Reviewed by Warren Bass
Sunday, January 14, 2007
THE ENEMY AT HOME
The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
By Dinesh D'Souza
Doubleday. 333 pp. $26.95
On Sept. 13, 2001, the television evangelist Jerry Falwell offered a stunned, grieving nation a startling diagnosis of al-Qaeda's motivations. "I really believe," he said on Pat Robertson's show, "The 700 Club," "that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.' "
At the time, Falwell's analysis was roundly denounced as hysterical and elicited a pointed disavowal from President Bush. But Dinesh D'Souza, a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, has decided, essentially, that Falwell was on to something. The Enemy at Home calls America's culture war synonymous with its war on terrorism and flatly blames the country's left for 9/11. But unlike Falwell and Robertson's outburst at a moment of crisis, D'Souza's is offered in a spirit of cool reflection. The result is the worst nonfiction book about terrorism published by a major house since 9/11, but with the country still facing a serious jihadist threat, it's worth trying to understand D'Souza's own exercise in finger-pointing.
Here's the main argument, such as it is. Why has al-Qaeda targeted America? "Not because of U.S. troops in Mecca," D'Souza writes. "Not even because of Israel. . . . The suicide bombers of radical Islam are not blowing themselves up because they are distressed over the Gulf War of 1991 or because they are in solidarity with the Palestinians." Rather, "what bin Laden objected to was America staying in the Middle East, importing with it the immoral ingredients of American values and culture." That makes the left "responsible for 9/11" because it "has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies" and has waged "an aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family and to promote secular values in non-Western cultures." In sum, "the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world."
D'Souza, the author of the bestselling Illiberal Education, has no particular expertise on terrorism, which may explain why he writes twice that there are U.S. troops in Mecca (someone should probably alert Bob Gates) or why he thinks that President Reagan's 1986 airstrikes on Libya "convinced Qadafi to retire from the terrorism trade," despite the bombing of Pan Am 103 by Libyan agents two years later. But D'Souza's inexperience doesn't explain why he so badly misreads bin Ladenist ideology, despite the peppering of jihadist quotes that he uses to lend the book a sense of authority.
Of course, the ascetic bin Laden doesn't like American culture or values, including such far-left ideas as democracy or educating women, but he has a clear politico-religious agenda that's important to take seriously. You'd never know it from reading D'Souza, but bin Laden's February 1998 "Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders" -- the most considered summation of his casus belli -- laid out three main grievances for which al-Qaeda kills. First and foremost comes the post-Gulf crisis deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, which are "occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories" and "using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples." Second comes the supposed Crusader-Jewish alliance's "long blockade" of the Iraqis, designed "to destroy what remains of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors." Finally, America's anti-Muslim wars "also serve the petty state of the Jews, to divert attention from their occupation of Jerusalem and their killing of Muslims in it." See anything about Hollywood there?
D'Souza breezes past clearly articulated core al-Qaeda goals (such as toppling the "near enemy," as bin Ladenists call the impious regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt) to enlist bin Laden as an ally for D'Souza's side of the American culture wars. But the 1998 declaration bluntly states that "the purposes of the Americans" in their crusades against Islam "are religious and economic" -- not cultural. D'Souza is too busy projecting to really grapple with al-Qaeda's politics, strategy or ideological appeal; it's as if he read Mein Kampf and concluded that its author's main concern was not Aryan supremacy or genocidal anti-Semitism but distaste for Weimar theater.
For a Stanford fellow, D'Souza shows a surprising ignorance of the growing literature on jihadist ideology. One has to ask which is more likely: that such authors as Steve Coll, Lawrence Wright, Peter L. Bergen, Marc Sageman, Jessica Stern, Richard A. Posner and Bruce Hoffman could have scrutinized al-Qaeda ideology and somehow failed to notice that bin Laden's main beef was with America's corrupt cultural left, or that the grinding sound you hear off in the distance is D'Souza with an ax. Or consider the work of another heavyweight, Michael F. Scheuer, the tough-minded founding chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit, who advocates the massive use of the U.S. military as our principal tool for fighting al-Qaeda. (D'Souza, oddly, lumps him in with a bunch of lefties.) "Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us," Scheuer has written. "None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world." There's a feisty and interesting debate among terrorism specialists about whether Scheuer has the balances right, but "The Vagina Monologues" isn't high on any serious analyst's list of al-Qaeda grievances.
In other words, D'Souza's answer to the famous post-9/11 question of "Why do they hate us?" is that it all depends on the meaning of the word "us." In arguing that it's liberals who have brought al-Qaeda's wrath down upon the United States, he vents his indignation largely at his fellow Americans, not the fanatics who've declared it a holy duty to murder us all -- civilians and soldiers alike. Obsessed with a "near enemy" of his own, D'Souza endorses much of the jihadist critique of American society and gives at least a partial moral pass to al-Qaeda and the perpetrators of 9/11. It should go without saying that bin Laden's self-styled fatwas make no distinction between liberals and conservatives. There was a time when Americans at war did not do so either.
As the great social scientist Thomas C. Schelling might have put it, there are two possibilities here: Either D'Souza is blaming liberals for 9/11 because he truly believes that they're culpable, or he's blaming liberals for 9/11 because he's cynically calculating that an incendiary polemic will sell books. I just don't know which is scarier. One has to wonder why his publisher, agent, editors and publicists went along for the ride, and it's hard not to conclude that they thought the thing would cause a cable-news and blogosphere sensation that would spike sales -- a ruckus triggered not despite the book's silliness but because of it. This sort of scam has worked before (think of Christopher Hitchens's gleeful broadside against Mother Teresa or the calculated slurs of Ann Coulter), but rarely has the gap between the seriousness of the issues and the quality of the book yawned as wide. This time, let's just not bother with the flap; this dim, dishonorable book isn't worth it.
Warren Bass is a senior editor at Book World. He served on the professional staff of the 9/11 Commission.