The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
by Dinesh D'Souza
A review by Andrew Sullivan
American conservatism is in crisis. That much is almost universally clear. But the next period in American politics will be determined not least by how clearly we understand the crisis of the right. For it may be that the remarkably successful Republican coalition of the last three decades is not at all doomed at the polls. A Giuliani or Romney candidacy, especially up against a Clinton candidacy, could well eke out a victory in 2008. Nor is it quite the case that the familiar fault lines within the movement -- libertarians versus social conservatives, neoconservatives versus realists, economic internationalists versus populists -- have somehow come to a head all at once. The strains are there, all right, and they have been made much more acute in the Bush years under the weight of massive spending increases, evangelical overreach, abuse of executive power, conventional corruption, and (most disastrously) a mismanaged war. But the reflexive sense of cohesion on the right still manages to keep the rickety coalition together -- if only because of the palpable weakness of the alternatives, at least
The crisis, rather, is of a different kind. It is intellectual, and it is deeper than anything captured by the conventional categories. The sole merit of Dinesh D'Souza's new book is that it acknowledges this intellectual collapse, even as it is itself a document of that collapse; and it proposes a new way forward. Whatever else may be said about The Enemy at Home -- and the maledictions from left and right have been ferocious -- it has at least the courage to pursue the logic of Bush-era conservatism all the way to its end. In this sense, it is a mainstream conservative book, in its own way even a visionary one, expanding on the direction that American conservatism has taken and daring it to continue aggressively on that very path.
What is that path? At its core is a deepening rejection of cultural and philosophical modernity. D'Souza believes that the defining new distinction in American politics is no longer between the economic right and the economic left. The size of government and its role as a guardian of the public welfare are increasingly dead issues, or issues where no vital energy crackles. D'Souza rightly holds that the real divide in the new century is between authority and autonomy, between faith-based politics and individual freedom. And in this struggle at the level of first principles, D'Souza chooses his own side. He is at war with the modern West. If forced to choose between a theocratic order that upheld traditional morality and a secular order that saw such morality marginalized, D'Souza is with the former. He puts it more graphically himself: "Yes, I would rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Michael Moore than with the grand mufti of Egypt. But when it comes to core beliefs, I'd have to confess that I'm closer to the dignified fellow in the long robe and prayer beads than to the slovenly fellow with the baseball cap."
* * *
The Enemy at Home is essentially an unpacking of that extraordinary confession. D'Souza argues that there are only two choices for a human being to make in the twenty-first century with respect to "core beliefs": "traditional morality" and what he calls "liberal morality." Traditional morality, in D'Souza's view, "is based on the notion that there is a moral order in the universe, which establishes an enduring standard of right and wrong. All the major religions of the world agree on the existence of this moral order. There is also a surprising degree of unanimity about the content of this moral order." Liberal morality, by contrast, consists first of all in the right of the individual to choose for him- or herself what morality is. It is about "autonomy, individuality, and self-fulfillment as moral ideals." Its essence is the notion that "each person must decide for himself or herself what is right in a particular situation." D'Souza argues that the shift in America over the past few decades from traditional morality to liberal morality is "the most important fact of the past half-century."
It is crucial to remember that, for all the conservative criticism of The Enemy at Home, this argument is just as central to the base of the current Republican Party as it is to this book. In this respect, The Enemy at Home is an utterly unremarkable exploration of what theoconservatism really requires. It demands that individual autonomy be sacrificed for obedience to the external moral order. Theoconservatism refuses to accept the notion that government can ever aspire to be neutral with respect to competing visions of morality. One of D'Souza's mentors in this view, Richard John Neuhaus, has written that theoconservatism is designed to create an ideological "alternative both to Marxism and secularized liberalism" that would give America "a definition of reality, an ideology, based on Jewish-Christian religion, that [is] as
creative, comprehensive, and compelling as was Marx's definition of reality." Robert P. George, another of D'Souza's ideological allies, insists that "there can be
no legitimate claim for secularism to be a neutral doctrine that deserves privileged status as the national public philosophy." Given the existence of an external moral order, the duty of the state is therefore
to reflect that external order, and the duty of citizens is to obey it. In the words of former Senator Rick Santorum, "I don't want a government that is neutral between virtue and vice."
Neither does D'Souza. And when he sees the results of individual autonomy, choice, and freedom in modernity, he is appalled. The picture of America that emerges from these pages is as deep an
indictment of America, as much an exercise in "America-bashing," as anything produced on the far left. For D'Souza, America has become a country dedicated to the values of "secularism, feminism,
homosexuality, prostitution, and pornography." Guided by the cultural left, America is increasingly seen as "a shining beacon of global depravity,
a kind of Gomorrah on a Hill." For good measure, he does not exculpate Republican or "red" America in this
indictment. He is aware that the red states consume as much pornography as the blue ones, and have, in some cases, higher divorce, abortion, crime, and illegitimacy rates. He is also aware that red-staters consume Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives just as avidly as the denizens
of the Upper East Side and Dupont Circle. "The contrast that some on the right draw between a decadent liberal coastline and a virtuous conservative heartland seems to be invalid," D'Souza laments. "Liberal values have penetrated the heartland."
All of this is enough to make a theoconservative despair. And the omens are not good. On their key issues -- abortion and gay marriage -- the religious right (which D'Souza ardently supports) has seen little progress after a generation in positions of power. Despite eighteen years of Republican presidencies, Roe is still the law of the land. Despite massive political organization, same-sex marriage is now part of the fabric in Massachusetts, and is poised to become law in California, and has swept much of the rest of the Western world. Even more worryingly, no serious Republican candidate for the presidency in 2008 adequately expresses the worldview of the religious right. Their best hope is a Mormon who was solidly pro-choice and pro-gay only a few years ago. And the Iraq war is the coup de grâce. By robbing Republicans of national security as an issue, it makes a left-liberal triumph dangerously close to reality.
D'Souza is admirably more candid about the precarious state of American conservatism than many others. "If the left can convert national security -- usually a source of political strength for the right -- into a liability, then it has vastly improved its chances for winning future elections....The entire conservative agenda, from tax cuts to school choice to restricting abortion, would be stalled," he writes. "Moreover, the right's political loss would be followed by a cultural assault seeking to demonize Bush as another Nixon and conservatives as dangerous fanatics who cannot again be trusted with power. At a time when the right is within sight of complete victory, it risks losing everything and returning to the minority status it held in the years before Reagan."
Unless you understand this critical philosophical and political context, D'Souza's book makes no sense. D'Souza believes that his side is losing the culture war at home, and may soon be losing the political one as well. The 2006 elections proved the severe fragility of a political strategy dependent on a base of evangelical believers corralled into supporting a theoconservative social policy and a neo-conservative foreign policy. D'Souza runs the numbers at home and, with the war in Iraq coming undone, senses he cannot win. So what to do? As with many generals who find themselves losing a war, D'Souza has decided to widen it.
Widen it how? By globalizing theoconservatism. This is the central argument of D'Souza's book: that cultural globalization is the last chance for theoconservatism in its death match with liberal modernity. If a majority of Americans do not support a system of government resting on an external and divine moral order, then the obvious next move is to enlist the billions of fundamentalist believers in the developing world
to forge a global alliance. If you combine the premodern patriarchs among the Christians of Africa and Asia and the Muslims of the Middle East and pit them against the degenerate, declining individualists in the West, a global theoconservative victory is possible.
That is D'Souza's vision, and he is not shy about it. The test case for this strategy can be seen most graphically in the Anglican Church. Theoconservative Episcopalians in Northern Virginia have sought protection under a Nigerian prelate who believes that even speech about homosexuality should be criminalized. If theoconservatism cannot work as a governing majority in the First World, then it is time to forge an alliance between half of America with the Third World.
One has to admire at least the frankness with which this secessionist strategy for conservatism is laid out. "How can we use the war on terror to win the culture war?" D'Souza asks in a final chapter called "Battle Plan for the Right." Notice here that defeating the forces of Islamist terror is merely instrumental to the deeper struggle to defeat modern individualism and autonomy. The idea of a common American commitment to the Constitution's guarantees of individual freedom and autonomy is secondary to the global battle for the "external moral order." Loyalty is not to country, but to a worldwide theoconservative ideology. Like the Marxists of old, the theoconservatives see their movement increasingly as global, resting on eternal truths, and not compatible with the "liberal morality" of their autonomous bourgeois fellow Westerners.
