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Is Islam the Problem? Why is America Letting Bin Laden Define Islam?

By Dinesh D'Souza


Yesterday I debated Robert Spencer at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in

Washington D.C. The debate was aired live on C-Span. Our topic was essentially, Is Islam the Problem? My book <The Enemy at Home > says no, locating the problem in the way that liberal foreign policy and liberal values projected abroad have strengthened radical Islam and emboldened it to attack us. Spencer's books collectively answer yes, the problem is with Islam itself.

But Islam has been around for 1300 years and the problem of Islamic terrorism is a recent one. How can Islam be to blame? For me the intelligent question is: what is it about Islam today that has made it an incubator of a certain kind of fanaticism and terrorism?

Spencer will have none of it. He is part of an influential strain of conservatives who blame the teachings and practice of Islam for producing Islamic terrorism. Since the terrorists do what they do on behalf of Islam, Islam must be the source of their convictions and therefore Islam needs to be examined, denounced and reformed. This is how Spencer thinks we can win the war on terror: by demanding that Muslims stop practicing Islam as it has been practiced since Muhammad.


In arguing his thesis Spencer locates all the violent verses in the Koran and all the hideous deeds performed by Islamic conquerors, especially in their early centuries of irredentist expansion. Then he links these to the words and actions of Khomeini, Bin Laden and today's Islamic radicals. Spencer is an effective polemicist.

But his historical argument is dubious. It emphasizes violent passages in the Koran, while downplaying the passages that urge peace and goodwill. It applies a moral standard to Islamic empires (they didn't give minorities full rights! they reduced Jews and Christians to second class citizens!) that certainly could not be met by the Roman empire or the empires established by the Portuguese, the Spanish, the French and the British. In the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella, for example, Jews had three choices: convert to Christianity, leave the country, or be killed. No Muslim empire legislated or systematically enforced such a policy toward its religious minorities. Yes, the Koran says "slay the infidels" but no Muslim empire actually did that. For example the Muslims ruled North India for two centuries before they were displaced by the British. The Mughal emperors could have killed the tens of millions of Hindus under their control or at least forced them to become Muslims? They did nothing of the sort.

Spencer glibly jumps over entire centuries in linking, say, the savagery of the Ottomans in Constantinople with the savagery of Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Taliban in Afghanistan. How different is Spencer's one-sided reading of Islam from, say, the works of historian Bernard Lewis. Lewis is hardly uncritical of Islam. But he knows that world, speaks the local languages, and exhibits in his work a nuance, judiciousness and balance that, alas, I don't find in Spencer or other conservative Islamophobes.

It is Bin Laden's argument that radical Islam is true Islam. It is Bin Laden's contention that he is doing nothing more than what is commanded in the Koran and the Islamic tradition. And Robert Spencer essentially agrees with Bin Laden! Spencer is willing to concede one of the world's great religions--one with more than a billion adherents worldwide--to the murderers of Al Qaeda. At one point in our CPAC debate he asked me to name a traditional Muslim, as if such a creature scarcely exists in the world.

Do we really want to go to war with a billion Muslims? If not, is it realistic to approach the Muslim world with the premise that the only good Muslim is a non-Muslim? Don't all these Western attacks on Islam and the Koran and Muhammad, not to mention Spencer's agreement with Bin Laden that Islam mandates violence and terrorism, have the effect of alienating traditional Muslims and pushing them toward the radical camp? These are my questions for Spencer, and for other conservatives who follow the same line. It's time, I would urge these good folks, to reconsider some basic assumptions. Unfortunately you are part of the reason we are losing this war of ideas.

Posted Mar 2nd 2007 1:35AM


by Dinesh D'Souza

  Introduction to <The Enemy at Home >

 In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset.   The cultural left in this country (such people as Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, George Soros, Michael Moore, Bill Moyers, and Noam Chomsky) is responsible for causing 9/11.   The term “cultural left” does not refer to the Democratic Party.  Nor does it refer to all liberals.  It refers to the left wing of the Democratic Party—admittedly the most energetic group among Democrats, and the main source of the party’s ideas.   The cultural left also includes a few Republicans, notably those who adopt a left-wing stance on foreign policy and social issues.  Moreover, the cultural left includes organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Watch, and 

     In faulting the cultural left, I am not making the absurd accusation that this group blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.   The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage—some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice—but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left.  Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened.

     I realize that this is a strong charge, one that no one has made before.   But it is a completely neglected aspect of the 9/11 debate, and it is critical to understanding the current debate over the war against terrorism.  Here in America, the political right routinely accuses the left of being weak in its response to Islamic terrorism.   For example, conservatives often allege that the left’s desire to “understand” the roots of Islamic discontent dilutes American resolve in fighting the enemy.   If this is true, then fortifying the left’s resolve becomes the obvious solution.   My argument is quite different.   It is that the left is the primary reason for Islamic anti-Americanism as well as the anti-Americanism of other traditional cultures around the world.   I intend to show that the left has actively fostered the intense hatred of America that has led to murderous attacks such as 9/11.   If I am right, then no war against terrorism can be effectively fought using the left-wing premises that are now accepted doctrine among mainstream liberals and Democrats.

     The left is responsible for 9/11 in the following ways.   First, the cultural left has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies, especially those in the Islamic world, that are being overwhelmed with this culture.   In addition, the left is waging an aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family and to promote secular values in non-Western cultures.   This campaign has provoked a violent reaction from Muslims who believe that their most cherished beliefs and institutions are under assault.  Further, the cultural left has routinely affirmed the most vicious prejudices about American foreign policy held by radical factions in the Muslim world, and then it has emboldened those factions to attack the United States with the firm conviction that “America deserves it” and that they can do so with relative impunity.   Absent these conditions, Osama Bin Laden would never have contemplated the 9/11 attacks, nor would the United States today be the target of Islamic radicals throughout the world.  Thus when leading figures on the left say, “We made them do this to us,” in a sense they are correct.  They are not correct that “America” is to blame.  But their statement is true in that their actions and their America are responsible for fostering Islamic anti-Americanism in general and 9/11 in particular.  

     We cannot understand any of this without rethinking 9/11.  Only now, with some distance, are we in a position to understand 9/11 and its implications.   So far, we have fundamentally misunderstood the enemy.   Even more tragically, we have misunderstood ourselves.  The mixed results in the “war against terrorism,” the stalemate in Iraq, the seemingly inexhaustible supply of suicide bombers bent on killing Americans, and the public anxiety about America’s Middle East policy, are all the tragic consequence of these errors.  

     Even so, the errors are understandable.   9/11 was a deeply traumatic event.  It produced two reactions: “One America” and “Us vs. Them.”   One America refers to the coming-together of the American tribe, and such tribal unity is typically based on emotional displays of patriotism.  The second reaction was Us vs. Them—a blind rage toward the enemy.   The immediate desire was to annihilate, not understand, the attacker.      

     The early statements by the Bush administration reflected this unified belligerence.  The terrorists are stateless outlaws.  They are not Muslims. They are apostates to Islam.  True Muslims must denounce them.  They are fanatics.  They are lunatics.  They are suicidal maniacs who don’t care about their lives.   These themes were echoed across the political spectrum.   Now, with reflection and more information, we can see that these statements are false.  Specifically, the terrorists were not stateless outlaws.  The Al Qaeda training camps were supported by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.   As their diaries showed, the terrorists were deeply pious Muslims.  Traditional Muslims were reluctant to denounce them as apostates to Islam because they were not apostates to Islam.   Nor were they lunatics or even suicidal in the conventional sense.  By definition a suicide is someone who doesn’t want to live.   The terrorists wanted to live, but they were willing to die for a cause that they deemed higher.   Not that they loved their life less, but they hated America more.

     Once the initial shock subsided, so did the national unity it had produced.  Soon a heated debate broke out in America about the meaning of 9/11 and the ongoing “war against terrorism,” a debate that quickly broke down into partisan camps: the left versus the right, the liberals versus the conservatives, Blue America versus Red America. In a moment of genuine indignation, left-wing activist Michael Moore conveyed how large a chasm separates the two Americas.  Reacting to 9/11, Moore posted the following message on his website.  “Many families have been devastated tonight. This is just not right.  They did not deserve to die.  If someone did this to get back to Bush then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him!   Boston, New York, D.C., and the planes’ destination of California—these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!”[i]   Moore’s eruption, read with hindsight, seems slightly comic.  It’s hard to imagine Bin Laden and his associates distinguishing between Bush supporters and Bush opponents for the purpose of launching attacks.   The most striking aspect of Moore’s statement, however, is its implication that Al Qaeda hit the wrong target.   According to Moore, they should have hit Red America, not Blue America!   However objectionable this may seem to many Americans, Moore’s statement is important because of the connection it instinctively makes between two apparently disparate events: a) the 9/11 attacks, and b) the internal divide between Red America and Blue America.  I believe that the significance of this divide for understanding 9/11 and the “war against terrorism” has not been adequately appreciated.

     On the other side of the spectrum, the fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell confirmed in equally strong terms his perception of the political divide, even while invoking God’s wrath on the sinners in Blue America.   “The Lord has protected us so wonderfully these past 225 years,” Falwell said.  He worried that something “has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil.”  Falwell did not shrink from specifying, “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked.   I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say: You helped this happen.”[ii]  Unlike Moore, Falwell was fiercely denounced for his comments, and he promptly apologized for them.  

     These words are not insightful in the theological sense that Falwell intended.   I cannot make sense of Falwell’s suggestion that God used 9/11 to punish America for its sins.  If God was aiming for the abortionists and the feminists and the homosexuals, it seems He mostly killed stockbrokers and soldiers and janitors (some of whom may have been homosexual, but few of whom probably had second jobs as abortionists.)  The real issue raised by Falwell’s comments is entirely secular.  What impact did the abortionists, the feminists, the homosexual activists and the secularists have on the Islamic radicals who conspired to blow up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?   Unfortunately this crucial question got buried, and virtually no one has raised it publicly.  

     Why is it so maddeningly difficult, even years after the fact, to make sense of 9/11? One reason is that the very terms used by both sides in the debate are misleading.   Consider the very name of the war America is fighting: a War Against Terrorism.   But America is no more fighting a “war against terrorism” than during World War II it was fighting a “war against kamikazism.”  No, during World War II the United States was fighting the armies of Imperial Japan.   Kamikazism was simply the tactic or strategy used by the enemy.   In the same vein, America today is not fighting against “terrorism.”   There are terrorist groups all over the world: the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Maoist rebels in Nepal, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the Shining Path guerillas in Peru.  Is America at war with all these groups?  Of course not.   The war is against a virulent species of Islamic radicalism.  Terrorism is merely the weapon of choice used by the enemy to intimidate and kill us.  In this sense Bin Laden is not so much a terrorist as he is a religious ideologue who has chosen terrorism as the most effective way to achieve his goals.


     It’s time go back to the drawing board, and the logical place to start is the debate over 9/11.  On the left, scholars like Edward Said, Richard Falk and Noam Chomsky have argued that 9/11 was the result of Islamic anger over American foreign policy.  In this view, echoed by politicians like Ted Kennedy and liberal magazines like The American Prospect, the radical Muslims don’t hate us because of who we are, they hate us because of what we’ve done to them.  As leftist commentators never tire of pointing out, the West has a long history of colonialism and imperialism.  Even today, they say, America one-sidedly supports Israel and props up dictatorial regimes (notably Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) in the Muslim world.  The left-wing view can be summed up this way: they are justifiably furious at us because we are the bad guys.

     The word that deserves our most careful attention in the previous sentence is “we.”  When the left says “we” it doesn’t mean “we.”   The left’s “we” is not intended as self-incrimination. This is why the conservative complaint about “liberal guilt” is so beside the point.  Liberals do not consider themselves guilty in the slightest.   When a leftist politician or blogger bemoans “how we overthrew Mossadegh in Iran” or expresses outrage at “what we did at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib,” the speaker does not mean “what I and other people like me did.”  In formulations like this, “we” really means “you.”  The apparent confession is really a disguised form of accusation.  The liberal’s point is that Bush is guilty, conservatives are guilty, America is guilty.   Specifically, the liberal is saying to the conservative, “Your America is responsible for this.  Your America is greedy, selfish, imperialist.  Your America extols the principles of democracy and human rights, but in practice backs savage dictators for the purpose of maintaining American access to Middle Eastern oil.”  Thus without saying so directly, the left holds the right and its conduct of American foreign policy responsible for 9/11.  

     On the social and cultural front, the American left clearly does not approve of the way of life in Muslim countries, partly those under the sway of Islamic fundamentalism.    It is common to see left-wingers walking around with clothes featuring the swashbuckling visage of Che Guevara, but you will never see liberals and leftists wearing T-shirts displaying the raven’s stare of the Ayatollah Khomeini.  Indeed, the left detests the social conservatism that is the hallmark of the whole swath of cultures stretching from the Middle East to China.   Those cultures are viewed by many Western liberals as backward, hierarchical, patriarchal, and deeply oppressive.  And of these cultures none seem to be more reactionary than Islamic culture.  Indeed the regimes supported by the Islamic fundamentalists are undoubtedly the most illiberal in the modern world.   In Iran, for example, the ruling regime routinely imprisons its critics who are dubbed “enemies of Islam.”  Public floggings have been used to make an example of women found guilty of fornication.   Homosexuality is harshly punished in fundamentalist regimes.  The Taliban, for instance, had a range of penalties.  As one Taliban leader explained, “One group of scholars believes you should take these people to the top of the highest building in the city, and hurl them to their deaths. The other recommends that you dig a pit near a wall somewhere, put these people into it, and then topple the wall so they are buried alive.”[iii]

     Even so, it is rare to see the illiberal practices of Muslim cultures aggressively denounced by American or European liberals.   There are a few notable exceptions, such as Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman.   But in general liberals seem to condemn illiberal regimes only when they are allied with the United States.  Nor do liberals seem eager to support American efforts to overthrow hostile, illiberal regimes.  Berman, who supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq, counts “maybe fifteen or twenty” liberals who shared his position on this issue.[iv]  If the case of Iraq is any indication, most liberals actively oppose American efforts to use military power to install regimes that are more pro-American and pro-Western and embody a more liberal set of values, such as self-government, minority rights, and religious tolerance.  Indeed the central thrust of the left’s foreign policy is to prevent America from forcibly replacing illiberal regimes with more liberal ones.  This is a genuine mystery.

     Liberal resistance to American foreign policy cannot be explained as a consequence of pacifism or even a reluctance to use force.  With the exception of a few fringe figures, the cultural left is not pacifist.  Its elected representatives—the Clintons, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer—frequently support the use of American force.  For instance, President Clinton ordered systematic bombings in Bosnia and Kosovo during his terms in office.  Clinton’s airstrikes were warmly endorsed in speeches by liberal Democrats such as Boxer, Paul Wellstone, David Bonior and Carl Levin.  Cultural liberals routinely call for America to intervene, by force if necessary, in places like Haiti and Rwanda.   So liberals are not in principle opposed to “regime change” or to American intervention.

     How, then, can we explain the mystery of liberal opposition to American foreign policy acting to secure liberal principles abroad?   Superficially, the left’s position can be explained by its attachment to multiculturalism.   In other words, liberal antagonism toward the beliefs and mores of traditional cultures is moderated by its conviction, “Who are we to judge these cultures?”  This concept of withholding judgment is a product of multiculturalism and cultural relativism, both of which are based on the theory that there are no universal standards to judge other cultures.  Our standards apply only to us.  

     But again, this multicultural rhetoric is a smoke-screen.  Liberal activists mercilessly condemn other regimes and cultures when they are friendly toward the United States.  In the past liberals showed no hesitation to condemn the Philippines under Marcos, Nicaragua under Somoza, or even Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (as long as America was allied with Hussein during the 1980s).   Today liberal Congressmen and talk show hosts are quick to deride pro-American despots like Egypt’s Mubarak or the Saudi royal family.  As a practical matter, liberal multiculturalism only inhibits liberal condemnation and liberal judgment when the regime in question is a sworn enemy of the United States.   The suspicion of treason, although distasteful, is inevitable.   What else could account for this bizarre double-standard?   Why would so many liberals oppose American foreign policy actions even when they would advance liberal principles abroad?

     Treason is not the problem.  To see what is, let us consider two revealing exhibits.  The first is a short article by a left-leaning writer, Kristine Holmgren, that appeared shortly after 9/11.  Holmgren wrote, “Even in my waking hours, I am afraid.”  Was she afraid of a second 9/11-style attack?  Not at all.   “Nor am I afraid of planes striking my home or my children dying in their beds.”  What, then, was the source of Holmgren’s trepidation?   “My fears are more practical,” she explained.   Here in America, Holmgren wrote, the forces of Christian fundamentalism are gaining strength.  They are threatening abortion rights and civil liberties.  “My local school district is so afraid of adolescent sexuality, drug use and music videos that they are willing to suspend civil rights to proselytize for Jesus Christ.”   Holmgren concludes on a grim note.  “Fascism crept upon post-World War I Europe with the same soft, calm footsteps it is using these days in the United States.”[v]  Here in clear view is the cultural left’s mindset.  Just two months after 9/11, with its memory still fresh in the national consciousness, Holmgren candidly confesses that she is less scared of Bin Laden than she is of Christian activists on her school board.  In her view Bin Laden might do episodic damage, but the Christians are on their way to establishing a fascist theocracy in America!

     For my second exhibit I offer excerpts from Senator Robert Byrd’s recent book Losing America.   In an early chapter, Byrd faults President Bush for his repeated references to the Islamic radicals as evil.  “Presidents must measure their words and look past such raw simplicities,” Byrd opined.  “The notion of ‘evil’ and ‘evildoers’ tends to set one faith against another and could be seen as a slur on the Islamic faith.   Bush’s draconian ‘them’ versus ‘us,’ ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ serves little purpose other than to divide and inflame.”[vi]   On the face of it, this passage seems to suggest Byrd’s high-minded objection to using crude terms like good and evil to describe the world we live in.  Byrd’s point is that even if those labels are superficially descriptive, we should avoid them because they create unnecessary hostility and division. 

     A little later on in Byrd’s book, however, we find Byrd comparing President Bush to Hermann Goering and the Nazis.   Byrd accuses Bush of “capitalizing on the war for political purposes—using the war as a tool to win elections” which is “an affront to the men and women we are sending to fight and die in a foreign land and without good reason.”  Moreover, Byrd charges Bush with “a political gambit to keep the American people fearful” through a strategy of “silencing opposition” and diverting people’s attention toward the war on terror and away from “the country’s festering problems.”[vii]  Now if these charges are true, if Bush has concocted an unnecessary war that causes the deaths of American citizens for no reason other than to benefit himself politically, then he deserves impeachment and everlasting disgrace.   Indeed in some ways Bush would be worse than Goering because at least Goering believed in a cause larger than himself. 

     By these accusations, Byrd forces us to revise our interpretation of his earlier words.  He shows, by implication rather than outright suggestion, that he agrees with Bush that some people are fundamentally evil and they deserve to be treated as such.   Only in Byrd’s analysis it is the Bush administration and its allies, rather than the Islamic radicals, who are the genuinely evil force in the world.   Thus dividing and inflaming, which Byrd thinks a harsh and self-defeating strategy in dealing with Islamic fundamentalism, is precisely Byrd’s strategy in dealing with the Bush administration.

     These examples show the wrong-headedness of the insinuation of liberal treachery.   Holmgren and Byrd don’t hate America.  What they hate is conservative America.  The two are fiercely loyal to the American values that they cherish, and it is in the name of those values that they are ready to take on the Bush administration.   The lesson of these examples is that the cultural left is unwilling to fight a serious and sustained battle against Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism because it is fighting a more threatening political battle against American conservatism and American fundamentalism.   The left cannot support Bush’s efforts to promote liberal democracy abroad because it is more important for the left to reverse the nation’s conservative tide by defeating Bush and his socially conservatives allies at home.  In other words, the left’s war is not against bearded Muslims who wear long robes and carry rifles; it is against pudgy white men who wear suits and carry bibles.  While the left is certainly not comfortable with Islamic mullahs, it is vastly more terrified of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Antonin Scalia, James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh.  

     Why?  From the vantage point of many liberals, our fundamentalists are as dangerous as their fundamentalists, and President Bush is no less a threat than Bin Laden.   Author Salman Rushdie, who should know something about this topic, asserts that “the religious fundamentalism of the United States is as alarming as anything in the much-feared world of Islam.”[viii]   Columnist Maureen Dowd accused the Bush administration of following the lead of Islamic fundamentalists in “replacing science with religion, and facts with faith” and creating in the process “jihad in America…a scary, paranoid, regressive reality.”[ix]  Author and illustrator Art Spiegelman asserts, “We’re equally threatened by Al Qaeda and our own government.”[x]  Pursuing the equation between Islamic fundamentalists and the Bush administration, columnist Wendy Kaminer described 9/11 as a “faith-based initiative.”[xi]   

     But if the left sees Christian fundamentalism in the same way as Islamic fundamentalism, why doesn’t it fight the two with equal resolution?   If Bush is as bad as Bin Laden, why not expend equal effort to get rid of both?  In reality, the cultural left is more indignant over Bush’s Christian fundamentalism than over Bin Laden’s Islamic fundamentalism.  Activist Cindy Sheehan makes this clear when she alleges that “the biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush.”[xii]   Other leading figures on the left confirm the view that Bush and his supporters, not Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, are the real problem.  Social critic Edward Said, who has spent most of his career warning of the dangers of overestimating the threat of Islamic extremism, warns in a recent book that “the vast number of Christian fanatics in the United States,” who form “the core of George Bush’s support,” now represent “a menace to the world.”[xiii]   Jonathan Raban writes, “The greatest military power in history has shackled its deadly hardware to the rhetoric of fundamentalist Christianity.”[xiv]  Writer Jane Smiley finds the people who voted for Bush to be “predatory and resentful, amoral, avaricious, and arrogant…They are full of original sin and have a taste for violence.”[xv]   Eric Alterman fumes in The Nation, “Extremist right-wingers enjoy a stranglehold on our political system.”[xvi]  Author Jonathan Schell insists that “Bush’s abuses of presidential power are the most extensive in American history.”[xvii]  Author Garry Wills alleges that the Bush administration “weaves together a chain of extremisms encircling the polity…forming a necklace to choke the large body of citizens.”[xviii]   There is no indication that these liberal authorities regard Islamic fundamentalism with anything approaching this degree of alarm.  

