Friday, March 09, 2007

Srdja Trifkovic: Dinesh the Charlatan

Srdja Trifkovic

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On Monday, March 5, Dinesh D’Souza, a Hoover Institution fellow and writer, and I had a lively debate on WDAY’s Hot Talk with Scott Hennen, following our recent vigorous exchanges in print and on the Web on the nature of Islam. Faced with D’Souza’s delusional ignorance and arrogance in the first five minutes of our debate, I concluded that his knowledge of Islam was tenuous—his claim that he has spent four years studying it notwithstanding.

Hence the key segment of our exchange, transcribed verbatim from the recording of the show:

TRIFKOVIC: Have you actually read the Kuran? Have you ever actually read the Kuran?

D’SOUZA: Of course I have.

TRIFKOVIC: Do you know how are the Suras arranged?

D’SOUZA: They are . . . er . . . they are not arranged in any chronological order . . . er . . . [pause] and . . . er . . . [pause] and so I quote in my book both the violent and . . .

TRIFKOVIC: Just tell me how ARE they arranged.

D’SOUZA: The other point . . .

TRIFKOVIC: Can you just tell me how are the Suras arranged?

D’SOUZA: . . . right. You can’t just call . . .

TRIFKOVIC: Why don’t you just tell me how are the Suras arranged?

HENNEN: OK, one at a time here; your question for Dinesh, Serge, is?

TRIFKOVIC: In what order are the Suras arranged in the Kuran?

D’SOUZA: [long silence] . . . I really don’t know what you mean by that. When you say “in what order” then . . . err . . . [pause] there . . .

TRIFKOVIC: [ . . . ] They happen to be arranged by size, from short to long! [sic!]

D’SOUZA: [without interruption] And when did Iran . . .

By continuing blithely with his “points,” rather than correcting my assertion, Dinesh D’Souza merely confirmed urbi et orbi what had been established beyond reasonable doubt in the course of our exchange: that he has not read the Kuran and that he may never have had one in his hands.

As it happens, the eccentric arrangement of the Muslim holy book—from those endlessly long and often boring Medinan Suras like Al-Baqarah with almost 300 verses, or Al-’Imran with 200, to the shorter and more interesting Meccan ones—is the Kuran’s most salient feature. It is its one feature that is bound to be noticed and remembered by any modestly observant and not necessarily astute layman.

That this key feature of the book is unknown to an author who claims to have spent four years studying it is indicative either of his tenuous hold on reality, or of his excessively creative imagination. Either way, the gall necessary for such a person to aspire to authoritative statements on Islam defies belief. Grotesque images spring to mind: Groucho spewing pronunciamientos on Dostoyevsky, Yogi Berra on quantum physics, Maya Angelou on poetry . . . The story would be farcical, were it not for the seriousness of the subject.

D’Souza’s particular statement in our debate that prompted my impromptu Kuran 101 test is worth quoting in extenso:

We can’t win the War on Terror without driving a wedge between the radical Muslims and the traditional Muslims . . . There are many Muslims who are very different from the stereotypical Muslim that Serge and [Robert] Spencer feature in their work. My point is simply this: ultimately I think that we have to draw traditional Muslims away from radical Islam, because the radical Muslims are fishing in the pool of traditional Islam. So for this reason I think that these attacks on Islam—the Koran is a gospel of violence, Mohammed is the inventor of terrorism—they are not just tactically foolish, they are historically wrong because Islam has been around for thirteen hundred years, Islam radicalism was invented in the 1920s, and came to power in 1979. How can we blame the Prophet Mohammad for things that Khomeini and Bin Laden are saying, that are very new. Historian Bernard Lewis points out that radical Islam is a radical break with traditional Islam. Never before have Muslim mullahs, or clergymen, ever ruled a Muslim country. All Muslim countries have been ruled by non-clergymen until Khomeini. So I think the flaw we see in this work and in the Islamophobic literature is that it tries to link the early centuries of Islam. It cherry-picks the Koran and finds all the violent passages, leaves out all the peaceful passages, and then basically concedes to Bin Laden that he is the true Muslim, that his reading of the Koran is correct, and it pushes the traditional Muslims towards the radical camp by denouncing their religion. Then we complain all these traditional Muslims [indistinct] . . . by denouncing Islam itself.

The claim that analyzing and exposing those aspects of orthodox Islamic teaching that prompt bloodshed will drive “traditional” Muslims into the radical camp is the exact moral and logical equivalent of the claim often advanced during the Cold War by Moscow’s apologists and fellow-travelers that a vigorous and principled stand by the West in defense of the Free World would be detrimental to the “moderates” in the Kremlin and play right into the hands of the “hard-liners.” Aside from the logical absurdity of this line of reasoning, it is also hypocritical: D’Souza’s latest book does not allow for any possibility of a cleverly driven conservative wedge between the “traditional” Left and its self-hating, post-modern mutant offspring.