It is in such a context that D'Souza praises Islamism as a global ideology. Wahhabi Islam, the kind that animated Osama bin Laden, "is not a breeding ground of Islamic radicalism," he instructs. "It is a breeding ground of Islamic obedience. The essence of the Wahhabi doctrine is doctrinal and social conservatism." From D'Souza's point of view, what's not to like? No, he is not a supporter of terrorism. But wait. Bin Laden, it turns out, is not simply a terrorist. "For many Muslims," D'Souza explains, "it is remarkable that a man born into a multimillion-dollar empire, a man who could be on a yacht in San Tropez with a blonde on one arm and a brunette on the other, has chosen to live in a cave in Afghanistan and risk his life for his beliefs." The founder of Islamist thought, Sayyid Qutb, has "developed a critique of America and the West that is far more sophisticated and comprehensive than anything produced by the Marxists and the communists." (Is there anybody in America after September 11 who is not an expert on Sayyid Qutb?) Bin Laden, moreover, correctly diagnoses the core problem with modern America. D'Souza explains that bin Laden "calls America a civilization in rebellion against God because you separate religion from your policies' and thus contradict the absolute authority of the Lord and Creator.'" Seen in this philosophical context, the overlap between the grand mufti of Egypt and James Dobson is considerable. Why not a global merger?
D'Souza finds much to admire in the Islamist critique of the West. Islamists "stress that if the West has solved the economic problem, it has not solved the moral problem. Although Islam may not be relevant in creating prosperity or military success, it is relevant in showing human nature the way to justice, goodness, and happiness." Islam, after all, began by outlawing "bedouin practices such
as rape, adultery, and homosexuality, as well as the bedouin custom of killing infant girls." He cites Islamists as arguing that "Islam is best understood not in terms of obedience but rather in terms of voluntary submission to a divinely established moral order." How different is this from the worldview of, say, Sam Brownback or Ted Haggard (the latter of whom D'Souza thanks in his acknowledgments)? Isn't "voluntary submission to a divinely established moral order" another way of saying "born again"? D'Souza even enlists the
Ayatollah Khomeini in the pro-life cause: "Khomeini writes that Allah has laid down injunctions for man extending from before the embryo is formed until after man is placed in the tomb....There is not
a single topic in human life for which Islam has not provided instruction and
established a norm.'" Meet the Global Moral Majority.
The separation of church and state is particularly vexing for D'Souza, as it is for the Christianist right in general. And when he looks at traditional Islamic societies, he sees a model for how America should be properly understood. As Qutb lamented about even a dry county in Colorado in the 1940s, "God's existence is not denied, but His domain is restricted to the heavens and his rule on earth is suspended." The result is a society best described, in one Islamist's words (cited by D'Souza), as "a collection of casinos, supermarkets, and whorehouses linked together by endless highways passing through nowhere." "Where," D'Souza asks, "are the moral standards in American popular culture? It seems that there are none, just as the Muslims allege." Compared with Islamic society, the West is profoundly immoral: "The distinguished Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr writes, The most basic right of a child is to have two parents, and this right is taken away from nearly half of the children in Western society.'" Such are the consequences of abandoning patriarchy. "If children had the vote," D'Souza adds for good measure, "there would be no such thing as divorce. Children are to the right of even the Muslims on this issue."
* * *
There is more. Islamist societies are paragons of social meaning and cohesion. Women know their place; homosexuals
are invisible; blasphemy is illegal; pornography is banned; modesty is enforced.
"My two grandmothers," D'Souza assures his possibly nervous female readers, "were both tyrants who ruled over their husbands. Patriarchy doesn't make women less powerful -- it merely diverts their power to the domain of the household." Criticizing Muslim countries for forcing women to wear a veil or a burka in public is to put on the "blinders of ethnocentrism," even to indulge in "Islamophobia." Here is a bigotry that the religious right and the politically correct left may together despise. But D'Souza drives the point home for the sake of the right, not the left: "Many Muslims are convinced that women's liberation and sexual liberation, of the kind promoted by the cultural left, would be a disaster for their society...would undermine their religion, overturn their moral beliefs, and
destroy their traditional families. In believing these things, of course, the Muslims are absolutely correct."
What D'Souza admires in particular is the absence of any space between the individual and the community's religious faith. He objects to the notion of a conscience that is somehow independent of an externally imposed moral code -- that is more than a means for obedience. He quotes Bernard Lewis favorably: "Most Muslim countries are still profoundly Muslim in a way and in a sense that most Christian countries are no longer Christian." D'Souza goes on: "Unlike many Christians, who have multiple identities, only one of which is that they happen to be Christian, Muslims typically regard their religion as central to both their private and public identity, and consider all other affiliations as secondary or derivative." This premodern sense of the self -- it is nothing other than that -- is the one to which D'Souza aspires. He even sees a restorative theocon residue in suicide bombing: "There are plenty of losers in America: how many of them could be persuaded to blow themselves up for a little money and the prospect of six dozen virgins in heaven?" D'Souza's book is the first defense I have ever read of suicide bombing as a sign of underlying cultural health.
