When I received my review copy of The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 by Dinesh D'Souza my first reaction was "It's about time." Not that there was anything wrong with his recent celebratory books like What's So Great About America or Ronald Reagan; but for my money, the Dartmouth Review provocateur was put on this earth to write books like Illiberal Education, one of the first popular books about campus PC culture, or to drive liberals crazy with well researched skewering of liberal sacred cows like The End of Racism.
The opening to The Enemy at Home made me feel that the wait was worth it. Discussing various reactions to the attacks on 9/11, D'Souza mocks Michael Moore's internet post that Osama bin Laden was aiming at red state America and hit blue state America. He then tackles Jerry Falwell's opposing assertion that abortionist, feminists, the ACLU and homosexuals caused God to "lift the veil of protection" and allow America to be hit. D'Souza comments dryly, "If God was aiming for the abortionists, the feminists and the homosexuals, it seems he mostly killed stockbrokers and soldiers and janitors, some of which were homosexual, but few of whom presumably, had second jobs as abortionists."
That's bracing stuff. But unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that D'Souza's premise is that Falwell is only wrong about who directed the suicide bombers, but is accurate about the target. He believes that Osama bin Laden was striking back against the abortionists, the feminists the homosexuals-- and the NGOs pushing their agenda worldwide-- by killing stockbrokers, soldiers and janitors.
That's right, Al Qaeda is primarily outraged by the Cultural Left, the rest of us are just collateral damage. I guess 30 Rock and the UN building aren't on any Afghani maps.
D'Souza lays it out, "The left is responsible for 9/11 in the following ways. First the cultural left has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies, especially those in the Islamic world that are being overwhelmed with this culture… This campaign has provoked a violent reaction from Muslims who believe that their most cherished beliefs and institutions are under assault."
While D'Souza goes on to say, "Further, the cultural left as affirmed the most vicious prejudices about American foreign policy held by radical factions in the Muslim world," most of the book is centered on the first assertion. Here we see the seeds of the biggest problem with D'Souza's analysis. While he dismisses as illogical and disingenuous the foreign policy reasons for Islamic radical attacks on the U.S., and as such treats them as mere propagandistic device, he chooses to accept as genuine every radical condemnation of American depravity—and comes very close to treating them as justification. In short, D'Souza treats Islamic complaints he agrees with as legitimate, and the ones he considers illogical as disingenuous propaganda. And based solely on his handpicked issues, D'Souza takes the unprecedented step of proposing that American conservatives unite with what he calls "traditional societies" worldwide—including what he perceives as the vast majority of the Muslim world—to fight the imperialist cultural left. According to D'Souza, this is the "only way to win" the war against radical Islam.
These are head-spinning thoughts. Because of D'Souza's ignorance of the nature of the enemy--and his overly benign view of the society that bred them--he envisions something like an international version of the Reagan coalition. But this isn't about winning over Evangelical and devoutly Catholic union workers who may have some liberal economic views (and resent being pushed into higher tax brackets) and separating them from the Democrat Party over abortion, gay rights, and the war on Christmas.
There is a big difference between voting against gay marriage, and wanting to put homosexuals in a pit and drop a wall on them. There is no common ground between being against easy divorce to protect women and children, and allowing polygamy for men while allowing no divorce for women. In fact, even the romantic nonsense of liberal definitions of marriage and easy divorce are far superior to the "traditional" view of Islamic marriage. And it's one thing to oppose the UN's forced secularization of underdeveloped countries and to argue that a manger scene will not traumatize passers-by; it's quite another to have the death penalty for blasphemy.
Part of the problem in making a realignment with the other traditionalists, D'Souza thinks, is that the rest of us are too paranoid about theocracy. Apparently too many of us think that it means "rule by divine authority of the priesthood or clergy." That is apparently not correct: D'Souza insists that in Iran "the power of the state and of the mullahs is limited by the specific rules set forth in the Koran and the Islamic tradition. The rulers themselves are bound by these laws."
D'Souza also leaves us behind by taking a benign view of life under Islamic rule in general. Most of his anecdotes, tellingly, are not from people who live in Egypt or Iran, however, but Muslims in India where he grew up. But Indian Muslims, while they may be shocked by American morals, are not signing up to be suicide bombers. (Before he declares there is common ground between mainstream Muslims and the American right on social issues, D'Souza should read Nonie Darwish's great book, Now they Call Me Infidel, which examines the pathologies of life under sharia law, and the deep worldview divide on what D'Souza calls our "common" issues.)
