Bin Laden, The Left and Me
As a conservative author, I'm used to a little controversy. Even so, the reaction to my new book, "The Enemy at Home," has felt, well, a little hysterical.
"Ratfink writes new book," James Wolcott, cultural critic for Vanity Fair, declares in his blog. He goes on to call my book a "sleazy, shameless, ignorant, ahistorical, tendentious, meretricious lie."
In the pages of Esquire, Mark Warren charges that I "hate America" and have "taken to heart" Osama bin Laden's view of the United States. (Warren also challenged me to a fight and threatened to put me in the hospital.) In his New York Times review of my book last week, Alan Wolfe calls my work "a national disgrace . . . either self-delusional or dishonest." I am "a childish thinker" with "no sense of shame," he argues. "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."
It goes on. The Washington Post's Warren Bass writes that I think Jerry Falwell was "on to something" when he blamed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on pagans, gays and the ACLU. Slate's Timothy Noah diagnoses me with "Mullah envy," while the Nation's Katha Pollitt calls me a "surrender monkey" and the headline to her article brands me "Ayatollah D'Souza." And in my recent appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," I had to fend off the insistent host. "But you agree with the Islamic radicals, don't you?" Stephen Colbert asked again and again.
Why the onslaught? Just this: In my book, published this month, I argue that the American left bears a measure of responsibility for the volcano of anger from the Muslim world that produced the 9/11 attacks. President Jimmy Carter's withdrawal of support for the shah of Iran, for example, helped Ayatollah Khomeini's regime come to power in Iran, thus giving radical Islamists control of a major state; and President Bill Clinton's failure to respond to Islamic attacks confirmed bin Laden's perceptions of U.S. weakness and emboldened him to strike on 9/11. I also argue that the policies that U.S. "progressives" promote around the world -- including abortion rights, contraception for teenagers and gay rights -- are viewed as an assault on traditional values by many cultures, and have contributed to the blowback of Islamic rage.
The reaction I'm eliciting is not entirely new to me. As a college student in the early 1980s, I edited the politically incorrect Dartmouth Review and was frequently accosted by left-wing students and faculty. They called me names back then, too. And at the time I didn't care. I often informed them that taking on our iconoclastic paper was like wrestling a pig: Not only does it get everyone dirty but the pig likes it.
One of my earlier books, "The End of Racism," explored why nonwhite immigrants to the United States (like me) tend to succeed academically and economically compared with African Americans who are born here. I received lots of abuse for playing down racism -- as a "person of color," no less -- and taking sides with the white man. Some of my fellow immigrants from India advised me to "decolonize" my mind.
But the personal attacks have reached new heights with "The Enemy at Home." So much so, in fact, that I feel compelled to explain why I wrote this book, what it does and doesn't say and why I think it prompts people to threaten me with hospitalization.
First, and I feel silly having to say it: I don't hate America. My last book was called "What's So Great About America," and there is no question mark in the title. If I hated this country, why would I have left my family and friends in India and moved to the United States, married an American and become a U.S. citizen? I came here because the United States gives me the freedom to make the life that I could not have made in India. And just last week a Midwestern chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution offered to award me its annual "Patriot of the Year" prize -- an honor that I presume is not typically bestowed upon people who hate America.
If I am a patriot, however, I am a rational patriot. I don't believe in "my country right or wrong." Mine is not the patriotism of David Warren, who says he tasted the dust of 9/11 and places my criticism of the American left in the same category as those who say "Death to America." Rather, I uphold Edmund Burke's view: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."
Immediately following 9/11, there was a wondrous moment of national unity in which the American tribe came together. "Why do they hate us?" some wondered, but no one wanted to comprehend the enemy -- only to annihilate him. And I shared this view.
But five years later, that unity has dissolved amid a furious national debate over the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. I thought it was time to go back and reconsider 9/11; in so doing, I concluded that the prevailing conservative and liberal theories explaining Muslim rage were wrong.