The Ratzinger Record 04/19/05
Pope John Paul II's Mixed Legacy 04/03/05
Words from an unlicensed wedding 06/20/03
Taking It to Conservatives 05/09/03
Faith healing HIV in D.C. 02/28/03
The Church Falls to Earth 06/10/02
Muslims: Can We Talk? 05/31/02
An Open Letter to the Vicar 08/13/98
February 22, 2007
RICHARD J. ROSENDALL
A provocation too far
Dinesh D’Souza has been a darling of the right wing since his undergraduate days at Dartmouth College a quarter century ago. His stock in trade is not so much to mount a serious challenge of liberal ideas (which would require at least some degree of respectful engagement) as to provoke. In his 1995 book, The End of Racism, he wrote, “The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.” It hardly matters whether this idiotic remark was motivated by racism, obtuseness, or mere self-advertisement.
His latest book’s provocation starts with the title: The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. But he goes beyond Jerry Falwell’s notorious blaming of feminists, gays and lesbians, the ACLU and People for the American Way. D’Souza actually makes common cause with “traditional Muslims,” who he claims hate America not for our presence in the Middle East but for our decadent culture. Minimizing the vast differences between Western traditions and Islamic and Middle Eastern ones, he calls for making America more tolerable to Islamic obscurantists whose tradition includes no Reformation, no Enlightenment, and no commitment to the personal freedom that has been the engine of the West’s economic success.
Charging the left with a “campaign of cultural imperialism,” D’Souza shows no grasp of free markets. If the success of capitalism and global communication has enabled many young Iranians, for example, to embrace American popular culture, that hardly constitutes a leftist conspiracy.
D’Souza equates licentiousness with leftism, which does not explain why so many otherwise liberal social movements had strong conservative elements: suffragists who were anti-abortion; communists who were homophobic; feminists who advocated censorship; and ministers in the civil rights movement who objected to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s association with Bayard Rustin, a leading organizer and strategist who was gay.
D’Souza’s portrayal of all homosexuals as leftist is contradicted not only by exit polls but by gay rights advocates’ embrace of conservative issues like marriage and military service. Treating homosexuality per se as depraved merely substitutes insults for arguments. His benign portrayal of Sharia law and his call for a traditionalist alliance effectively says, “Go ahead and push walls over on them, just don’t mention it in polite company.”
D’Souza’s disparagement of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, aside from displaying his ignorance, misses the point that conservative Muslims object to any freedom for women – not just the purported excesses of feminism. How far back is D’Souza prepared to take us to buy off the Islamists? To 1593, perhaps? In that year, as Ensler relates, an accused witch was convicted after the investigating lawyer discovered her clitoris, which he termed a “devil’s teat.”
D’Souza asserts, “It is only contemporary Islam that provides an inspiration for suicide missions and attacks on civilians.” But as conservative Stanley Kurtz notes, “Actually, Islam has a long history of producing violent and radical sects (like the Kharijites and the Assassins) in times of crisis.” As to D’Souza’s notion that reality-TV excesses and the like caused the 9/11 attacks, he should more carefully read modern radical Islamic pioneer Sayyid Qutb, who was offended by a Colorado church square-dance in 1949.
Endorsing the Bush administration’s vote for an Iranian resolution denying U.N. consultative status to the International Lesbian and Gay Association, D’Souza writes that ILGA “is so outlandish that until a few years ago it included as affiliates pedophile clubs like the North American Man-Boy Love Association.” I was an ILGA delegate in 1994 when we voted overwhelmingly to expel the pedophile groups. What moral seriousness can someone have who condemns us just as harshly whether we do the right thing or not? If D’Souza is truly concerned about pedophilia, why is he silent about the decades-long facilitation and cover-up of child abuse within his own Catholic Church?
D’Souza tars virtually everyone to his left as “domestic insurgents” even as he insists he does not question their loyalty. But since he brings it up, let’s look at his own acts of subversion. His dismissal of habeas corpus and due process as niceties that we cannot afford in wartime belies the claim that conservatives are “strict constructionists” while liberals are “judicial activists.” He is happy to set aside explicit constitutional protections when they get in his way.
Referring to American use of torture, D’Souza writes, “While I support the idea of congressional oversight of these measures, I don’t find myself shuddering over them. Most are scarcely rougher than what millions of American soldiers suffer in boot camp.” One wonders if he would think differently were he spirited off to a CIA black site after being subjected to the same racial profiling that he defends.
Ratcheting up the culture war by conflating it with the war on terror might have been a good campaign strategy for 2008, given the GOP’s need to distract voters from its own recklessness and incompetence. But D’Souza’s appeasement of Islamists is a provocation too far, vindicating those who call the Christianist right “the American Taliban” and highlighting the internal threat that authoritarianism poses to the West. Many conservatives have criticized his book, but their discomfort does not hide the resemblance of his extreme arguments to their own rhetoric. When a prominent right-wing firebrand sympathizes with modern civilization’s enemies because he disapproves of some of his fellow citizens’ choices, it is a fine opportunity for his targets to turn the tables and retake patriotism from the scoundrels who have so misused it.