     The rhetoric of left-wing political leaders is equally revealing.  In examining speeches by Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or Edward Markey, I am struck by what may be called “the indignation gap,” the vastly different level of emotion that the speaker employs in treating Bin Laden and his allies as opposed to Bush and his allies.  At first the speaker will offer a ritual condemnation of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  “I am no fan of Osama Bin Laden.” “We can agree that Bin Laden is not a very nice guy.” Having gotten those qualifications out of the way, the left-wing politician will spend the rest of the speech lambasting the Bush conservatives with uncontrolled belligerence and ferocity.  In recent addresses Senator Kennedy denounced “the rabid reactionary religious right” and maintained that “no president in America’s history has done more damage to our country than George W. Bush.”[xix]   Senator Hillary Clinton accuses the Bush White House and the Republican Congress of “systematically weakening the democratic traditions and institutions on which this country was built.   They are turning back the clock on the twentieth-century.  There has never been an administration…more intent upon consolidating and abusing power.   It’s very hard to stop people who have no shame…who have never been acquainted with the truth.”[xx]   Congressman Edward Markey darkly warned, “They wish to wipe us out.”[xxi]

     The “us” that Markey is concerned about here is not “Americans” in general but specifically “liberals and leftists.”  Here, then, is a revealing clue to the motives of the left.   Many in this camp are more exercised by Bush than they are about Bin Laden because, as they see it, Islamic fundamentalism threatens to impose illiberal values abroad while American fundamentalism of the Bush type threatens to impose illiberal values at home.  As leading figures on the left see it, the Islamic extremists pose a danger to the freedom and lifestyle of others while their American equivalents pose a danger to us.   Thus, for the left, the enemy at home is far more consequential and frightening than the enemy abroad. 


     I want to say more about these liberal fears, but first I want to say a word about the conservative or right-wing understanding of 9/11.  It is a common belief on the right that many Muslims—perhaps most Muslims—hate America because of a deep religious and cultural divide between our civilization and theirs.   In this view, popularized by scholars such as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, Western civilization stands for modern values such as prosperity, freedom, and democracy, which the Muslim world rejects.  In this conservative view, Islamic radicals lash out at us because they blame us for problems of poverty and tyranny that are actually the fault of Muslims themselves.   One variant of this position holds that the radical Muslims are simply envious of American wealth and power. 

     How, then, do conservatives think America should respond to Muslim antagonism?  Some on the right, like Pat Buchanan, as well as some libertarians, argue that the best way for America to protect itself from Muslim rage is to withdraw from the Middle East—to retreat behind our own borders.  But the majority on the right, led by the Bush administration, insists that America has no choice but to fight the Islamic radicals because if we don’t defeat them over there, they will bring the battle to us here.  Most conservatives seem to agree with Bush that war is the best and only option.  The general view on the right is that Bin Laden and the Islamic radicals don’t despise us for what we do, they despise us for who we are.  As President Bush has said, on various occasions, “They hate us because of our freedom.”

     But is this really true?  There is no evidence that Muslims—or even the Islamic fundamentalists—hate the West because the West is modern, or because the West embodies technology, prosperity, and democracy. There is a universal desire for prosperity in today’s world, and the Islamic world is no exception.  Moreover, Islamic fundamentalists are not opposed to technology; it is technology that enables them to build bombs and fly planes into buildings.   Many Al Qaeda operatives have scientific and technical (as opposed to religious) training.  Even among Islamic fundamentalists, freedom is rarely condemned and the term is often used in a positive sense, as in “Let us free ourselves from Western domination” or “Let us liberate Muslim land from Israeli occupation.”  Finally, there is widespread support for democracy in the Muslim world.  While Bin Laden is an enemy of democracy, most of the organizations of radical Islam, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, have become champions of democracy.  The reason is quite simple: the Islamic radicals have seen that if their countries have free elections, their group can win!  

     Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, graffiti began to appear on the walls of the city and its environs.  The following scrawl caught my attention.  “Marriage of the same sex became legal in America.  Is this, with the mafia and drugs, what you want to bring to Iraq, America?  Is this the freedom you promised?”[xxii]  Even if the source of this statement is of little consequence, the content is revealing.  It is not an objection to freedom, but to the kind of freedom associated with drug legalization and homosexual marriage.  As such, it is a vital clue to the sources of Muslim rage.  And here is an excerpt from a recent videotape by Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy of Bin Laden and reputed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.  “The freedom we want is not the freedom to use women as a commodity to gain clients, win deals, or attract tourists; it is not the freedom of AIDS and an industry of obscenities and homosexual marriages; it is not the freedom of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.”[xxiii] 

     What these statements convey is that these Islamic radicals do not hate America because of its wealth and power; they hate America because of how Americans use that wealth and power.  They do not hate us for our freedom; they hate us because of what we do with our freedom.  The radical Muslims are convinced that America and Europe have become sick, demented societies that destroy religious belief, undermine traditional morality, dissolve the patriarchal family, and corrupt the innocence of children.  The term that Islamic radicals use to describe Western influence is firangi.  The term means “Frankish” disease, and it refers to syphilis, a disease that Europeans first introduced to the Middle East.[xxiv]  Today Muslims use the term in a metaphorical sense, to describe the social and moral corruption produced by the virus of Westernization.

     The Muslims who hate us the most are the ones who have encountered Western decadence, either in the West or in their own countries.  The revealing aspect of the 9/11 terrorists is not that so many came from Saudi Arabia, but that so many of them, like the ring-leader Muhammad Atta and his Hamburg group, had lived in and been exposed to the West.   My point is that their hatred was not a product of ignorance but of familiarity; not of Wahhabi indoctrination but of first-hand observation.  

     But isn’t it true, as many Americans believe, that American culture is broadly appealing around the world?   Yes, and this is precisely why America and not Europe is the main target of the Islamic radicals.  Decadence is arguably far worse in Europe than America, and Europe has had its share of attacks, such as the Madrid train bombing of 2004 and the London subway bombing of 2005.   But even in those cases the European targets were picked because of their governments’ support for America.  The Islamic radicals focus on America because they recognize that it is the leader of Western civilization or, as they sometimes put it, “the greatest power of the unbelievers.”  Bin Laden himself said in a 1998 interview, “What prompted us to address the American government is the fact that it is the head of the Western and crusading forces in their fight against Islam and against Muslims.”[xxv]   Moreover, Muslims realize that it is American culture and values that are penetrating the far corners of the globe, corroding ancient orthodoxies, and transforming customs and institutions.   Many Americans, whatever their politics, generally regard such change as healthy and good.  But this attitude is not shared in traditional societies, and it is virtually nonexistent in the Muslim world. America is feared and despised there not in spite of its cultural allure but because of it. 

     An anecdote will illustrate my point.  Some time ago I saw an interview with a Muslim sheikh on a European TV channel.   The interviewer told the sheikh, “I find it curious and hypocritical that you are so anti-American, considering that two of your relatives are living and studying in America.”   The sheikh replied, “But this is not hypocritical at all.  I concede that American culture is appealing, especially to young people.   If you put a young man into a hotel room and give him dozens of pornography tapes, he is likely to find those appealing as well.  What America appeals to is everything that is low and disgusting in human nature.”  

     There seems to be a growing belief in traditional cultures—a belief encouraged but by no means created by Islamic fundamentalism—that America is materially prosperous but culturally decadent.    It is technologically sophisticated but morally depraved.  As former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto puts it, “Within the Muslim world, there is a reaction against the sexual overtones that come across in American mass culture.  America is viewed through this prism as an immoral society.”[xxvi]   In his book The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis rehearses what he calls the “standard litany of American offenses recited in the lands of Islam” and ends with this one:  “Yet the most powerful accusation of all is the degeneracy and debauchery of the American way of life.”[xxvii]   As these observations suggest, what angers religious Muslims is not the American Constitution but the scandalous sexual mores they see on American movies and television.   What disgusts them are not free elections but the sights of hundreds of homosexuals kissing each other and taking marriage vows.   The person that horrifies them the most is not John Locke but Hillary Clinton.

     In other cultures—China, Nigeria, India—there are similar concerns that American culture and values are destroying the moral basis of those traditional societies.  This resistance is summed up in a slogan often used by Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew:  Modernization without Westernization.[xxviii]  What this means is that traditional cultures want prosperity and technology, but they don’t want to become like America.  The Islamic fundamentalists are the most extreme and politically mobilized segment of this global resistance.   What distinguishes them is the depth of their repulsion, and their willingness to fight and to die to repel American influence from their part of the world.  

     The main reason is that they believe that the fate of Islam is at stake.  Bin Laden in one of his videos said that Islam faces the greatest threat it has faced since Muhammad.[xxix]  How could he possibly think this?  Not because of U.S. troops in Mecca.  Not even because of Israel.  The threat Bin Laden is referring to is an infiltration of American values and mores into the life of Muslims, transforming their society and destroying their religious beliefs.   Even the term “Great Satan,” so commonly used to denounce America in the Muslim world, is better understood when we recall that in the traditional understanding, shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Satan is not a conqueror; he is a tempter.  In one of its best-known verses, the Koran describes Satan as “the insidious one who whispers into the hearts of men.”  


      These concerns prompt a startling thought: are the radical Muslims right?   Is America a threat to the traditional cultures of the world?  Is American culture a worldwide destroyer of morals?  Do American values undermine the traditional family and corrupt the innocence of children?   Many Americans are likely to indignantly answer, “No.”  Even conservatives are reluctant to admit that some radical Muslims may have valid objections to American society.   Patriotism itself seems to demand an American response that highlights the horrors of Islamic behavior.  “Look how your religion inspires terrorists to kill women and children!” “Look how you oppress women!”  As broad judgments on Muslim society, these charges are ethnocentric, which is to say they reflect a narrow, prejudiced view of Islamic culture.  But even if the charges were true, they would hardly constitute a vindication of American culture.  

     We should not dismiss the Islamic or traditional critique so easily.   In fact, as our own domestic and cultural debate shows, we know that many of the concerns raised by the radical Muslims are widely-shared in our own society.   Indeed, many conservative and religious Americans agree with the Islamic fundamentalists that American culture has become increasingly vulgar, trivial and disgusting.  I am not merely referring to the reality shows where contestants eat maggots or the talk shows where guests reveal the humiliating details of their sex lives.  I am also referring to “high culture,” to liberal culture that offers itself as refined and sophisticated.  

     Here, for example, is a brief excerpt from Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” a play that won rave reviews and Hollywood accolades and is now routinely performed (according to its own publicity materials) in “more than 20 countries, including China and Turkey.”   In the book version of the play—now sold in translation in Pakistan, India, and Egypt—Ensler offers what she terms “Vagina Occurrences”:  “Glenn Close gets 2,500 people to stand up and chant the word cunt…There is now a Cunt Workshop at Wesleyan University…Roseanne performs ‘What Does Your Vagina Smell Like?” in her underwear for two thousand people…Alanis Morisette and Audra McDonald sing the cunt piece.”[xxx]  And so on.  If all of this makes many Americans uncomfortable and embarrassed—which may be part of Ensler’s objective—one can only imagine how it is received in traditional cultures where the public recitation of such themes and language is considered a grotesque violation of manners and morals.   Nor is Ensler an extreme example.   If the garbage heap of American excess leaves many Americans feeling dirty and defiled at home, what gives America the right to dump it on the rest of the world?

     The debate over popular culture points to a deeper issue.   For the past quarter-century we have been having a “culture war” in this country which has, until now, been viewed as a debate with only domestic ramifications.  I believe that it has momentous global consequences as well.   When we debate hot-button issues like abortion, school prayer, divorce, gay marriage, and so on, we are debating two radically different views of liberty and morality.   Issues like divorce and family breakdown are important in themselves, yet they are ultimately symptoms of a great moral shift that has occurred in American society, one that continues to divide and polarize this country, and one that is at the root of the anti-Americanism of traditional cultures.

     The cultural shift can be described in this way.   Some years ago I read Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation, which describes the virtues of the World War II generation.  I asked myself whether this was truly the “greatest” generation.  Was it greater than the generation of the American founding?  Greater than the civil war generation?  I don’t think so.  The significant thing about the World War II generation  was that it was the last generation.  Last in what way?  It was the last generation to embrace an external code of traditional morality.  Indeed this generation’s great failure was that it was unable to inculcate this moral code in its children.   Thus the frugal, self-disciplined, deferred-gratification generation of World War II produced the spoiled children of the 1960s—the Clinton generation.  

     From the American founding until World War II, there was a widespread belief in this country that there is a moral order in the universe that makes claims on us.  This belief was not unique to Americans.  It was shared by Europeans since the very beginning of Western civilization, and it is held even today by all the traditional cultures of the world.   The basic notion is that morality is external to us, and it is binding on us.  In the past, Americans and Europeans, being for the most part Christian, might disagree with Hindus and Muslims about the exact source of this moral order, its precise content, or how a society should convert its moral beliefs into legal and social practice.   But there was little doubt across the civilizations of the world about the existence of such an order.  Moreover laws and social norms typically reflected this moral consensus.  During the first half of the twentieth-century, the moral order generated some clear American social norms: Go to church.  Be faithful to your wife.  Support your children.  Go when your country calls.  And so on.  The point is not that everyone lived up to the dictates of the moral code, but that it supplied a standard, accepted virtually throughout society, for how one should act. 

     What has changed in America since the 1960s is the erosion of belief in an external moral order. This is the most important political fact of the past half-century.   I am not saying that most Americans today reject morality.   I am saying that there has been a great shift in the source of morality.    Today there is no longer a moral consensus in American society.  Today many Americans locate morality not in a set of external commands but in the imperatives of their own heart.   For them, morality is not “out there” but “in here.”  While many Americans continue to believe in the old morality, there is now a new morality in America which may be called the morality of the inner self, the morality of self-fulfillment. 

     Here, at the deepest level, is the divide between conservatives and liberals, between Red America and Blue America.   Conservatives believe in traditional morality.  Liberals believe in personal autonomy and self-fulfillment.  And liberals have been winning the culture war in the sense that they have been able to produce a massive transformation of American society and culture along the lines of their new moral code.  My point is not that liberals would approve of all the grossness and sensuality of contemporary popular culture, but that the liberal promotion of autonomy, individuality and self-fulfillment as moral ideals make it impossible to question or criticize or place limits on these cultural trends.   In the moral code of self-fulfillment, “pushing the envelope” or testing the borders of sexual and moral tolerance becomes a virtue, and fighting for traditional morality becomes a form of repression or vice. 

     To American liberals, the great social revolution of the past few decades—with its 1.5 million abortions a year, with one in two marriages ending in divorce, with homosexuality coming “out of the closet” and now seeking full social recognition and approval—is viewed through the prism of an expansion of civil liberties, “freedom of choice,” and personal autonomy.  Thus it is seen as a moral achievement.   But viewed from the perspective of people in the traditional societies of the world, notably the Muslim world, these same trends appear nothing less than the shameless promotion of depravity.   So it is not surprising to see pious Muslims react with horror at the prospect of this new American morality seeping into their part of the world.   They fear that this new morality will destroy their religion and way of life, and they are quite right. 

     Osama Bin Laden chose his words carefully when he said that 9/11 was an attempt to scorch “the head of the snake.”[xxxi]  In the view of the Islamic radicals, America is the embodiment of pagan depravity.  According to Bin Laden, this is why religious Muslims must stop fighting local battles and concentrate on destroying Satan’s empire on earth.  This is seen as nothing less than a divine mission.   In Bin Laden’s words, 9/11 showed “America struck by Almighty God its vital organs.”[xxxii]  For the Islamic radicals, 9/11 was a message to America that said, “Your America is a repulsive sewer.  This sewer is now pouring itself into the rest of the world.   We will fight to the death to keep it out of our part of the globe.  In fact, we will fight in any way we can until every vestige of your sick, demented culture is eradicated from the holy ground of Islam.   We may be poor and oppressed, but we would rather be poor and oppressed than become the immoral, perverted society that America has become.  So get the hell out of the Middle East, because you represent the values of the devil.”      