The great blessing of Islamic society is, in D'Souza's words, that "liberalism as a political force simply does not exist." By liberalism, he means "doctrines such as Men and women should have the same roles in society,' Freedom of expression includes the right to publish material that is sexually explicit or blasphemous,' or Government should not seek to promote religion or legislate morality.'" D'Souza takes particular pleasure in letting us know that one celebrated victim of jihadism, Salman Rushdie, "has no constituency in the Muslim world." He takes even more pleasure in informing us that "in America, a fundamentalist is one who believes the Bible is the literal, unadulterated word of God. By this definition, however, all Muslims are fundamentalists' because all Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal, unadulterated word of God given in the Arabic language by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad." Never mind that the Islamic tradition helped to pioneer the figurative reading of biblical texts. It is on such shared worldviews that alliances are most sturdily built.
There is no mention in the book of the pathological anti-Semitism that currently accompanies these traditional Islamic
societies. But D'Souza goes out of his way to draw a distinction between Islamist terrorism undertaken purely in the name of jihad -- September 11, the Bali bombing, the London and Madrid massacres -- and terrorism that he regards as legitimate self-defense. He puts "the conflicts in Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir" in the latter category: "No one can deny the horror of Palestinian and Chechen attacks upon civilians, but these have to be measured against the state-sponsored terror on the other side: the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, the shooting of stone-throwing teenagers, the obliteration of the Chechen capital of Grozny...by Russian troops."
D'Souza is equally unperturbed by
the fanatical hatred of homosexuality in traditional Islam. "The Koran describes homosexuals as people of the wrath of Allah,' and most Muslims find the notion of legitimizing what they perceive as sinful conduct to be disgusting and unspeakable," he writes. And he seems to believe that the advance of gay equality in the West is an unnecessary provocation to the allies whom he wishes to recruit. Throughout the book, he expresses revulsion for what he calls "the practice." "Shortly after the fall of Baghdad," he remarks, "graffiti began to appear on the walls of the city and its environs. The following scrawl caught my attention. Marriage of the same sex became legal in America. Is
this, with the mafia and drugs, what you want to bring to Iraq, America? Is this
the freedom you promised?'" He does find the dehumanization of gays in Islamic
societies "uncharitable," even "appallingly" so, but still quotes one scholar thus: "What human? What rights?" D'Souza's only deviance from Muslim doctrine on the question of homosexuality is this: "There may be good reasons to leave them alone." (May? Them?) The hangings and stonings and lynchings of gays in the Middle
East are passed over in silence. D'Souza routinely lists homosexual orientation alongside such acts as rape, adultery,
In all of this, D'Souza is saying nothing that has not already been said on the theoconservative right. The Christianist base of the Republican Party strongly believes that the law can never attempt to be morally neutral; it believes passionately in fixed gender roles and the patriarchy of the traditional family; it opposes blasphemy and legal pornography; it wants no legal protections for gay couples (Santorum and Bush even supported keeping private, adult gay sex illegal in their respective states). For them, gay promiscuity and gay monogamy are equally abhorrent. In all of this, there is considerable overlap with traditional Islam. In an Islamic society, for example, there would have been no debate about Bill Clinton's behavior in office, no distinction between his public role and his private life: "It is only in the liberal universe that Clinton's conduct -- which all traditional cultures revile, and which the Muslims would punish by stoning or flogging -- becomes a minor peccadillo that is of no public concern."
Moreover, Islamism removes the separation of church and state that D'Souza sees as the fons et origo of America's moral pollution. He quotes Khaled Abou El Fadl, a distinguished Islamic thinker in Los Angeles: "A case for democracy presented from within Islam must accept the idea of God's sovereignty. It cannot substitute popular sovereignty for divine sovereignty but must instead show how popular sovereignty...expresses God's authority, properly understood." In case we haven't absorbed the proper lesson for the United States, D'Souza adds: "This mirrors the Declaration of Independence's argument that it is the Creator who endows us with our inalienable rights, and thus it is a perfect expression of the conservative understanding of American democracy."
