D’Souza: Dangerous or Wrong?

In his opinion piece in todays’ Washington Post, conservative author Dinesh D’Souza responds to critics of his new book, The Enemy at Home.

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.

No stranger to criticism, D’Souza says critics are calling him and the book dangersous because his book “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.

D’Souza denounces the supposedly far left for casting 9/11 and the ensuing war in Iraq as a clash of fundamentalisms. But it is hard to see what D’Souza is offering other than more fundamentalism. The problem, he suggests, is that the Muslim world — both mainstream and radical — is appalled at the West’s wanton ways, ways that have been supposedly encouraged, fostered, and exported by “the radical left.” I’ll let slide the massive dubiousness of this claim — it was Wall Street and the Pentagon that were struck, after all, not SoHo or Hollywood Boulevard. D’Souza wants us to believe that if our values were conservative and not profligate that we wouldn’t be seen as a threat to the conservative-and-not-profligate world of Islam.

I applaud Dinesh D’Souza for looking anew at “why they hate us.” We as a society dropped that question and went to war without any real scrutiny. But it’s wrong, I think, to think that “they” hate us because we are moderns and they are traditionalists. Or that the contemporary Islamic world is as traditional as he thinks it is. Much of the Muslim world is quite modern indeed. Even in some of the most rigid countries, including Iran, the people themselves are rather casual about religion. If the French scholar of Islam, Olivier Roy, is right, Islamic extremists are often well educated young people unmoored or alienated or expatriated from their own traditions, cultures, families, and nations who are romantically longing for an impossible universal brotherhood. Whatever cultural threat we pose to these people on the margins of their own society is something of history’s making, of unresolved trauma, not of the makings of Michael Moore, Howard Zinn, or Cindy Sheehan. Please.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

%d bloggers like this: