by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
Dinesh D’Souza now weighs in against his numerous conservative critics in a series entitled “The Closing of the Conservative Mind.” The result is again suicidal, for his latest apology only confirms the nonsensical arguments found in The Enemy at Home.
1. D’Souza writes: “One might expect the Right to be open to a candid evaluation of what’s going wrong and how it might be fixed.”
In fact, that is what the surge, the appointment of Gen. Petraeus, and changes at the Pentagon are all about. Such adjustments are all preferable to D’Souza’s remedy of demonizing, in the middle of a war, millions of Americans at home in order to win approval from conservative Muslims abroad who supposedly, with justification, hate the popular culture of the United States to the point of partially supporting those who wish to destroy this country.
At National Review alone, wide-ranging disagreements arise over the war, from support for the current democratization of the Middle East to the “more rubble, less trouble” school of thought to the “win now, or get out” chorus. D’Souza knows that at the Hoover Institution there are at least four or five different positions voiced regarding Iraq and the larger war.
True, it is the singular achievement of D’Souza that his bizarre writ has for a moment earned universal condemnation from those who can agree on little else. But that rare consensus represents not a “closing of the conservative mind” so much as it reflects the moral vileness of much of what D’Souza writes. And pathetically, the more frequently conservative magazines, media, and institutions offer D’Souza a megaphone, the more apt he is to play the wounded fawn.
2. D’Souza writes: “And yet these pundits on the Right are doing their best to cover up the Left’s role in 9/11.”
What does this conspiratorial charge of “cover up” mean exactly? That many of us continue to believe that al Qaeda terrorists blew up innocent Americans for a variety of perceived grievances rather than an understandable Muslim unhappiness with Britney Spears and Brokeback Mountain? But Al Qaeda did not attack New York and Washington because those on the Left, such as Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, or Sharon Stone (to quote from D’Souza’s own list of the guilty), encouraged or allowed the terrorists to commit mayhem.
No, they struck from two broader causes, apparent for much of the 1980s and 1990s. First, there was a bipartisan appeasement that meant both Republican and Democratic administrations did not reply forcibly to a series of terrorist attacks, from the 1983 Marine barracks murdering in Lebanon to the 2000 ramming of the USS Cole. That forbearance sent a message to bin Laden that there would likely be few, if any, real consequences, should he escalate his attacks.
Second, the terrorists, in their own words, were furious not at genuine “decadence” (many had no problem satisfying their own appetites while residing in the West plotting its destruction), but at a ubiquitous Western-inspired modernity itself — the result of which was that a traditional tribal society in the Middle East was being bypassed, socially, politically, and economically, not just by the West, but also by Asia, South America, and parts of Africa.
Pace D’Souza, conservative Islamic unease with everything from the transparent charging of interest to a meritocracy that trumps gender, religion, and tribe does have economic consequences, and puts traditional Muslim culture at a decided disadvantage in an increasingly cut-throat globalized marketplace.
With instant worldwide communications, for the first time hundreds of millions in the Middle East became cognizant that, despite religious zeal, business as usual could not reclaim lost stature. In response, few advocated difficult reform, but instead thought that the easy blaming of America or Israel might at least offer the psychological relief of “they did it to us.”
Facts, then, meant little: not the billions of dollars in American aid sent to Amman, Cairo, or the West Bank; not the life-saving importation of Western medicines, expertise, or engineering; not the windfall profits from high-priced oil; not the generous American acceptance of tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants; not the salvation provided by the U.S. military or American assistance for millions facing annihilation, conquest, or starvation in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Indonesia, Kosovo, Kuwait, or Somalia.
To the extent that al Qaeda provided “traditional Muslims” with the psychological satisfaction of seeing the superpower take a hit without their having to suffer any real material consequences themselves, many of these “traditional Muslims,” who must live daily with the humiliating wages of autocracy and statism, seldom minded too much if the radicals now and then “evened the score.”
Again, the Left did not cause all this. The supposed “decadence” of our popular culture is simply one of dozens of radical Islam’s perceived grievances, and is itself not just a product of social liberality, but also of the affluence created by consumer capitalism. Nor do conservatives think we are in a war with all Muslims. All these sensationalist charges are merely the tropes by which D’Souza seeks to earn transient attention.
3. D’Souza writes:
Terrorism is defined as an attack on innocent civilians. Given that bin Laden declared war on America in 1996, al Qaeda’s assault on an American warship is not terrorism in the classic sense. This was an attack on a military target, akin to the Japanese kamikaze attacks on American ships during World War II.