     Thus we have the first way in which the cultural left is responsible for 9/11.  The left has produced a moral shift in American society that has resulted in a deluge of gross depravity and immorality.  This deluge threatens to engulf our society and is imposing itself on the rest of the world.  The Islamic radicals are now convinced that America represents the revival of pagan barbarism in the world, and 9/11 represents their ongoing battle with what they perceive to be the forces of Satan.

     I have focused so far on American cultural depravity and its global impact.  But there is a second way in which the cultural left has helped to produce 9/11.   In the domain of foreign policy, the left has helped to produce the conditions that led to the destruction of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.   First, under Jimmy Carter, the liberals helped to get rid of the Shah of Iran and thus install the Khomeini regime in Iran.  The pretext was the Shah’s human rights failings, but the result was the abdication of the Shah and the triumph of Khomeini.   The Khomeini revolution, which has proved the viability of Islamic theocracy in the modern age, was the match that has lit the conflagration of radicalism and fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world.   It is Khomeini’s success that paved the road to 9/11.

     During the Clinton administration, liberal foreign policy conveyed to Bin Laden and his co-conspirators a strong impression of American vacillation, weakness, and even cowardice.  When Al Qaeda attacked and killed a handful of Marines in Mogadishu in 1993, the Clinton administration withdrew American troops from that country.   When Al Qaeda orchestrated the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, President Clinton responded with a handful of desultory counterstrikes that did little harm to Al Qaeda.   These American actions, Bin Laden has confessed, emboldened him to strike directly at America on September 11, 2001.  

     Now that America is fighting back, seeking to uproot the terrorists and transform the political landscape in the Middle East, the left is fighting hard to prevent that campaign from succeeding.   It does so not simply by resisting at every stage whatever actions are proposed and implemented to win the war, but, just as importantly, it unceasingly fuels the hatred of American foreign policy among Muslims.  It is a common belief among Muslims, for example, that the main reason America consistently sides with Israel is that Americans hate Muslims.   A Muslim lawyer I interviewed in Tunis puts the matter this way.  “I keep hearing,” he says, “that countries base their foreign policy on self-interest.  The self-interest of America is in obtaining access to oil, and we are the ones who have all the oil.  The Israelis don’t have any oil.  So why is America always on the side of Israel and against the Muslims?  Please don’t tell me it’s because Israel is America’s only friend in the Middle East.  After all, Israel is one of the main reasons why so many Muslims are America’s enemy.  So I am forced to conclude that there is only one reason why America acts against it self-interest and backs Israel against the Muslims.  The reason is that Americans hate Arabs.  America is violently opposed to Islam.  So the Christians are making allies with the Jews to get rid of Islam.”  

     This is a relatively articulate expression of one of the central themes of fundamentalist propaganda.  This is the argument that America is a bigoted nation that wants to take over Muslim countries and steal their oil.  In reality this claim is absurd.  Americans do not hate Muslims, and America does not want to occupy the Muslim world or seize its natural resources. America supports Israel for complex reasons of history, common ideology, and the domestic political influence of Jewish Americans.  So this Islamic perception of American foreign policy is utterly wrong.  But it is routinely confirmed by the American left.  The writings of leading leftists affirm that yes, America is a racist power that wants to conquer and plunder non-Western peoples.  Anne Norton writes that anti-Muslim bigotry is now “the unacknowledged cornerstone of American foreign policy.”[xxxiii]  Legal scholar Mari Matsuda insists that “the history of hating Arabs as a race runs strong in the United States” where Arabs are “reviled even more than blacks.”[xxxiv]  Rashid Khalidi contends that America’s actions are based on “wildly inaccurate and often racist stereotypes about Arabs, Islam, and the Middle East.”[xxxv]   Writing in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Edward Said claims that “for decades in America there has been a cultural war against the Arabs and Islam” and that Americas Middle East policy is based on blind hatred for stereotypical “sheikhs and camel jockeys.”[xxxvi]   By confirming Muslims in their worst prejudices, the American left has strengthened their conviction that America is evil and deserves to be destroyed. 

     To repeat—because this a point on which I do not wish to be misunderstood—I am in no sense suggesting that the left is disloyal to America.  To say this is to confuse the success of the Bush administration, or even of American foreign policy, with the interest of the country as a whole.  As we saw earlier with Senator Byrd, the left has its own view of what’s good for America, and it is fiercely loyal to that ideal.  So disloyalty is not the issue.   The issue is why the left is so passive, reluctant, and even oppositional in its stance in the American war on terrorism.  My answer is that the cultural left opposes the war against the radical Muslims because it wants them to succeed in defeating President Bush in particular and American foreign policy in general.  Far from seeking to destroy the movement that Bin Laden and the Islamic radicals represent, the amazing fact is that the American left is secretly allied with that movement to undermine the Bush administration and American foreign policy.   The left would like nothing better than to see America in general, and President Bush in particular, forced out of Iraq.  Although such an outcome would plunge Iraq into further chaos and represent a catastrophic loss for American foreign policy, it would represent a huge win for the cultural left, in fact the left’s greatest foreign policy victory since the Vietnam War.

     The notion that the American left seeks victory for Islamic radicals in Iraq may at first glance seem implausible.  One person who does not think so, however, is Bin Laden.  In his October 30, 2004 videotaped message, apparently timed to precede the presidential election, Bin Laden drew liberally from themes in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 to condemn the Bush administration.   Bin Laden denounced Bush for election-rigging in Florida, for going to war to enrich oil companies and defense contracts like Halliburton, for curtailing civil liberties under the Patriot Act, and for reading stories to school-children while the World Trade Center burned.[xxxvii]  Apart from the rhetorical flourishes of “Praise be to Allah,” Bin Laden sounds exactly like Michael Moore.   And why not?  In opposing President Bush and American foreign policy, they are both on the same side.

     Moreover, several leading figures on the left are very candid about what they are fighting for.  Moore writes, “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘the enemy.’  They are the Revolution, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.”[xxxviii]   Author James Carroll commends the insurgents for exemplifying “the simple stubbornness of human beings who refuse to be told what to think and feel.”[xxxix]   Writing in, Joe Conason calls on Bush to enter into a “negotiated settlement” with the Iraqi insurgents, an outcome Conason concedes would be a “defeat for the United States and a perceived victory for Al Qaeda and its allies.”[xl]   Gwyne Dyer states in a recent book, “The United States needs to lose the war in Iraq as soon as possible.  Even more urgently, the whole world needs the United States to lose the war in Iraq.”[xli]   Activist Arundhati Roy declares on behalf of the left, “We must consider ourselves at war.”[xlii]  What she means is that the left is fighting a political battle not against Al Qaeda or Islamic fundamentalism but rather against the Bush administration. 

      In placing the cultural left and the Islamic fundamentalists on the same side, I am not trying to score a partisan or even an ideological point.  In fact, if the political left and the Islamic fundamentalists are in the same foreign policy camp, then by the same token the political right and the Islamic fundamentalists are on the same wavelength on social issues.  To put it bluntly, the left is allied with some radical Muslims in opposition to American foreign policy, and the right is allied with an even larger group of Muslims in their opposition to American social and cultural depravity.   This is the essential new framework for understanding American foreign policy and American social issues.  I conclude by spelling out the implications of these alignments for American conservatives.    

