part of our security. This man was investigated twice by the FBI but still had a security guard license and was still able to get an AR-15 assault rifle and other firearms legally in the county where he committed the crime. This is a scandal. It’s obvious that we need stronger gun control in this country. And perhaps the murderer was mentally ill, and we do need strong services for the mentally ill. But it is suicidal madness to ignore the deeply-held religious beliefs of the killer as the main motive for this attack.

I brace myself for the all-too-familiar bile drip I feel after these events when people inevitably swear this has nothing to do with religion or ideology, and instead seek to blame anything else - usually American foreign policy or Western institutions or even feelings of marginalization among Muslims in the West - for the murder of dozens of gay men and women by a devout religious ideologue. Instead we are all too often told that it is in fact the religious who deserve protection from our criticisms, our cartoons, our words.

The global enemy’s targets include novelists, artists, journalists, bloggers, cartoonists, filmmakers, secularists, Jews, Christians, Baha’is, Yazidis, Kurds, gays, women, human rights lawyers, progressive politicians, even the wrong kind of Muslims. What will it take for liberals around the world to unite against such a naked and self-declared threat to the institutions of democracy, pluralism, free expression, and liberty that we know to be necessary to a fair and functioning society? What will it take to even have an honest examination of the belief systems espoused by the killers? When will we stop playing nice with the medieval and prehistoric dogmas which lead grown men to murder, rape, enslave, and indoctrinate their own children in hatred?

I’ve already a few articles of the kind which always pop up after these events when they occur in non-Muslim majority countries: “Muslims fear backlash.” This seems to occur whether the attacks were in New York, Bali, Boston, Madrid, London (during the bombings, beheading of drummer Rigby, and recent stabbing,) Paris (after Charlie Hebdo and November,) Ottowa, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Glasgow, Kampala, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Cologne, Toulouse, Dijon, Lyon, Chattanooga, Berlin, and Brussels (both the Jewish Museum attack and the recent airport attack.) I include this extensive a list so people don’t forget how widespread the problem is. This obviously doesn’t include the mayhem, slaughter, and oppression being carried out in the name of Islam across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. I’m not sure what the exact nature of this greatly-feared “backlash” might be, but so far it seems to mainly be a rhetorical one. It’s true that anti-Muslim rhetoric is something to be worried about (and something to recognize as different from criticism of both Islam and Islamism,) and there are always reports of spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes - often vandalism and some assaults - after episodes of Islamic terror, but pogroms against Muslims have not broken out in the capitols of the Western world, and - Donald Trump notwithstanding - most politicians go well out of their way to stress that not all Muslims are terrorists (as if anyone deserving of being taken seriously has ever claimed that they are.) Muslims are well within their right and reason to be worried about their frightened neighbors’ reactive attitudes toward them when a member of their faith commits an atrocity while invoking Islamic teachings. But I always can’t help but being insulted by the implicit suggestion that the vast majority of citizens of liberal democracies around the world are violent bigots foaming at the mouth to kill muslims given the slightest excuse. If that didn’t happen after 9/11 it won’t happen now. The reaction of most of our fellow citizens has almost invariably been support, outreach, and concern. No embassies have been burned, no hostages have been taken, and no citizens have been set upon by baying lynch mobs. After all, its not like someone drew a cartoon or something.

In global terms Islam is not an oppressed minority religion. There are approximately a billion and a half Muslims worldwide. There are more than two dozen majority Muslim countries with immense power as a voting bloc in the UN (they do, significantly, repeatedly object to any gay rights declarations or legislation.) Muslims living in the West are generally afforded more freedom to practice their religion as they personally see fit than they would be in many officially Islamic countries which seek to regulate and police the faith of their citizens. And nobody is more oppressed by Islamic fundamentalism than Muslims around the world. It shouldn’t be wrong to ask that members of a faith take the lead in getting their own house in order. Indeed, one would think that a far more courteous and kind proposition than offering to do it for them. There should be no shame in insisting that people take an unequivocal stand not just against terrorism (that’s the absolute least they could do,) but against the most outdated and intolerant dogmas and doctrines in their religions - the elements which have no place in a modern society. If coexistence is our goal then honest and open reform shouldn’t be too much to ask in its pursuit. Yet thousands of young Muslims flock to the most unimaginably horrific terror groups around the world while comparatively few seem to be interested in - for example - taking up arms in foreign lands to defend their faith from the extremists whom we are repeatedly told have hijacked something great and good. Instead they insist that “Islamophobia” is a more pressing concern than the droves of their co-religionists seduced by their faith’s most backward, stupid, and outmoded tenets. Reflexively shouting “not all Muslims,” is about as helpful as those who yell “not all men” when confronted with issues of the rape or sexual assault of women. Of course not all of them - but who bears some of the responsibility of preventing this from continuing to happen? Who is in the best position to fight this evil?

Barney Frank, the openly gay former Representative from Massachussetts has no illusions about all of this and generally agrees with my assessment: “There is an Islamic element here. Yes, the overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t do this, but there is clearly, sadly, an element in the interpretation of Islam that has some currency, some interpretation in the Middle East that encourages killing people — and L.G.B.T. people are on that list. And I think it is fair to ask leaders of the Islamic community, religious and otherwise, to spend some time combatting this.’’

Religious fundamentalism - currently most virulent and dangerous worldwide in its Islamic form - is and always has been the enemy of progress and a poor substitute for an informed and reason-based humanistic moral system (when it hasn’t been hostile to such an idea outright.) Religious freedom needs to be protected and defended, but religious beliefs do not, and - especially when they conflict with human decency, peace, and freedom - should be criticized, debated, mocked, satirized, and ridiculed. Whatever warm and fuzzy feelings of personal communion with the godhead or sense of belonging to an in-group or community of the chosen faithful or appeals to charity that religions may provide simply do not outweigh the division, suffering, violence, intolerance, hatred, exclusion, and oppression preached by almost all of their foundational texts and practiced by all too many of their adherents.

In this case, one of the first people to say “this had nothing to do with religion” was the killer’s father. He also said “I don’t know what caused this. I did not know and did not understand that he has anger in his heart.” It would seem that he did in fact know what caused this and that it does in fact have something to do with religion: in the same interview he said “only God can punish homosexuality. This is not an issue for humans to punish.” In a Facebook video he published after the attack, he reiterated: “God will punish those involved in homosexuality," saying it's, "not an issue that humans should deal with."

Human kind has little hope so long as we remain too afraid to question and ultimately outgrow these ancient and wicked beliefs, rooted in superstitious nonsense. Anybody who cares about liberal and progressive values should be firmly on the side of secularism and against religious fundamentalism no matter what religion it happens to be. The international left should revisit its anticlerical roots and extend the same degree of criticism and antagonism to the conservative Islamic right as it does to its Christian counterpart. We can and should rail against the bigoted, homophobic and transphobic American demagogues who want to stop gay and trans people from getting married and using whatever bathrooms they choose, but we should never lose sight of the countless ones in positions of power and influence across the Muslim world who openly want to stop them from breathing. When a Christian fundamentalist attacks an abortion clinic, a chorus doesn’t bleat out “this has nothing to do with his religion.” And yet…

Update: It seems - surprise, surprise - that the murderer may have been a closeted homosexual himself, having visited the club and possibly several others, maybe having asked out a male friend once, and having profiles on several gay dating apps. He was also said to have drunk heavily at the club, something forbidden in Islam. Far from shifting the motive away from religion, this kind of behavior only speaks to the kind of psychological torture religion can impose on people whose identities conflict with the teaching of their faith. Far be it from me to pity a killer, any more than I pity the Catholic priests who rape children. But I can't help but think if it weren't for religion's twisted relationship to human sexuality and the proscriptions and regulations of sexual relationships found in nearly all major religions, we'd see a lot less of this kind of thing. Religion is, historically speaking, the single greatest enemy of sexual liberation and homosexuality in particular. Nothing has persecuted, demonized, or tormented gay men and women than religion and religious institutions. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

More Thoughts About Dress Codes and Headscarves

Last week I wrote about sartorial liberty and the controversy in the West over Islamic dress codes for women (my TEDx talk will be posted soon.) My position - that dress codes are inherently illiberal, especially when applied only to a specific segment of the population or community, regardless of whether the source is secular or religious - remains the same. But, faced with the perverse idea of “World Hijab Day,” in which non-Muslim women are encouraged to wear a headscarf in “solidarity” with Muslim women, there’s one particular question which bears asking and needs honest answers. 

The New York Times has published one of its “Room for Debate” series on the topic, and I unsurprisingly agree with those who argue that hijab is a conservative and superficial symbol of religion and identity, rather than a true indicator of someone’s faith, and that women who choose not to wear the hijab need just as much support (if not more,) than those who do. World Hijab Day legitimizes one particular conservative religious practice and expression over others and risks disempowering, delegitimizing, and undermining the religious credibility and identity of those Muslim women who choose not to practice hijab. 

I believe that those in the most danger deserve the most support. This brings me to my question: is it more dangerous for a Muslim woman living in a conservative Islamic country or community to resist hijab or for a Muslim woman in a liberal society to wear it? I think it’s obvious that the former is much more dangerous, especially when taken on a global scale. Reports of fathers and brothers killing their own daughters, sisters, and wives because of perceived affronts to family honor by even appearing to be insufficiently modest are heard all too often, to say nothing of harsh official punishments in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Reports of women in hijab being harassed on the streets in Western cities are also heard, but with nothing like the scale or nature of the threat as the former. It seems obvious that a woman going without a headscarf in Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and many Muslim communities in the West would run a greater risk of harassment (if not arrest, corporal, or even capital punishment,) than a Muslim woman living in a liberal, secular country who decides to wear one. 

This begs a larger question: which is a bigger problem in the world today - Islamism or “Islamophobia” (although I prefer Maajid Nawaz’s more accurate and helpful phrase “anti-Muslim bigotry.”) I tend to think the former is a bigger problem than the latter. It isn’t just that women, gays, and religious minorities are safer and better off in liberal democracies than they are in Islamist countries - Muslims themselves enjoy more rights and freedoms in secular countries than they do in theocratic ones. Anti-Muslim bigotry in the West is indeed a problem and it needs to be fought against. But Muslims in liberal societies tend to be legally far freer to worship, dress, and live as they choose than Muslims in theocratic societies.  So who is really in peril and more in need of support and solidarity: the woman who dares to wear a headscarf in New York or the woman who dares to uncover her hair in Tehran?

The only World Hijab Day that would approach fairness or justice would be one in which Muslim women who do choose hijab remove it for a day in solidarity with their Muslim sisters who choose not to follow a dress code. Short of that, a day in which Muslim men are encouraged to try a headscarf for a day to support their sisters who wear one - either by choice or by force - might make for an interesting change.