Andrew McCarthy has already had enough of Dinesh D’Souza’s massive apologia pro vita sua in National Review, but since I am one of the people he dubs “angry men of the Right,” I feel it incumbent upon me to respond. In Zawahri himself recently declared that Israel was the primary source of Muslim hatred of the U.S. He didn’t say anything about Britney Spears.
D’Souza adds later:
Several of my critics, from Charen to Spencer to Kurtz to Berkowitz, have pointed out that Sayyid Qutb, the leading theoretician of radical Islam, came to America in the 1940s. Berkowitz writes, “Qutb famously was scandalized by the popular culture he encountered at a church social in America in the late 1940s, two decades, on D”Souza’s own account, before the emergence in the 1960s of the contemporary cultural left.” Berkowitz and others cite this point as though it were perfectly obvious and therefore evidence that I am manifestly obtuse. His reasoning is that radical Muslims like Qutb hated us long before the rise of liberal permissiveness, so clearly the cultural Left had nothing to do with the rise of radical Islam. Q.E.D.
This is hardly the big point that these critics think they have scored. The fact is that most traditional Muslims did not take Qutb seriously in the 1940s and 1950s, and his reputation was confined to the precincts of radical Islam. Numerous scholars, from Bernard Lewis to Rashid Khalidi, have pointed out that America was quite popular in the Muslim world during that period, when American prosperity was seen as producing a decent society. Radical Islam had great trouble getting recruits during that era.
But Qutb has become increasingly relevant as American popular culture has grown increasingly permissive and shocking to the sensibilities of traditional people around the world. Qutb is read today against the backdrop of what Muslims see in today”s America, not 1950s America. In fact, he is now viewed as a kind of prophet, someone who decades ago foresaw the rot behind America’s shiny image. So Qutb now has “crossover” appeal to traditional Muslims, and rather than dismissing him as a crank and a fool, we should be studying him to better understand what we are up against.
Or, instead, we could just conclude that Qutb is a fanatic, just as are almost all Muslims, and then leave it at that.
To this, Jihad Watch reader Jeff Kantor has responded, far more eloquently and persuasively than I ever could have, in an email to Mr. D’Souza that Jeff was kind enough to send also to me:
I think you miss the point, Mr. D’Souza.
I find the thesis of your book more intriguing than your treatment of it, I’m afraid.
It’s not that we have to conclude that “Qutb is a fanatic, just as are almost all Muslims, and then leave it at that.” It’s that we have to evaluate the basis for the fanaticism in Islam before we can determine how plausible your theory is.
If the evidence shows that the Quran is not just incidentally and particularly violent (like the Old Testament), but that it repeatedly calls for sustained, aggressive violence against the world until the world submits to Islam; if the evidence shows all the classical schools of Islam insist on this reading of the relevant Quranic passages; if the vast majority of present day scholars of Islam continue to agree that adherence to these traditional interpretations is mandatory for Muslims, not optional; if the evidence shows that this aggressive behavior has been the norm for Muslims historically; if the evidence shows that more adaptive Muslims who try to question or change this norm today are relatively few and without a coherent theological or interpretive basis for their undertaking; if the evidence shows that Muslims become aggressive when they are strong and that the past decades of relative lack of fanaticism can be best explained by understanding Islam to have been in a quiescent phase due to subjugation by infidel powers…
…if the evidence shows these things, then your thesis, which certainly might appear plausible at the outset, becomes much more dubious.
I don’t think any sensible person doubts that there are many sincere Muslims who are scandalized by loose behavior and that that can contribute in some way to resentment of the West. The question is, whether that is the primary motive force behind “Islamicist” aggression today or something that at best gives an additional impetus to it.
Wouldn’t it be nice to think together on these issues and try to come to a common understanding? But the lack of civility you have pointed to in the conversation seems to have originated in your book’s superficial treatment and contemptuous dismissal of Robert Spencer’s careful treatment of the foundational questions I outlined above.
Why not start anew with a gesture of civility yourself? Why not begin by a careful re-examination of these foundational questions instead of treating them with offhand quips and debating strategies? You might find in the end that the thesis of your book is not as persuasive as you had hoped. Or you might find that your thesis survives notwithstanding and is strengthened by a deeper encounter with the texts, tradition, and historical practice of Islam. In any case, you will seem far more intellectually redoubtable and much less peevish than you have seemed of late. And you might in the end write a better–and better-received–book on this topic.