Just to be clear: D'Souza is arguing that a democracy under divine authority and subject to theological truth is "a perfect expression of the conservative understanding of American democracy." Why should we be surprised that he wants an alliance with theocratic autocracies in the developing world? In D'Souza's eyes, both the American Constitution and traditional Islam have a common foe. "Secularism is the common enemy," D'Souza quotes a Muslim scholar as saying. "Men and women in the West who are still devoted to the life of faith should know that those closest to them in this world are Muslims." In a spectacular attempt to prove he means exactly this, D'Souza throws into the mix an excoriation of Turkey as excessively secular. Atatürk's "militant secularization of Turkey is being reversed," D'Souza notes, "and on balance it is a good thing. Muslims have the right to live in Islamic states under Muslim law if they wish."
D'Souza is rehearsing the mainstream view of the religious right with respect to the notion of separating church and state. They oppose it, and so does he. But with what a twist! Where he differs from the religious right is in his willingness to find the proper political authority, the proper models of political virtue, in Islam. Islam and Christianity together: that is D'Souza's dream. He does not seem especially interested in God. He writes nothing about his own faith, whatever it is. His interest is not in the metaphysics or the mysteries of religion, but in the uses of religion for social control. (Somewhere Machiavelli is smiling.) In the goal of maintaining patriarchy, banning divorce, outlawing homosexuality, and policing blasphemy, any orthodoxy will do. D'Souza's religion, in a sense, is social conservatism. He is not going to let a minor matter such as the meanings of God get in the way of his religion.
In this regard, of course, he runs the risk of isolation. He is going to have a hard time keeping his coalition of the holy together. The members of the Christianist right in America believe that Islam is a false faith, opposed to their own. And this actual faith of theirs, their awkward belief in the exclusive truth of their own revelation, will certainly get in the way of their supporting an alliance of moral parity, or even an alliance of convenience, with a rival faith. Even the Republican Episcopalians in Falls Church eager to be run by Nigerians draw the line at Nigerian Muslims (with whom Nigerian Christians are actually at war).
Similarly, most secular conservatives have understood the war on terror as in part a war against the more violent rigidities of Islam. Many such conservatives see the way in which women are treated in Muslim society as repulsive; they find the Nazi-like anti-Semitism evil, and the reflexive comfort with violence and lack of religious freedom in much of the Muslim world appalling. The notion of actually seeing the world sympathetically through Islamist eyes -- of agreeing with them on the need to keep women in burkas, gays hidden, and religious faith as
the arbiter of public policy -- is, well, very difficult. That explains why many conservatives have criticized this book severely. Islamism is not their idea of how to fix the crisis of conservatism.
D'Souza's thesis was indeed described as "regrettable" and "nonsensical" by Victor Davis Hanson, and as "intellectually obtuse, poorly informed and, most importantly, an irresponsible exercise in putatively conservative bomb-throwing" by the influential Republican blogger Dean Barnett. Scott Johnson, of the popular Republican blog Powerline, had this to say about the book in The New Criterion: "Having engaged
in the effort to understand the Muslims as they understand themselves...D'Souza generally does not seek to judge them by a standard above or beyond Islam." But this is somewhat unfair to D'Souza. His standard for Islam is its effectiveness at maintaining a conservative social order. He doesn't care if the religion is Islam or Christianity, or if its adherents are black, brown, or white -- as long as it performs the necessary social task.
* * *
D'Souza must have been aware of the likelihood of such a response, and he has prepared a pre-emptive strike in the book. He is a veteran of stage-managed controversies. Being in the business of shock, he does not put out a book without a careful assessment of how shocking is too shocking. He knows that, from the perspective of actual evangelical Christians and conventional secular conservatives, his central thesis is alarming, even offensive. He is well aware that most on the right will be reluctant to endorse the Muslim version of theoconservatism -- it seems scarier, doesn't it, when the theocons are Arabs? -- and so he had to devise something in the book to overcome these groups' distrust.
So what to do? He decided, I think, to sugar his Islamic medicine for the right in two ways. The first is by defending every action of the Bush administration in the war on terror. Even if the president's analysis of the aftermath of September 11 turns out to have been wrong, he is still always right in what he does. This cardinal rule of the religious right -- the president is never actually wrong -- is pursued to an almost ludicrous degree in the book. And so we learn that there has been "remarkable progress" since the invasion of Iraq: "a surge of new businesses, training of new police and military...new fire stations, an improved computer network, and the increased availability of clean water." (The fire stations are a particularly poignant touch.) He adds: "Iraq now has an elected government that does control its own military, pass its own laws, and exercise all the power provided by the constitution." Torture did not take place in Abu Ghraib, according to D'Souza; and if it did, it was solely the responsibility of the cultural left, who trained American soldiers how to dehumanize prisoners with sexual depravity on basic cable. The absurdity of all this, and its detachment from any mature grasp on reality, is not the point. This spirited and occasionally hilarious defense of all that Bush and Cheney have done is transparently a device to disarm D'Souza's own congregation. Without it, the Conservative Book Club might have balked.
