Today at 3:45PM EST I am appearing on a panel with Dinesh D’Souza, whose book I reviewed here, at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The topic is “Is Religious Extremism or Secular Extremism the Problem?,” a strangely worded thing that will allow D’Souza to argue his thesis, that “secular extremism” — that is, the global export of American pop culture — is responsible for the resurgence of Islamic supremacism we see around the world today. The moderator will be Suhail Khan.
Today D’Souza responds to some of the criticisms he has received for his book:
My book The Enemy at Home is producing a lively debate on both the left and the right. The book takes on the cherished assumptions of both sides, so I”m not entirely surprised. Most of the attacks from the left, such as that of Alan Wolfe in the New York Times and Jerry Adler in Newsweek have been pure personal abuse, without a single serious argument. For instance Wolfe faults me with being a secret admirer of Bin Laden, a claim so ridiculous that like the mosquito at the nudist colony, I”m not sure where to begin!
It is typical of Wolfe that he demeans me in every ad hominem way, suggesting at one point that my career has “fallen on hard times.” This is odd considering—a) I”m at Stanford University and he’s at Boston College, and b) my new book has just hit the New York Times bestseller list, my fourth book to do so, while Wolfe’s books sell mainly to his fellow sociologists. Wolfe is typical of many professors I frequently debate on campus, a man educated beyond his intelligence.
I guess one good ad hominem deserves another. And apparently D’Souza doesn’t mind giving them out even when they haven’t been given to him: see D’Souza’s strictly ad hominem response to Scott W. Johnson’s well-reasoned review of his book.
Anyway, he first defends his thesis that the cultural Left weakened the American military to the degree that the jihadists saw the U.S. as weak and stepped up jihad efforts. I don’t have a problem with that.
Then he says:
But doesn’t this take the blame off the radical Muslims, who did 9/11? This seems to be the worry of blogger Scott Johnson of Powerline, who says that his first reaction to my book was one of “nausea.” But I say on the first page of my book that I am not making the absurd argument that the cultural left knocked down the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Bin Laden and the Islamic radicals did that, and they are the guilty party. The role of the cultural left is in fueling the volcano of anger toward America in the Muslim world, and thus in helping the radical Muslims win recruits to their bloody cause. My argument is very similar to saying that British and French appeasement in the 1930s helped to consolidate the position of Hitler and emboldened him to invade France and Poland. Hitler gets the full blame for his actions, while Neville Chamberlain and others are responsible for paving his way. So too the Bin Laden team carried out the terrorist attacks, but liberal policies and secular values projected abroad are responsible for strengthening Bin Laden’s hand and his motivation to strike when he did.
Perhaps there is some truth to this. But it doesn’t explain why jihadists are committing violence against targets that have nothing to do with “liberal policies and secular values”: Buddhist schoolteachers in Thailand, Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia, orthodox Jews in Israel, and others.
Surely it’s ridiculous to blame Britney Spears and Hollywood for causing 9/11. Mona Charen and blogger Dean Barnett have faulted me with making this argument, which I do not make. To blame Britney for 9/11 would surely be overstating the importance of the bald one and the movie industry. What I do say, with a lot of supporting evidence, is that the excesses of American popular culture are producing a “blowback” of resistance, not only from the Muslim world, but also from the traditional cultures of Asia and Africa. A popular slogan across Asia today is “Modernization without Westernization.” What this means is that many people in countries want Western prosperity and technology but they don’t want what they perceive as Western values that they consider degrading and vulgar. Now this is the charge that the radical Muslims exploit. They accuse America of being an atheist, immoral society that is hell-bent on imposing its secularism and immorality on the Muslim world. I am not concerned with persuading the radical Muslims. But I am concerned that their charge is finding a receptive ear among traditional Muslims, who are the majority in the Muslim world. Radical Islam has swelled its ranks considerably in the past couple of decades by recruiting among the ranks of the traditional Muslims.
Certainly the “radicals” are recruiting among “traditional Muslims,” and using American immorality as one among other pretexts. But while this argument looks impressive on its face, it dissolves among closer inspection — chiefly because those “traditional Muslims” upon whom D’Souza places so much hope remain nebulous and elusive, even in his construction. Are they “moderates”? No: in his book he explains that they do not differ theologically or even politically from the jihadists. And in his book he doesn’t name even one. When I asked him to name one, he named Ali Gomaa, the Mufti of Egypt. Ali Gomaa, however, has expressed support for Hizballah, whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has led chants of “Death to America!” This is an actual or potential ally?
Ali Gomaa has also ruled that statues are un-Islamic; when I mentioned this to D’Souza, he was contemptuously dismissive. But in fact it is an important point. Cultural conservatives are supposed to ally, in his view, with “traditional Muslims” who allegedly share the same values. But what about when they don’t share the same values? What makes D’Souza think that “traditional Muslims” will ally with non-Muslims on cultural issues in opposition to the jihad being waged by their fellow Muslims — when they have no theological differences with those fellow Muslims, and fewer cultural differences with them than they have with those non-Muslims?
This doesn’t make sense. If they have no theological differences with the jihadists, then they believe in principle in the jihad, and also hold to the traditional Qur’anic prohibition against befriending non-Muslims. On what grounds will they set all this aside and join with non-Muslims against their fellow Muslims? D’Souza produces no evidence that the great majority of Muslims who are not waging jihad do not approve of that jihad, or that even if they don’t approve, they will do anything to oppose it.
D”Souza agrees with Bin Laden that America is a new Gomorrah. Hanson and a few other critics have made this charge. But I would never have moved from India to America if I thought America was so bad. Anyone who has read my last book What’s So Great About America knows that I love the freedom that American provides and I fully recognize that freedom can be used well or it can be used badly. I”m not asking any American to change in order to appease the mullahs. But at the same time I do think that there are aspects of American popular culture that are shameless and degrading, and often it is this part of America that is exported abroad….
Those last two sentences contradict each other.
Radical Muslims like Sayyid Qutb hated the America of the 1950s, so how can anyone take this critique seriously? Mona Charen and Robert Spencer think they have scored a winning point here, but of course traditional Muslims did not take Qutb that seriously in the 1950s. Numerous historians have pointed out that America was quite popular in the Muslim world in the 1950s. And radical Islam had trouble getting recruits in that era. The point is that Qutb’s critique has become increasingly relevant as American culture has become increasingly permissive and shocking to the sensibilities of traditional people. So Qutb is read today against the backdrop of what Muslims see in today”s America, not 1950s America. For this reason Qutb is now viewed as a kind of prophet, someone who decades ago foresaw the rot behind America’s shiny global image. So Qutb now has “crossover” appeal to traditional Muslims, instead of dismissing him as a crank and a fool, we should be studying him to “know our enemy.”
I don’t think Qutb was a crank or a fool. And I agree that we should be studying him. But D’Souza has missed the point of my critique. There is no doubt that the jihad is stronger now than it was in the 1950s. But if the problem is American immorality, one wonders why the great Islamic empires of the past waged jihad long before American pop culture was exported or America even existed. The immorality of non-Muslims has always been a feature of jihadist rhetoric, going back to the time of the Crusades, but the jihad itself has waxed and waned throughout history without reference to the relative decadence of non-Muslim cultures.