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Double duty and implausible denial

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted November 17, 2008

Since I'm at a distance from the America of the time that The Enemy At Home was published, my reaction to its contents was naturally detached. I only heard of it when it was published, and my inner Canadianness leaves me blind to certain controversies that Mr. D'Souza's book was fated to ignite. Time heals, however, and the times now necessitate a different kind of healing amongst conservatives. Perhaps times have changed enough for conservatives to muster an all-conservative reflectiveness that would make Mr. D'Souza's points easier to assimilate.

The Enemy At HomeA truly detached person, to the point of complete disengagement from the times, would be surprised at the antipathy some conservatives have shown for The Enemy At Home.  Ostensibly, this book should have been a conservative winner. Mr. D'Souza not only bats back the liberal attack point that claims "fundamentalism" as the real enemy, but also holds up a new "Twin Dragons" standard for the post-9/11 world. For about two generations, liberals had claimed that they had "slain" the "twin dragons" of "fascism" at home and abroad. Mr. D'Souza urges conservatives to grab the brass ring by boldly going after the "twin dragons of insurgency." His domestic insurgents are, of course, the cultural Left.

His book is well-researched; the claim that it isn't is prima facie implausible. To be honest, his depth may actually have made things worse for the book and its author. An old Cold Warrior, happy and flush with battles won and victories past, is not going to take well to Mr. D'Souza's suggestion that the entire Cold War framework is obsolete. Nor is the Marxist likely to greet calmly the suggestion that the ostensible "proletariat" in this new struggle genuinely despise the "bourgeois." The amount of mental retooling required to fully digest Mr. D'Souza's facts and arguments is large; the suggestion that the Karl Marx of radical Islamism saw the ‘60s growing out of the ‘40s isn't easy to take. Especially since it implies that restoring America's culture to a 1950s level (without the discrimination, of course) would merely make Sayyid Qutb's original tract resonate again.

At a more practical level, it's hard not to sympathize with an outraged conservative who doesn't much like the idea that conservatives could be looking at the face of the world's new evil and finding some good in it. Even if said risk is just the downside of being the new dominant party in American politics.

According to The Enemy At Home, radical Islamism is not totalitarian. It's better described as "open-ended totalism." The quote from Ayatollah Khomeini on p. 112 of the revised edition makes its nature clear. Islam enjoins the believer from womb to tomb, but its rules are open-ended: most of them don't demand specific behaviors from the believer. "Don't lend at interest" says nothing about other pecuniary arrangements. "Always wear modest dress" says nothing specific about fashion or design. Adultery covers sex that breaks the bonds of marriage, but not intercourse of other sorts. Within the harsh constraints of sharia there are limits that restrict behavior quite rigorously, but do not specifically compel only one behavior. Granted that the injunction to pray five times a day towards Mecca is specific, but it is silent on what to pray about. Granted that the range of free action is shockingly constricted by our standards, but there's enough difference between it and One Big Plan to make the label ‘totalitarian' fall on bemused ears in the Muslim world.

Writ large, what's just above is the point of the foreign-policy part of Mr. D'Souza's book. Radical Islamism is not Sovietism, nor is it fascism. It's a different kind of tyranny, one that has to be understood on its own terms in order to be fought effectively.

Parallel with the recommendation to go for the brass ring is the advice to occupy the high ground of moderateness. Just as moderate liberals should be welcomed into the war effort, so should believers in traditional Islam be welcomed. The only Muslims that should be beyond the pale are ones who refuse to show aversion to the political goals of radical Islamism. Since the martyr in Islam occupies about the same place as the saint does in Christianity, it's too much to expect a Muslim to express personal loathing of radical Islamists who are also martyrs. To make an analogy to Christianity, it's possible for a good Protestant Christian to condemn a Popish cult of Saint Theresa (or St. Francis of Assisi!) while still acknowledging that the saint was still a good Christian.  Expecting a good Protestant to parrot the opinions of Christopher Hitchens would be expecting too much, even if a cult of radical Theresaites emerged. If putting out the welcome mat for traditional Muslims is impracticable, then it should be explained to them in terms of America's national interest. Mr. D'Souza makes a telling point when he notes that "Zionist" conspiracy-mongering takes root amongst Muslims because many Muslims can't understand why a nation would forsake its national interest (pp. 81-2.) Explaining the Israel-America connection in that way would deafen the Muslim ear for conspiracy theories of that sort.