For someone who is making an argument that is downright revolutionary—and proclaims ownership of it nearly as often as the professor in the Monty Python sketch about brontosaurus theory--D'Souza has done very little primary research and relies too often on media-driven cliches. In fact, D'Souza ignores even widely read respected books on bin Laden's history and ideology to put his own particular spin on it.
For instance, in a section decrying the use of the word Islamofascism, D'Souza makes the argument that Osama bin Laden is "one of the world's richest men," despite the fact that Osama has been cut off from the bin Laden fortune for over a decade, as Lawrence Wright reveals in The Looming Tower. D'Souza also dislikes the term, because he says there is a tradition of "capitalism" in the Arab world, who were great "traders." In fact, the Arab world never fully made the leap to free markets from mercantilism, as their economy and society were slave-based and hurt badly by the British campaign to end the trade.
D'Souza does not just take Islamic radicals words at face value; he seems to believe their PR about their resumes, as well. He not only makes mistakes about bin Laden's background, but that of his intellectual godfather, Sayyid Qutb. The following unforgivably sloppy summary of Qutb's background flubs the facts in favor of D'Souza's thesis. "Originally a traveler in literary and pro-Western circles, Qutb became fiercely anti-American after living in the United States. He returned to Egypt, joined the Muslim Brotherhood, and advocated Islamic Radicalism as an antidote to what he perceived as American decadence."
In reality, Qutb was on the road to radicalism in Egypt and came to America ahead of an arrest order from King Farouk. The "decadence" that Qutb encountered was in the dry town of Greeley, Colorado, circa 1949--though he may have been exposed to secularist liberal philosophies at the "progressive," Colorado State College of Education. Someone made the innocent mistake of taking the tightly wrapped Egyptian to a dance in a church basement, and this was his impression: "They danced to the tunes of the gramophone, and the dance floor was replete with tapping feet, enticing legs, arms wrapped around waists, lips pressed to lips, and chests pressed to chests. The atmosphere was full of desire," and so on.
D'Souza uses similar truncation to propose that Osama bin Laden's primary focus is religious devotion, and that his aims have been consistent throughout his career. "Osama bin Laden also endorsed this strategy," D'Souza writes of the idea that a radical Muslim state would be the launching point for jihad. "His main emphasis during the 1980s was on driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan so that it could become a Muslim fundamentalist state. When that was successful, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia and focused his effort on changing the corrupt and insufficiently orthodox policies of the Saudi government."
This ignores Wright's well-researched account of the Afghans shunning the bin Ladenites who were more excited about martyrdom than winning the war. D'Souza discusses the fact that bin Laden lobbied to become a player in the Saudi military during the invasion of Kuwait and only rebelled against the Kingdom after being unceremoniously shut down. However, he incoherently draws the conclusion that even though bin Laden became an outlaw immediately, it was the fact that Americans later stayed and "imported their values" that really bothered him.
In fact, bin Laden's infamous fatwa against America was not issued until 1996, after bin Laden had been kicked out of the Sudan. Wright details the power struggle among the jihadis and how most of bin Laden's cohorts rejected his new campaign until events left them with little else that could unite their movement.
The book is filled with errors. D'Souza says that al Zawahiri and bin Laden "met in Afghanistan" in the mid to late 1990s, and formed an alliance based on their mutual and independent decisions to declare war on America. They met in Afghanistan, all right, but it was in the late 1980s, and they were together in the Sudan in the mid 1990s. Zawahiri resisted striking America until he was expelled from the Sudan, and had nowhere to go but bin Laden's cave in Afghanistan.
Among D'Souza's solutions to Muslim rage? Conservatives should stop writing books critical of Islam, or holding "silly seminars" on whether Islam is consistent with democracy; stop discouraging the imposition of sharia law; and "level with traditional Muslims and talk sense to them." This, he says, will keep radical Islam from being able to recruit from within traditional Islam. "Conservatives," he concludes, "Must strive to convince traditional Muslims that there are two Americas, and that one of these has a lot in common with them."
Dinesh D'Souza has made arguments that, as he states proudly in the third paragraph of the book, "no one has made before." If you are the only person in the world who believes something, there are only two choices: you are a visionary or a fool.