None (but Me) Dare Call It Treason
By ALAN WOLFE
The New York Times
Published: January 21, 2007
THE ENEMY AT HOME
The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.
By Dinesh D’Souza.
333 pp. Doubleday. $26.95.
At first Dinesh D’Souza considered him “a dark-eyed fanatic, a gun-toting extremist, a monster who laughs at the deaths of 3,000 innocent civilians.” But once he learned how Osama bin Laden was viewed in the Muslim world, D’Souza changed his mind. Now he finds bin Laden to be “a quiet, well-mannered, thoughtful, eloquent and deeply religious person.” Despite being considered a friend of the Palestinians, he “has not launched a single attack against Israel.” We denounce him as a terrorist, but he uses “a different compass to assess America than Americans use to assess him.” Bin Laden killed only 3,000 of us, with “every victim counted, every death mourned, every victim’s family generously compensated.” But look what we did in return: many thousands of Muslims dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, “and few Americans seem distressed over these numbers.”
I never thought a book by D’Souza, the aging enfant terrible of American conservatism, would, like the Stalinist apologetics of the popular front period, contain such a soft spot for radical evil. But in “The Enemy at Home,” D’Souza’s cultural relativism hardly stops with bin Laden. He finds Ayatollah Khomeini still to be “highly regarded for his modest demeanor, frugal lifestyle and soft-spoken manner.” Islamic punishment tends to be harsh — flogging adulterers and that sort of thing — but this, D’Souza says “with only a hint of irony,” simply puts Muslims “in the Old Testament tradition.” Polygamy exists under Islamic law, but the sexual freedom produced by feminism in this country is, at least for men, “even better than polygamy.” And the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that the West has a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust, while “pooh-poohed by Western commentators,” was “undoubtedly accurate.” Unlike President Bush, who once said he could not understand how anyone could hate America, D’Souza knows why Islamic radicals attack us. “Painful though it may be to admit,” he admits, “some of what the critics or even enemies say about America and the West ... may be true.” Susan Sontag never said we brought Sept. 11 on ourselves. Dinesh D’Souza does say it.
Dreadful things happened to America on that day, but, truth be told, D’Souza is not all that upset by them. America is fighting two wars simultaneously, he argues, a war against terror abroad and a culture war at home. We should be using the former, less important, one to fight the latter, really crucial, one. The way to do so is to encourage a split between “radical” Muslims like bin Laden, who engage in jihad, and “traditional” Muslims who are conservative in their political views and deeply devout in their religious practices; understanding the radical Muslims, even being sympathetic to some of their complaints, is the best way to win the support of the traditionalists. We should stand with conservative Muslims in protest against the publication of the Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad rather than rallying to the liberal ideal of free speech. We should drop our alliance with decadent Europe and “should openly ally” with “governments that reflect Muslim interests, not ... Israeli interests.” And, most important of all, conservative religious believers in America should join forces with conservative religious believers in the Islamic world to combat their common enemy: the cultural left.
The “domestic insurgents” who, in D’Souza’s view, constitute the cultural left want “America to be a shining beacon of global depravity, a kind of Gomorrah on a Hill.” “I intend to name the enemy at home,” D’Souza proclaims, and so he does. Twenty recent members of Congress, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ted Kennedy, are on one of his lists, and 17 intellectuals (one dead, one British) are on another, with similar numbers of Hollywood figures, activists, foreign policy experts, cultural leaders and organizations. Some of those he identifies — Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, Ward Churchill — might not be surprised to find themselves here.
Others — the sociologist Paul Starr, the historian Sean Wilentz, the clergyman Jim Wallis, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum — are less obvious candidates for inclusion. (One person, Thomas Frank, is mentioned on two different lists.) All these people might charge D’Souza with “McCarthyism” for supposedly exposing them, but he accepts the challenge. McCarthy, after all, was “largely right.”
Lest one think that D’Souza exaggerates the danger the cultural left presents to America, he has an ace in the hole to back him up: Osama bin Laden himself. Bin Laden, it seems, has taken pains to identify his natural allies within the United States and regularly engages in “signaling” them through videotapes in “an effort to establish a broader political alliance.” In particular, his fall 2004 tape, generally believed to have helped George W. Bush defeat John F. Kerry, contained a secret message to the cultural left that D’Souza, and D’Souza alone, has decoded. “Whichever state does not encroach upon our security thereby ensures its own,” bin Laden declared. Anyone who thinks bin Laden used the term “state” to mean “country” — common usage in Europe and the Middle East — is wrong. He was actually telling residents of New York and Massachusetts that if they voted for the Democrats, he would refrain from killing them. D’Souza writes like a lover spurned; despite all his efforts to reach out to bin Laden, the man insists on joining forces with the Satanists.
D’Souza has fallen on hard times lately. Political correctness and affirmative action — the issues he has addressed in inflammatory ways in the past — no longer inspire the same passion. “The Enemy at Home” is clearly designed to restore his reputation as the man who will say anything to call attention to his views; charging prominent senators and presidential candidates with treason can do that. (One can dismiss D’Souza’s claim that “I am not accusing anyone of treason or even of anti-Americanism” as either self-delusional or dishonest; my guess is the former.) Yet despite all his heated rhetoric, D’Souza’s book is unlikely to make much of a dent. It relies on a distinction between traditional and radical Islam that even he does not take seriously; there are no theological differences between the two camps, he suggests at one point, and even the “few” political differences between them are disappearing. It is filled with factual errors (Milton Himmelfarb, not Irving Kristol, compared the voting behavior of Jews to that of Puerto Ricans; Diana Eck is not a historian, but Thomas Frank, wrongly identified as a political scientist, is). In a line D’Souza will surely wish he had never written, he brags of the “remarkable progress” in Iraq “since Hussein’s removal from power.” Some of the people he elevates to the status of major enemies of the United States — Kristine Holmgren, Robert Jensen, Glenda Gilmore — are (no offense intended) anything but household names.
At one point in “The Enemy at Home,” D’Souza appeals to “decent liberals and Democrats” to join him in rejecting the American left. Although he does not name me as one of them, I sense he is appealing to people like me because I write for The New Republic, a liberal magazine that distances itself from leftism. So let this “decent” liberal make perfectly clear how thoroughly indecent Dinesh D’Souza is. Like his hero Joe McCarthy, he has no sense of shame. He is a childish thinker and writer tackling subjects about which he knows little to make arguments that reek of political extremism. His book is a national disgrace, a sorry example of a publishing culture more concerned with the sensational than the sensible. People on the left, especially those who have been subjects of D’Souza’s previous books, will shrug their shoulders at his latest screed. I look forward to the reaction from decent conservatives and Republicans who will, if they have any sense of honor, distance themselves, quickly and cleanly, from the Rishwain research scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Alan Wolfe teaches political science at Boston College and is the author of “Does American Democracy Still Work?”