     In a way, conservatives are in the best position to understand why traditional cultures fear and hate America.  That’s because conservatives share many of the moral concerns of traditional people.  The right should not be deaf to complaints about the dissolution of religious and family ties, because it worries about those things in this country.  The right understands the implications of the erosion of traditional morality, because it has seen the consequences of that erosion in the United States. Thus the right can play an important mediating role in helping America and the traditional cultures of Asia, Africa and Latin America to understand each other better.

     But so far the right has kept its blinders on since 9/11.  The isolationist right labors under the illusion that America can retreat behind its borders and fight a one-front battle against the cultural left at home.  As a practical matter, this is foolish.  Islamic hatred of America will not go away if American troops come home because this hatred is not based on the presence of American troops abroad.  Hasty withdrawals from Afghanistan or Iraq will further embolden Bin Laden and his allies and make the United States less, not more, safe. 

     The right’s myopia, however, is not confined to the Buchanan and libertarian wings.  Mainstream conservatives (including the Bush administration) understand better the military need to take the war to the enemy, and also appreciate that there is a political battle to be fought against the left at home.  But most conservatives do not see how these two battles are related to each other.   Moreover, the Bush administration is wrong to see the war against Islamic radicalism as a purely military operation.    The military component is indispensable, but it is not sufficient to achieve victory.  The reason the war seems endless is that the ranks of the enemy continue to grow.   It is simply not possible to kill all the terrorists because the engine of Islamic rage is powerful enough to keep generating more of them.  The only way to win the war is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.  

     To date, the Bush administration has made no serious attempt to articulate the moral case for American foreign policy to Muslims (or to anyone else).  Many conservatives compound the problem by defending American decadence against the foreigners who hate and fear it.   Shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration began consulting Hollywood executives and Madison Avenue executives to market “brand America” abroad.   To this day the administration persists with this foolishness.  Strangely enough what the administration is promoting is liberal solutions—separation of church and state, feminism and the idea of the working woman—together with the debased values of American popular culture.  Of course these “solutions” only compound the problem.  They further alienate traditional Muslims and push them toward the fundamentalist camp.  So the liberals are correct, in a sense, that U.S. policy is “creating more terrorists,” but not for the reasons they think.

     The Bush administration and the conservatives must stop promoting American popular culture because it is producing a blowback of Muslim rage.  With a few exceptions, the right should not bother to defend American movies, music, and television.  From the point of view of traditional values, they are indefensible.  Moreover, why should the right stand up for the left’s debased values?  Why should our people defend theirAmerica?  Rather, American conservatives should join the Muslims and others in condemning the global moral degeneracy that is produced by liberal values.

     American foreign policy should stand up for liberal values, but not for the liberal values associated with the cultural left.  Rather, it must work to promote classical liberal ideas abroad.   As conservatives, we should export our America.   That means introducing in places in Iraq the principles of self-government, majority rule, minority rights, free enterprise, and religious toleration.  But we must stop exporting the cultural left’s America.  That means we should stop insisting on radical secularism, stop promoting the feminist conception of the family, stop trying to promote abortion and “sex education,” and we should try and halt the export of the vulgar and corrupting elements of our popular culture.   When we cannot do these things, we should apologize to the rest of the world and make it clear that we too find a good deal in this culture to be embarrassing and disgusting.

     There is no “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West.  But there are two clashes of civilizations that are shaping the world today.  The first is a clash between liberal and conservative values within America.  The second is a clash between traditional Islam and radical Islam, a clash within Islamic society.   So realize it or not, American conservatives are fighting a two-front war.  The first is a war against Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism.  The second is a political struggle against the left and its pernicious political and moral influence in America and around the globe.  My conclusion is that the two wars are intimately connected.  In fact, we cannot win the first war without also winning the second war.


[i]  Michael Moore, “Death, Downtown,” September 12, 2001,

[ii]  “You Helped This Happen,” Transcript of remarks by Jerry Falwell on the September 13 edition of the 700 Club; “Falwell Apologizes to Gays, Feminists, Lesbians,”, posted September 14, 2001.

[iii]  Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001, p. 115.

[iv]  Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism, W. W. Norton, New York, 2000, p. 7.

[v]  Kristine Holmgren, “Nightmare of Fascism Seems Too Real Since Sept. 11 Attacks,”  St. Paul Pioneer Press, November 20, 2001.

[vi]  Robert Byrd, Losing America, W.W. Norton, New York, 2004, p. 91.

[vii]  Id., p. 129, 178. 

[viii]  Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands, Viking, New York, 1991, p. 389.

[ix]  Maureen Dowd, “Rove’s Revenge,” New York Times, November 7, 2004.

[x]  Nina Siegal, “The Progressive Interview: Art Spiegelman,” The Progressive, January 2005, p. 37.

[xi]  Wendy Kaminer, “Our Very Own Taliban,” The American Prospect, online edition, September 17, 2001.

[xii]  Transcript of Cindy Sheehan remarks, rally in support of Lynne Stewart, San Francisco State University, April 27, 2005,

[xiii]  Edward Said, From Oslo to Iraq, Pantheon Books, New York, 2004, p. 229.

[xiv]  Jonathan Raban, “September 11: The View From the West,” New York Review of Books, September 22, 2005, p. 8.

[xv]  Jane Smiley, “Why Americans Hate Democrats,” November 4, 2004,

[xvi]  Eric Alterman, “Corrupt, Incompetent and Off-Center,” The Nation, November 7, 2005, p. 12.

[xvii]  Jonathan Schell, “The Hidden State Steps Forward,” The Nation, January 9, 2006.

[xviii]  Garry Wills, “Fringe Government,” New York Review of Books, October 6, 2005, p. 48.

[xix]  Statement of Senator Edward Kennedy on the Federal Marriage Amendment, July 13, 2004; Statement of Senator Edward Kennedy on Iraq, September 10, 2004.

[xx]  Cited by Kate O’Beirne, “Hillary Prepares,” National Review, October 10, 2005, p. 34.

[xxi]  Cited by Lewis Lapham, “Democracyland,” Harper’s, March 2005, p. 8.

[xxii]  “Iraq 182,” collected and translated by Amir Nayef al-Sayegh, Harper’s, November 2004, p. 19.

[xxiii]  “Al Qaeda Number Two Hits Out at U.S. in New Audiotape,” Agence France-Presse, February 11, 2005.

[xxiv]  Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993, p. 35.

[xxv]  “Interview: Osama Bin Laden,” Frontline, May 1998,

[xxvi]  Benazir Bhutto, “Western Media: The Prism of Immorality,” New Perspectives Quarterly, Fall 1998, p. 32.

[xxvii]  Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam, Modern Library Press, New York, 2003, p. 80-81.

[xxviii]  Fareed Zakaria, “Culture is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew,” Foreign Affairs, March-April 1994.

[xxix]  Neil MacFarquhar, “Bin Laden Denounces Muslim Infidels,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 4, 2001, p. A-3.

[xxx]  Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues, Villard, New York, 2001, p. xxviii-xxix.

[xxxi]  Cited in The 9/11 Commission Report, W.W. Norton, New York, 2004, p. 54.

[xxxii]  “Bin Laden’s Statement: The Sword Fell,” New York Times, October 8, 2001, p. B-7.

[xxxiii]  Anne Norton, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004, p. 216.

[xxxiv]  Mari Matsuda, “A Dangerous Place,” Boston Review, December 2002-January 2003.

[xxxv]  Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire, Beacon Press, Boston, 2004, p. xi.

[xxxvi]  Reprinted in Edward Said, The Politics of Dispossession, Vintage Books, New York, 1995, p. 298.

[xxxvii]  Transcript of Osama Bin Laden speech, October 30, 2004;

[xxxviii]  Michael Moore, “Heads Up,” April 14, 2004,

[xxxix]  James Carroll, Crusade, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2004, p. 3.

[xl]  Joe Conason, “Bush’s Ideological Quagmire,” September 24, 2005,

[xli]  Gwynne Dyer, Future Tense, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2004, p. 9.