It's true that the root cause of terror is terrorists. But it's also true that terrorists also wear a good-guy mask and even try to cultivate a good-guy persona to win support. It's one thing to fall into appeasement…but it's another thing entirely to state that the terrorists' good side (to Muslims) is utterly irrelevant to their distinguishing goals or actions. It may be true that the phrase "self-righteous zealot" is incomprehensible to a Muslim when applied to his/her fellow Muslim, but it's almost certainly not true that Islam has no internal safeguards against eruptions of dangerous zealotry. It should never be forgotten that bin Laden was expelled from Saudi Arabia, and was never let back in even when his popularity in (parts of) the Muslim world was at its height. His repute at that point did not make the Saudi rulers bend one inch from that earlier banishment, even if that same ban might have had to have been leavened by soothing words. The actions of the Saudi government placed it squarely on our side, regardless of what words may have been said when "bin Laden mania" had swept the Middle East.

The most insightful part of The Enemy At Home is Mr. D'Souza's recounting of why the cultural leftists seem to be cheering America's enemies on. The impression I got is that the cultural leftists, much like decadents of times past, have an excessively low opinion of their foes. For them, the idea that radical Islamism could tear away at (their) America is simply silly. They're so sure of occupying what they consider to be the high ground, namely liberal secularism, that they seriously consider the appeal of radical Islamism to be immaterial to America. As cultural leftism has gone upscale, this insularity has been thickened by what used to be scorned as typical bourgeois decadence: "Of course I support the troops. Don't I pay taxes? I don't see how my opinions in the matter have reduced the Pentagon's tax take one dime. And aren't you people responsible for the all-volunteer military?" [And then, yet again, the h-word comes out…] Some cultural liberals might belt out an indignant lecture that mixes civilian control of the military with the "rule of the people."

It sometimes seems that the only relevance that al-Qaida and their ilk have for cultural leftists' America is a restaging of their Vietnam drama. D'Souza also illustrates that the cultural Left sees present-day Europe as their shining star and ally, which adds to the insularity on both sides of the Atlantic. I have a suspicion that the typical affluent American cultural leftist sees radical Islamism as much a domestic threat as their French compadres see Bonapartists as being. Complacency of this sort always indicates that the complacent ones are fully sure that they have an unbeatable hole card. For all I know, it might be a ‘properly used' NATO. The unfolding of the Obama administration will give a clue to this complacency puzzle.

What is obvious, though, is that cultural leftists place a much higher priority in getting the White House and the Commander-in-Chief function under Democrat, preferably liberal Democrat, control. If President-elect Barack Obama shows signs of becoming another President Lyndon Johnson, it's a safe bet that the cultural liberals' antiwar stance will all-but evaporate. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is a regular columnist for LewRockwell.com, and has an undamaged mail address here.

Other related essays:

  • What's so great about Dinesh D'Souza? An interview by Bernard Chapin (August 18, 2008)
    Bernard Chapin chats with Dinesh D'Souza about his new book What's So Great About Christianity, a defense of faith and Christianity
  • Dinesh D'Souza/Victor Davis Hanson mea culpa by Bernard Chapin (August 27, 2007)
    Bernard Chapin inadvertently sparked a row recently with a single line in an interview with Dinesh D'Souza
  • Dinesh D’Souza, Heretic? by Bernard Chapin (August 13, 2008)
    Bernard Chapin asks Dinesh D'Souza why some prominent conservatives are attacking him and whether the culture war is really lost
  • A conservative student's field manual by Steve Martinovich (February 10, 2003)
    Steve Martinovich only wishes that he had Dinesh D'Souza's Letters to a Young Conservative while he was in university

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