Aside from the reasons why D’Souza might wish to redefine the attack against the USS Cole by calling the berthed ship a legitimate military target, his comparison to the Japanese World War II attack on American ships is as crackpot as it is obscene. Terrorism is usually not qualified as an attack solely on civilians. And because a terrorist says he is in a war does not mean he is immune from a charge of terrorism.
In fact, bin Laden has never made any real distinction between civilians and those in uniform. His only requisite was that his targets should be unaware of his immediate deadly intention and thus unable to ward off his attacks, which were aimed at obtaining political objectives through murder and violence.
Long before 9/11, bin Laden’s cadres murdered civilians in 1993 at the World Trade Center, and in 1998 blew up those in our East African embassies. We were not in a war with Muslims in Yemen where the Cole was docked there on a routine refueling mission in Aden. It was not a military target, much less a participant in a recognized conflict akin to the effort to fend off kamikaze attacks from our declared enemy imperial Japan.
The Cole bombers were not uniformed soldiers in a shooting war trying to ram war craft into an enemy ship firing back to stop them. Instead, the al Qaeda suicide bombers Ibrahim al-Thawr and Abdullah al-Misawa, in civilian clothes, took advantage of the U.S. Navy’s peacetime rules of engagement in a neutral port, knowing that they could approach a peaceful ship with near impunity under the guise of a friendly craft. That alone allowed them to carry off their cowardly terrorist attack and murder 17 Americans as they lined up for lunch in the galley.
In this regard, remember the constant qualifiers in D’Souza’s book such as “Yes,” “Although,” “But” and “I am not objecting to,” as in the following: “Although 9/11 is routinely described as a terrorist attack, can anyone seriously maintain that the Pentagon was not a military target?”
Or: “So I am not objecting to the characterization of 9/11 as terrorism.”
Or: “Yes, there were civilians on the planes but the purpose of hijacking planes was not to kill civilians on board but to use the winged juggernauts as flaming projectiles to destroy the intended symbolic targets.”
That list of exculpation could be expanded, but what we see in these asides is an insidious effort somehow to downplay the savagery of al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks — as if they were not really aimed at butchering innocents in airliners, ordinary people at work, and civilian and military officials in a peacetime Pentagon, but rather legitimate collective cries of the heart from conservative Muslims forced to watch one too many Sean Penn movies or read one too many novels of the “insurgent” Kurt Vonnegut.
4. D’Souza writes: “Contrary to Hanson I am not blaming ‘millions of Americans,’ but rather am faulting particular liberal policies and actions taken by named individuals in power.”
Of course, he is. After all, millions of Americans support those policies of his “named individuals” — policies that may be wrongheaded, yet are hardly designed to lose the war against bin Laden as D’Souza alleges — and without any proof whatsoever. And I mean that literally when D’Souza, in his most reprehensible moment among many, identifies prominent Americans who, he says, are “domestic insurgents” (e.g., U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, Carl Levin, Patrick Leahy, Jack Reed, etc.) and “want bin Laden to win.”
When, for example, his treason list includes Salman Rushdie — for years in hiding as the target of a lethal fatwa — as one of the “domestic (sic) insurgents,” one gets a good indication of the level of D’Souza’s thinking. Note that he keeps reiterating that he is accusing the Left of wanting us to lose in Iraq, without mentioning that his charge is in fact far broader, in stating that the likes of the late Molly Ivins, Tony Judt, or Garry Wills “want bin Laden to win.”
In this regard, he sums up:
We must give up on leftists in America and Europe who will never join our side and instead find common cause with the traditional Muslims who share many of our values and can actually help us defeat radical Islam.
What does “give up on” really mean? I am no big fan of a Russ Feingold or a Howard Dean, but as fellow Americans I find more resonance with them than with conservative Muslims abroad who, at least currently, do not approve of religious tolerance, or an equality of women, or freedom of speech and expression. Personally in this war I prefer to make “common cause” with the atheist leftist Christopher Hitchens or Al Gore’s former running mate, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, or a liberal Tom Lantos (also named as a “domestic insurgent” on the D’Souza list) than with someone abroad who embraces sharia law.
And in a practical sense, who and what are the “traditional Muslims” with whom we are to “find common cause”? Shiites in Iran? Which Algerian faction? The Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo? Saudi clerics, or Kuwaiti women who wish to drive, or Tunisian students who want a secular education? For much of the twentieth century, various messianic figures in the Arab Street have envisioned a pan-Arabic nation, a unified Baathist state, or an all-Islamic Middle East. All have failed because there are centuries-old tribal, religious, and political differences in the Middle East that help to explain why U.S. foreign policy has never quite seen the region as a unified whole — and why today a Muslim Jordan allies itself with the U.S. in common worry over Iran, or why an oil-rich, but under-populated and jittery, Libya, in fear of and contemptuous of surrounding Muslim nations, reaches out to the West, or why a secularized Lebanon or divided Iraq has no real solidarity with its Muslim neighbors.
