By Dinesh D'Souza
Sunday, January 28, 2007
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.
Contrary to the common liberal view, I don't believe that the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden isn't upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.) He isn't upset because Washington is allied with despotic regimes in the region. Israel aside, what other regimes are there in the Middle East? It isn't all about Israel. (Why hasn't al-Qaeda launched a single attack against Israel?) The thrust of the radical Muslim critique of America is that Islam is under attack from the global forces of atheism and immorality -- and that the United States is leading that attack.
Contrary to President Bush's view, they don't hate us for our freedom, either. Rather, they hate us for how we use our freedom. When Planned Parenthood International opens clinics in non-Western countries and dispenses contraceptives to unmarried girls, many see it as an assault on prevailing religious and traditional values. When human rights groups use their interpretation of international law to pressure non-Western countries to overturn laws against abortion or to liberalize laws regarding homosexuality, the traditional sensibilities of many of the world's people are violated.
This argument has nothing to do with Falwell's suggestion that 9/11 was God's judgment on the ACLU and the feminists for their sins. I pose a simple question: Why did the terrorists do it? In a 2003 statement, bin Laden said that to him, the World Trade Center resembled the idols that the prophet Muhammad removed from Mecca. In other words, bin Laden believes that the United States represents the pagan depravity that Muslims have a duty to resist. The literature of radical Islam, such as the works of Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb, resonates with these themes. One radical sheik even told a European television station a few years ago that although Europe is more decadent than America, the United States is the more vital target because it is U.S. culture -- not Swedish culture or French culture -- that is spreading throughout the world.
What would motivate Muslims in faraway countries to volunteer for martyrdom? The fact that Palestinians don't have a state? I don't think so. It's more likely that they would do it if they feared their values and way of life were threatened. Even as the cultural left accuses Bush of imperialism in invading Iraq, it deflects attention from its own cultural imperialism aimed at secularizing Muslim society and undermining its patriarchal and traditional values. The liberal "solution" to Islamic fundamentalism is itself a source of Islamic hostility to America.
Contrary to the accusations of Alan Wolfe and others, I have no sympathy for bin Laden or the Islamic radicals. But I do respect the concerns of traditional Muslims, the majority in the Muslim world. In fact, the United States cannot defeat terrorism without driving a wedge between radical Islam and traditional Islam, because the latter has been the main recruiting pool for the former.
All my arguments can be disputed, but they are neither extreme nor absurd. So why has "The Enemy at Home" been so intemperately excoriated? I can imagine only two reasons. The first is given by James Wolcott himself. I am not, as he says, an unqualified right-wing hack. Rather, I am a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, so Wolcott fears that I will be taken seriously.
The second reason can be gleaned from the common theme in the reviews: that mine is a dangerous book. But if a book says things that are obviously untrue and can be disproved, then it is not dangerous -- it is merely fiction and should be ignored. A book is dangerous only if it exposes something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden.
And what is that? It is that the far left seems to hate Bush nearly as much as it hates bin Laden. Bin Laden may want sharia, or Islamic law, in Baghdad, they reason, but Bush wants sharia in Boston. Indeed, leftists routinely portray Bush's war on terrorism as a battle of competing fundamentalisms, Islamic vs. Christian. It is Bush, more than bin Laden, they say, who threatens abortion rights and same-sex marriage and the entire social liberal agenda in the United States. So leftist activists such as Michael Moore and Howard Zinn and Cindy Sheehan seem willing to let the enemy win in Iraq so they can use that defeat in 2008 to rout Bush -- their enemy at home.
When I began writing my new book, this concern was largely theoretical, because the left was outside the corridors of power. Now I fear that the extreme cultural left is whispering into the ears of the Democratic Congress. Cut off the funding. Block the increase in troops. Shut down Guantanamo Bay. Lose the war on terrorism -- and blame Bush.
Pointing this out is what makes me dangerous.
Dinesh D'Souza, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of "The Enemy at Home" (Doubleday).