In his book and in our debate D’Souza made a clear point (however objectionable) that Spencer and I must stop writing as we do, and that “conservatives have to cease blaming Islam for the behavior of the radical Muslims.” Such demands, coupled with D’Souza’s embrace of the classic leftist slogan of “Islamophobia,” go way beyond mere disagreement; yet he dismisses as “paranoid” anyone who sees this as a call for us to be silenced, or to be silent.

“How can we blame the Prophet Mohammad for things that Khomeini and Bin Laden are saying,” asks D’Souza, casually adopting a pious Muslim’s designation of Islam’s finder. On this crucial issue of Islam’s core teaching, Robert Spencer responded by noting that both Khomeini and bin Laden invoked Muhammad to justify their positions: D’Souza’s “traditional Muslims,” as he himself acknowledges, have no theological differences with the jihadists, and clearly they have mounted no large-scale or effective response to the jihadists:

So we are supposed to ignore the fact that the jihadists use Muhammad, instead of calling upon those “traditional Muslims” to formulate some effective counter to this use—whether by rejecting the literal meaning of Muhammad’s words in some cases, or by some other means? Here again D’Souza continues to repeat points that have no substance, all the while robotically invoking Lewis like the homo unius libri that Hugh Fitzgerald pointed out that he is. One would think an established conservative such as D’Souza would recognize that sometimes the conventional wisdom on a given topic is incorrect, and that the truth can be found among those who are despised and vilified by the lemmings of the mainstream.

When D’Souza asserts that “all Muslim countries have been ruled by non-clergymen until Khomeini,” continues Spencer, he is suggesting that some form of separation of Mosque and State is dominant in Islamic history, when just the opposite is the case: Islam does not accept any separation of the sacred and the secular realms: “Here again, it is hard to escape the impression that D’Souza either doesn’t know the facts of Islamic history and law, or actually wishes to give his audience a false impression.”

For a more lighthearted comment on the affair let us end with Hugh Fitzgerald on JihadWatch, who says that from now on “anyone debating Dinesh D’Souza should be sure to do exactly as Serge Trifkovic did”: simply ask D’Souza a question or two about the most obvious and elementary of matters. In his view, D’Souza now has three choices: 1. Be shown up for an ignoramus; 2. Be forced to study Islam, and perhaps modify his views in the process; or 3. Never appear where anyone can debate him about his knowledge of Islam:

I think Dinesh D’Souza will choose #3. #1 is something he obscurely realizes he is, but like the mountebank hawking his wares at the County Fair, he has assumed that no one will call him on his hollow claims. But he can no longer assume that. #2 requires work. It requires study. It requires thought. [ . . . ] #3 it will be. No more debates, for Dinesh D’Souza, with anyone at all. But what if—for him, a hellish What If—some of those interviewing him started to bone up on Islam, and asked him questions? What if on Talk Shows there were callers who would call up pretending that they were about to ask one thing, and then suddenly asked D’Souza one or more of those questions, the ones he cannot answer, to what should be his own great shame and chagrin? Then where would he be?

And the same can be done at those appearances he solicits for “Corporate Audiences” and “University Audiences,” Fitzgerald continues, as it is perfectly legitimate—it is hardly harassment—to simply ask him a few questions to see what this self-minted and self-described “expert on Islam” knows about the isnad-chain, or the work the muhaddithin, or “naskh,” or “fiqh,” or “tafsir, “ or “jihad,” or “dhimmi,” or “Ahl al-dhimma”:

And say, just what did happen at the Khaybar Oasis? And who was Asma bint Marwan? And who was little Aisha, and of what contemporary relevance is her story? And who can issue a fatwa, and what is the difference between a fatwa and a rukh? And what is the Treaty of Al-Hudaibiyya, and why does it matter? And who was Abu Bakr? Ali? Hussein? And what does the phrase “al-masjid al-aksa” mean, and who decided what that phrase must refer to?

But Fitzgerald has faith that no matter how hard Dinesh D’Souza starts studying now, he simply won’t be able to figure it all out—not given the list of his authorities, and certainly not given his mental faculties on display at the best source of information about Dinesh D’Souza: his own website, where the copy is written by—Dinesh D’Souza. Don’t miss it.

Srdja Trifkovic is the foreign-affairs editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and director of The Rockford Institute's Center for International Affairs.

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