The other gambit that D'Souza uses to appeal to his fellow conservatives is declaring that the real enemy is the domestic left. Here he treads on far more familiar ground. Part of the corruption of contemporary conservatism has been the way in which vast sums of money have been made by peddling books, talk shows, blogs, and magazines that do nothing but demonize "the left." The lucrative trend began in the 1990s and is now a profitable staple of Conservatism Inc. Ann Coulter has become a very rich woman by accusing her fellow Americans of being godless traitors. D'Souza's problem in this respect is not any moral qualm about maligning one's
compatriots as treasonous, godless terror-lovers, but how to make the claim -- how to find the right word? -- fresh.
Finally somebody has outdone Coulter. The central claim of The Enemy at Home is that American liberals -- not Al Qaeda -- caused September 11. How precisely, one wonders, is D'Souza going to pull this
one off? He concedes that it is "absurd"
to accuse Americans of being directly
responsible for a mass murder planned and executed by Islamist terrorists from the Middle East. Frank Rich was not in
the cockpit of United Flight 93 with a box-cutter. And yet D'Souza manfully goes
on to argue about (as his subtitle clearly declares) "the cultural left and its responsibility for 9/11" -- and in words parsed
to ensure that the charge is in no way meant unseriously.
We need to be precise here. D'Souza is not making the claim that, in some way, the cultural left was merely indifferent to the crime of September 11, seeing in it a merited blowback from America's foreign policy for the past several decades. That claim, though provocative, is not absurd. Noam Chomsky declared of the catastrophe that "for the first time, the guns have been directed the other way." Arundhati Roy described the massacre as a "monstrous calling card...signed by the ghosts of the victims of America's old wars." Much of the hard left also opposed the
invasion of Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban regime.
Now, some analysis of how this occurred -- and what it revealed about the mentality of some on the left -- is perfectly fair game. And in the emotional days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, there was at least as much heat as light. I myself wrote a sloppy throwaway sentence effectively accusing such "enclaves" on the far left of being a virtual and potential "fifth column" in the coming war. I regret that ugly coinage and said so days later. Such rhetorical excesses aside, however, the underlying point about the far left's moral unmooring is still, I think, a good one.
But this, D'Souza reminds us, is not what he is arguing. That criticism is so 2002. He is making a far graver accusation against a much larger number of people. He is accusing a hefty chunk of the population, and a solid majority of its cultural elite, of witting complicity in mass murder.
D'Souza understands that this is "a strong charge, one that no one has made before." One immediately recalls the remarks of Jerry Falwell after September 11, his account of the moral and historical causes for the attack. D'Souza, too, has not forgotten them. In fact, he reprints them in order to show how, in contrast with himself, Falwell is mealymouthed. Falwell, after all, merely said the following:
With biological warfare available to these monsters -- the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats -- what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be minuscule if, in fact God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we
deserve....The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked....I really believe 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."
Helped? This is far too weak a charge to get Doubleday to put real money behind a book. D'Souza does not believe that the cultural left "helped 9/11 happen." He
believes that the cultural left made 9/11 happen. D'Souza, again, never speaks of God or his own faith in this book: his causality includes nothing supernatural. In his view, the cultural left "actively fostered" the murder of three thousand Westerners without any indirect assistance from the Almighty. In his words: "Thus when leading figures on the left say, We made them do this to us,' in a sense they are correct. They are not correct that America is to blame. But their statement is true in that their actions and their America are responsible for fostering Islamic anti-Americanism in general and 9/11 in particular."
To purloin a rhetorical device of the far left, it is American liberals who are, in D'Souza's eyes, the real terrorists. Bin Laden, in contrast, "is not so much a terrorist as he is a religious ideologue who has chosen terrorism as the most effective way to achieve his goals." The way to defeat terrorism is not to attack bin Laden, but to co-opt a more traditional variant of his Islamism and focus on the real enemy: liberals. And who are these people who made Al Qaeda attack America? Who, precisely, conspired in this Dolchstoss? D'Souza names names: Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, Sean Wilentz, Sharon Stone, Rosie O'Donnell, Paul Begala, Arianna Huffington, many other cultural and political figures, and all the members and employees of the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Ford Foundation, and on and on. All of these people, D'Souza argues, caused September 11 "in particular."