Anytime those in and out of the Middle East — whether the old Soviet Union, Gamel Nasser, or the current Arab League — called for generic political allegiances of the sort D’Souza advocates, apparent Muslim solidarity proved chimerical.
And what makes D’Souza think that a young woman at a university in Kuwait, or a teacher in Morocco, necessarily would appreciate American conservatives allying themselves with religiously conservative Muslims in their midst? It escapes him entirely that a “liberal” Middle Easterner, not a conservative or “traditional” Muslim, might better be our natural ally in this war of values.
In this regard, here is a small excerpt of what a Muslim woman recently wrote to me about my earlier hostile review of D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home.
What threatens patriarchal Muslim communities are not the excesses of Western societies but its very norms. Individualism and the relatively equal position of women manifest themselves in the opportunities females have to pursue education and economic independence. And these principles of individual freedom and equality, even Mr. D’Souza will agree, are neither Right nor Left, but simply American. There is no way that Muslim women, in great numbers, can be granted similar opportunities without it eventually shaking their societies at their very foundations.
5. D’Souza writes: “Hanson offers no explanation, merely proclaiming al Qaeda’s ideology ‘rambling’ and ‘incoherent.’”
Again, this claim is false. This is what I actually wrote:
Bin Laden at times whined about the American failure to sign the Kyoto treaty on global climate, white racism, the bombing of Hiroshima, even improper campaign donations. If we took these terrorist rants as seriously as D’Souza does, then al Qaeda might seem to be a radical leftist organization furious at the supposed sins of a conservative United States.
But why inter alia would al Qaeda cite Kyoto, white racism, the way we finance our elections, and Hiroshima among its myriad shifting reasons to hate America if, as D’Souza argues, these radicals instead reflect a logical Islamic anger at liberal excess in the United States?
Soon we might read of a leftist counterpart to D’Souza, blaming the Right for 9/11 on grounds of the terrorists’ silly whines over our lack of environmentalism, past war crimes, racial prejudice, and big-money politics that have understandably offended bin Laden to the point of homicidal fury.
6. D’Souza writes:
Notice how Hanson compares the excesses of the cultural Left with those of radical Islam, while the real issue is whether traditional Muslims all believe in gender segregation, burkas, honor killings, and religious intolerance.
But that comparison is precisely the point: our supposedly radical Left is not blowing up radical Muslims on the basis of their Islamic fundamentalist hatred of emancipated women or homosexuals, in the manner radical Muslims, according to D’Souza, understandably wish to do to us. The “real issue” is relative tolerance and freedom of expression among our respective “traditional” populations. In the West, a homosexual couple in the United States would notipso facto bother those next door in a mosque; in much of the Arab Muslim world those in the mosque would make life very difficult for that couple.
In that regard, well aside from the threat of Islamists, I also suggest that D’Souza’s life would not be worth much should he try to proselytize Christianity in Saudi Arabia, openly date a single unmarried woman in Yemen, give a favorable public lecture on agnosticism, apostasy, or atheism in Tehran, or defend Israel publicly on a West Bank street-corner.
7. D’Souza writes:
Yet right-wing pundits keep writing their articles, citing each other, and whipping themselves up into a frenzy, and when things go badly they blame Bush or simply refuse to face up to the limits of their approach. Now they are mighty upset that I’ve come along and shown the bankruptcy of their understanding and have proposed a new way of looking at the problem.
I don’t recall “blaming Bush” — far from it.
What I do know is that many of us have been attacked continuously for supporting the president’s efforts to introduce democracy to the Arab world, based on the belief that it is not incompatible with Islam.
What D’Souza has done in sloppy fashion (e.g., “Islamophobes”) is to conflate all his critics into a monolithic notion of “right-wing” pundits, which results in his lecturing those who support democratic change in the Arab world that they should support democratic change in the Arab world.
In the end, despite constant qualification, backstepping, and disclaimers, D’Souza’s call for a new pan-conservative American-Islamic alliance will convince few Americans in the middle of this war to “give up on” millions of “leftists” in our own country in order to join millions of Muslims of the Middle East in a “new configuration of forces” — whatever that scary phrase means.
©2007 Victor Davis Hanson