Dinesh D'Souza's Mullah Envy
A leading conservative thinker blames 9/11 on liberalism.
Dinesh D'Souza has found common cause with Osama Bin Laden. The al-Qaida leader, it turns out, didn't strike out against the United States on 9/11. He struck out against the American cultural left, which—not content to promote homosexuality, divorce, The Vagina Monologues, and other morally bankrupt causes across the United States—has been promoting them abroad, too. When, this past September, I expressed horror (Coulterized Conservatives) at the catalog copy for D'Souza's new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, an impartial reader might have protested that I was being unfair to a tome that I had not yet read. Now that I've read it, I can assure this hypothetical referee that I was more than fair. What follows is not a parody, but the author himself:
[I]f the political left and the Islamic fundamentalists are in the same foreign policy camp [because they both hate American imperialism], then by the same token the political right and the Islamic fundamentalists are on the same wavelength on social issues. The left is allied with some radical Muslims in opposition to American foreign policy, and the right is allied with an even larger group of Muslims [which includes radical Muslims] in their opposition to American social and cultural depravity. This is the essential new framework I propose for understanding American foreign policy and American social issues.
We didn't have it coming. The left had it coming! D'Souza and his comrades at the Hoover Institution were just innocent bystanders!
For the record, I don't buy into D'Souza's notion that Bin Laden and the American left share the same foreign policy goals. D'Souza triumphantly notes that in his speeches, Bin Laden has cited, with approval, Robert Fisk of the London Independent and William Blum, a former Vietnam protester and author of Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower. But Fisk isn't even American, and Blum, I blush to admit, is someone I'd never even heard of before reading D'Souza's book. D'Souza inflates Blum's importance by stating that in 2002 he "joined Jane Fonda, Barbara Ehrenreich, and a host of other prominent liberals in denouncing Bush's preparation for the invasion of Iraq." But D'Souza is no better able than anyone else to sketch a plausible link between 9/11 and the Iraq occupation save that Bin Laden opposes the latter. William F. Buckley has called the Iraq mission a failure. Does Buckley share Bin Laden's foreign policy, too? What about D'Souza himself? After denouncing war critics for giving aid and comfort to the enemy, D'Souza himself admits (on Page 239) that, ahem, well, "In retrospect, Bush was wrong to invade Iraq at the time that he did, in the way that he did." Excuse me? Then why so hard on the people who opposed it?
The heart of D'Souza's book isn't his libeling of the American left, but rather his libeling of the American right. D'Souza notes, correctly, that al-Qaida's hatred toward the West in general, and the United States in particular, is animated to a great extent by America's permissive culture. But Bin Laden isn't some Michael Medved figure grumping about the vulgarity of American Pie. He's got bigger fish to fry. Al-Qaida's enemy isn't the excesses of secular culture; it's secular culture itself. And to a surprising degree, D'Souza is willing to go along for the ride. Theocracy, D'Souza argues, is misunderstood to mean "rule by divine authority of the priesthood or clergy." Not so! There are checks and balances, just like in the U.S. Constitution. In Iran, for instance, "the power of the state and of the mullahs is limited by the specific rules set forth in the Koran and the Islamic tradition. The rulers themselves are bound by these laws."
I heaved a sigh of relief when D'Souza conceded, "The Islamic system of enforcing piety and virtue through the heavy hand of the law seems to me both unreasonable and imprudent." But D'Souza makes no bones about believing, along with Islamic fundamentalists, that the following things are an affront to civilization: equality for homosexuals ("[W]hy would a sane people jeopardize an indispensable and already fragile institution such as marriage by redefining it away from its central purpose? Is the point of marriage to ensure that children have a father and mother, or is it to make Edgar and Austin feel more accepted by society?"); working motherhood ("[M]any mothers choose to have a career because it is more self-fulfilling than the life of a full-time mom"); divorce ("Now you hear people say things like, 'I feel called to leave my marriage. My life would be wasted if I stayed' "); and contraception ("Rather than call for non-Western women to have fewer children, the left speaks of a woman's right to determine the number and spacing of her pregnancies").
D'Souza's refusal to recognize, say, that a gay couple might need to share health benefits, or that a father might share equal responsibility in raising his children, offends and dismays me. Ordinarily, though, I would never equate hard-right views on these matters—even from a Dartmouth Review alumnus—with the rantings of an Islamist terrorist. I do so now only because D'Souza has written an entire book encouraging me to do just that. He wants his fellow conservatives to embrace their inner mullah. D'Souza scolds conservatives for seeking in the past to win over American leftists and European allies to the war on terror, and for reaching out to liberals in the Islamic world "who can be recruited the cause of 'civilization' against 'barbarism.' " Not gonna happen, baby! Conservatives, he argues, should instead demonstrate "common ground" with Muslims sympathetic to Bin Laden—earlier D'Souza has cited a 2004 poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project showing that Bin Laden is viewed favorably by 45 percent of all Moroccans, 55 percent of all Jordanians, and 65 percent of all Pakistanis—by:
attacking the left and the Europeans on the international stage. Instead of trying to unify America and the West, the right should highlight the division between red America and blue America, and also between traditional America and decadent Europe. By resisting the depravity of the left and the Europeans, conservatives can win friends among Muslims and other traditional people around the world.
As a strategy, forging a values-based alliance with foreigners against your fellow countrymen strikes me as a tad, well, unpatriotic. But making culture war a weapon in the war against Islamist terror would serve to elevate conservative crotchets and prejudices to the higher theoretical plane of national security. I wonder whether that opportunity will persuade other right-wingers to risk ridicule by joining D'Souza's loopy jihad.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.