Once you have absorbed the specificity of the charge, the reality sinks in. September 11 is not merely a symbol, after all. It was the last day in the lives of thousands of innocent people. For those on D'Souza's list who live in New York City -- and many of them do -- D'Souza is making the accusation that they were actually complicit in the killing of their neighbors, forcing them to jump to their deaths or face incineration, murdering mothers and fathers, slaughtering businessmen and secretaries and commuters going about their daily lives. This charge in its grotesque specificity is, quite obviously, obscene, and it is quite unanswerable, in the way that all Big Lies are unanswerable. I would have liked to believe that they are also unpublishable. But here is this Big Lie published and marketed by Doubleday, and edited by Adam Bellow.
It is only when you grasp the ambition of D'Souza's project that you realize why he went for the jugular in this spectacularly offensive way. He can't really believe the charge on the cover of his book. No sane person can. (It is D'Souza's sanity that makes you despise him so much. He knows the game.) Even if one were to concede the notion that Western feminism, secularism, and free speech may have alienated many traditional Muslims and made them more receptive to the poison of Islamist terror, it does not
follow that American leftists are actually responsible for September 11. That is why D'Souza feels constrained to insert a largely irrelevant chapter detailing the consequences of the policies of Carter and Clinton in emboldening the terrorist enemy by years of weakness and
appeasement. Of course, even this indictment doesn't quite wash: twelve years
of Republican presidents followed the Khomeini revolution; a Republican president withdrew all troops from Lebanon in 1982 after a terrorist attack; and a
Republican president was in the White House when Al Qaeda struck. If Islamism was allowed to grow through American neglect, there is enough blame to spread around.
No, D'Souza framed his call for a globalized theoconservatism with this incendiary obscenity for other reasons. First and foremost, he wanted to gin up Pavlovian liberal shock. "Let the debate begin!" screamed the online ads. Alan Wolfe in the New York Times Book Review dutifully obliged, decrying the book's very existence and calling on decent conservatives to disown it. This act of attempted "censorship" in turn gave queasy conservatives an opportunity to defend their favored son, and helped persuade the base that the book was legit. Bingo! It's on the New
York Times best-seller list. In this contrived way, Wolfe's scorn was worth a thousand ads.
D'Souza's character references in this are revealing. William F. Buckley Jr. and George Gilder, titans of the conservative intellectual establishment, united to defend their protégé. "D'Souza is a lively and curious, independent and scholarly young man," Buckley wrote to the editors of the Book Review. "As commander-in-chief of decent and honorable American conservatives, I take this occasion to overrule Wolfe's reprobation, and to advise him to curb his inclination to act as universal censor for the book-reading world." Buckley was able to write this while confessing he hadn't actually read the book!
Wolfe gave the anti-anti-D'Souza writers their moment. In the Weekly Standard, Peter Berkowitz, while not defending D'Souza, accused Wolfe of wielding an equally broad brush by describing many conservatives as followers of Carl Schmitt. Gilder went one step further and embraced the central message of the book as true, even vital, thus achieving one of D'Souza's main goals -- to legitimize the whole notion of a Christianist-Islamist global alliance as a mainstream, if new, idea.
And when you read Gilder's torrent of angry words, you can indeed hear echoes of a growing chorus on the right, one that will surely only increase in volume if defeat in Iraq expels the Republicans into the political wilderness for a generation. Gilder writes: "D'Souza raises the alarm that the anti-religious, sexual liberationist, anti-natalist and feminist thrust of American foreign, cultural, and free-speech global Internet policies threaten and estrange all the traditional cultures of the third world, whether Muslim or Christian, Hindu or Buddhist." And he continues:
Poor people cannot afford the epidemics, abortions and divorces of
Hollywood liberalism, and uphold a monotheist God as the foundation of their moral codes and worthy of respect. The American global cultural campaign pushes a billion non-militant Muslims to condone the jihad and thus threatens the existence of Israel and the survival of vulnerable American cities like New York. Perhaps your readers would be intrigued with a discussion of the argument rather than anathemas against its expression. To call the book McCarthyite and a "national scandal" will neither stop the jihad nor save
Israel in a nuclear age.
D'Souza, it appears, is not the first person to have this idea. Gilder got the point immediately. The decadence of the West is not a new theme on the right. Nor is D'Souza's assertion that Islam's superiority to "liberal morality" is proved by birth-rates. The argument that Muslim fertility rates are proof of Muslims' cultural superiority is the theme of one of the more vulgar right-wing tracts now on the bookshelves, America Alone by Mark Steyn. The notion that the mere existence of a secular pop culture threatens traditional morality is widespread on the religious right. All D'Souza has done is to broaden the argument from one in which the secular left poisons America's airwaves into one in which it poisons the world's airwaves: cultural imperialism, conservative style.
As D'Souza continues his campaign in op-eds, speaking engagements, and television appearances, you can see the coherence of his case. There is a difference only in degree, after all, between Islamism's view of the role of women and that of James Dobson or Tim LaHaye. Very, very few women control any religious institutions on the religious right. Patriarchy rules there as it rules in Pakistan. There is only a difference in degree between Islamism's view of the relationship between mosque and state and Christianism's view of the relationship between church and state. If law cannot be neutral between competing moral ideals, and if it must reflect God's will regardless of the views of religious minorities, then you can see why D'Souza is so affronted by Turkey's secularism, and why he sees the Declaration of Independence as an essentially religious document. Any space for non-believers is, in the Islamist and Christianist view, an assault on belief itself. The notion that blasphemy, pornography, or homosexuality should be protected, let alone celebrated, is anathema to Islamists and Christianists alike. D'Souza's sole sin is to say so publicly in a way no one can misunderstand. He has blown the medievals' cover.
* * *
And so D'Souza forges on, and the occasional sharp attack from the libertarian right serves only to advance his credibility with the religious base. So far his book has not seemed to hurt his career, or to damage his reputation among movement conservatives. D'Souza reports that he is scheduled to speak at the Council for National Policy, and he recently spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican Leadership Conference, and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Late last year he was a speaker on National Review's fund-raising cruise. David Horowitz's FrontPage magazine held a lunch for D'Souza following the publication of his book. (D'Souza told me he had a "very positive reaction.") The Federalist Society invited him to speak at Pepperdine Law School, after which D'Souza was the convocation speaker. He recently spoke at a Hillsdale College donors event in Florida, to a crowd of five hundred. D'Souza has also been given a regular column at Townhall.com, the online clearinghouse for conservative writers. National Review Online has allowed him to respond to his conservative critics on its site.
None of this should be particularly surprising at this moment in the evolution of American conservatism. The movement is now centrally dedicated to the proposition that secularism is the primary enemy, that a neutral public square is a pernicious illusion, that faith of any kind is always and everywhere preferable to no faith or sincere doubt, that the distinction between religion and politics is at heart a false one. Its problem, however, is that it is also dedicated to a war against the most violent form of theocratic politics in recent decades, in the shape of Islamist terror. How to fight theocracy abroad while sustaining and celebrating the enmeshment of church and state at home? It is a paradox that is leading America's conservatives and Republicans into a dead end of their own choosing, into a war they seem to be losing on both the home front and abroad.
The real significance, the only significance, of D'Souza's book is that it offers the army of the saints a radical and new way out -- a last desperate bid to rescue what is beginning to look like a doomed adventure. Given the radical transformation of American conservatism in the last six years, the idea of fusing Islamism and Christianism on a global stage is not such a surprising development. It remains a long shot, of course. Some leaders of the religious right are not as cynical as D'Souza. Some even believe in their God more than they believe in their conservatism. Others on the right still remember a conservatism rooted in individual autonomy, limited government, religious freedom, and cultural optimism -- not in faith-based big government and civilizational despair.
In some ways, though, D'Souza's global synthesis must be tempting. It deeply enrages the liberals whom conservatives now exist to enrage. And it is the obvious logical next step toward severing conservatism from its roots in the post-Enlightenment world and welding it permanently to an older, premodern vision of mankind and religion. Whether the right decides to resolve its own contradictions by choosing this promising but dark global path is anyone's guess. But they want to win the war that they are currently losing. One response is to broaden the enemy and change the rules. If that means an attack on America itself, so be it. These are "core beliefs" we are talking about, and some of them run deeper than patriotism.
four weeks of the New Republic Digital absolutely free
For nearly 90 years, the New
Republic has provided its readers with an intelligent and rigorous
examination of American politics, foreign policy, and culture. Today,
we're proud to offer a faster, easier, and more economical way to enjoy
the magazine TNR Digital. Subscribe today and we'll give
you 4 weeks absolutely free. That's less than 36 cents/week for every
word of content available in the print version, a downloadable replica
of the print magazine, and an array of special online-only features!
to sign up.