[xlii]  Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, South End Press, Boston, 2004, p. 94.


D'Souza's Denile Dementia, April 14, 2007

By !Edwin C. Pauzer (New York City) -


Six years after the attack of September 11, 2001, Dinesh D'Souza presents a rationale for the attack by Muslim extremists on our country. With his customary lucid writing style and clarity of composition, he hypothesizes that liberal, left-wing, and radical Americans are indirectly responsible for the attack, hence the title "The Enemy At Home."


He constructs the following: The "moral decay" promoted by leftist Americans brought a rise in terrorism to strike at our cultural wickedness. He concludes that the attacks would not have occurred if our "left wing influence" did not permeate American culture or Muslim media. In short, left-leaning Americans are responsible for how extremist Muslims think, and more importantly, how they behave. By this logic, we caused the Japanese to attack us at Pearl Harbor because we cut off their supply of iron.


Next, he accuses a liberal press of undermining the administration's effort to win the "war on terrorism" in Iraq by not reporting enough of the positive things that we are achieving there. This reflects a distinct change in his writing since he wrote the "End of Racism" and "What's So Great About America," where he asserted that Muslim loss of power and influence was due to their cultural pathology, that Muslims offended by our culture nevertheless, "vote with their feet" to take advantage of the economic opportunity this country provides. He also wrote that people don't want to hear about 16,000 odd planes that land safely everyday, but only want to hear about the one that crashes. And unlike this lame effort, his earlier work is full of footnotes per page, not just endnotes.


He attempts to explain away American torture and rendition claiming that PFC Lindie England was acting out her "blue state moral depravity" when she was abusing and humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib with unusual cruelty. This has all the logic of a psychoanalytic diagnosis made under the influence of a jug of white lightning rather than an insightful probe of the collective unconscious. He fails to mention the FACT that there is a higher rate of divorce, murder, illegitimacy, and teenage births in red states than in the morally depraved blue ones, that "traditional Muslims" in Brooklyn and neighbouring New Jersey enclaves were warbling in celebration at the destruction on 9/11, or that American flags were adorning most homes and modes of transportation here in decadent New York City.


But just when you think D'Souza can't sink any lower, he does. He opines that left-leaning Americans will do anything to win the presidential election in 2008, and that means they will actively undermine the current effort of our military and administration. By this reckoning, republicans were doing the same to our troops in Somalia and Bosnia because they wanted to win the election in 2000.


His remedy is to suggest that there is a common thread between traditional "red state" Americans and traditional Muslims, and that both should unite and eliminate this immoral American influence that "plays into the hands of al'Qaeda." This will, in the author's mind, make traditional Muslims see the light, and pressure their terrorists to give up their murderous pursuits.


Having read a number of D'Souza's works, this hypothesis has all the tinsel strength of a bed of wet kelp. It places a premium on opinion rather than empirical evidence. It reveals an appalling lack of depth and knowledge of terrorism or Islam. For those wishing to learn more about both and what happened at abu Ghraib, I strongly recommend a pass here in favour of Louise Richardson's "What Terrorists Want," General Anthony Zini's "The Battle for Peace," or Dr. Steven Miles' "Oath Betrayed."


This polemic will only leave you culturally, morally, and intellectually starved.



 Insightful & Deeply Disturbing to Liberals , April 5, 2007

By L. C. Robinson "-montana" (Fountain Valley, CA USA)


I have read and reread Mr. D'souza'a new book as well as many of the Amazon reader's reviews. I can see how upsetting the author's book can be to a person who's deeply held - "secular beliefs" bordering on religion - are scrutinized and criticized from a devote Muslims perspective.


Mr. D'souza is not a Muslim however he has spent the last 4-years studying the sermons, speeches and writings of Muslim leaders. The author has not just explored contemporary Islam but has delved into the history of this great religion to better inform the reader in identifying who Muslims really are, moderate and fundamentalist both. All to answer the perplexing question, "Why they hate us?"


Do they hate us for our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our free market economy or that McDonald's restaurants are springing up all over the world? The short answer is no. Nor do they hate us for our freedom. They hate us for how we USE our freedom. They hate is because we have inundated the Middle East and much of the third world with a pervasive, immoral secular based culture that threatens the very foundation of their culture and traditions. If America were under such an attack we would hate the purveyor as well.


Leftists, liberals, atheists and secular crusaders of all stripes will not hear and will not consider that Mr. D'souza may be on to something. Many will scoff and criticize the author without giving his view a fair hearing, as to do so would undermine deeply held convictions that the left in America believes are above criticism. Anyone considering the authors points with merit will immediately be branded, a bigot, racist, homophobe or misogynist. Since the left will not have a logical argument against Mr. D'souza they will use invective as a defence, it is the only defence they have.


I recommend this book to anyone that is open minded enough to consider rational argument.



 Did ANYONE Read this book???, January 21, 2007

By C. Cotten "SimpleSimon" (Richmond, VA)


It seems that every reviewer here read an interview, or saw the author on Comedy Central, then rushed to write a review here loaded only with a vague concept of this book's central themes.


First, it should be noted that the author talks about the motivation behind the book, that in today's public discourse there is very little focus on the cultural aspects of America that could be fomenting hate and terrorism against us. There was a void on the subject which he has filled; as he says, "let the debate begin."


Now whether you ultimately agree with him or not, this IS a debate worth having, not just as it affects our current conflict, but as it informs us as a nation to take a good hard look in the mirror at times.


Many people, usually liberal but not always, are often eager to discuss "why" people hate us, and what WE have done to create such enemies that would be willing to become martyrs in a struggle to defeat us. There is a vague sense that maybe we HAVE done something to earn the title of "great Satan," but there's a difficulty in expressing what this is.


Perhaps it is our military dominance, our heavy-handed diplomacy, or our choice of friends. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Often it comes down to our support of Israel. But to say a discussion concerning how we achieved the status of enemy #1 in the Muslim world is absurd is to ignore many current discussions now taking place.


I encourage people to HAVE this conversation, even if you don't agree with it; it is well worth having. I can say that I have had it, in large part with a group of friends of mine from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. We talk about this topic all the time, and I find what they have to say very credible.


First, many of them grew up watching our TV - I had no idea that 90210 and Cosby played in Turkey and Jordan, but they do. My friends came here because they love America, many people in the Middle East do, even while being conflicted about our culture.


Just as our military and diplomatic weight affects nearly every country in the world, so does our culture. In many of these countries, and others in Asia, there is a sincere and well-founded fear in the effects of American culture on their country, and extremists have seized upon these fears and exploited the concerns of many, especially the religious.


But even in non-religious countries such as China, there is a fear that openness with the West will lead to cultural degradation, a breakdown of family and community, and lead to a moral rotting.


These countries on a regular basis make sure their citizens are aware of the many problems in America; from high illegitimacy, to prostitution, to single parenthood, to drug use, and on and on and on. These people love America, but also fear it. They fear what it will do to them as individuals, as well as their culture. In large part, these people agree with many in middle America who regularly cast their vote for politicians who simultaneously vocally stand against moral corruption in our culture.


To say that these fears are not seized upon by our enemies in a PR campaign to defeat us is to stick your head in the sand. Of course they do, and in fact are at the root of why it is often easy to turn great chunks of the population against us. The Soviet Union has been heavy-handed militarily in the Middle East for years, but they have never earned the status of being a "great Satan" because they never exported their culture.


Now look at today's left in America. They hate Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and every (hypocritical) religious conservative and there Philistine ideas about women, abortion, gays, etc. "Why, they are just a bunch of closed-minded, bigoted, religious fundamentalists!"


But is America's left as scornful of Islamic fundamentalists, who make Jerry Falwell look like Jane Fonda by comparison? Hardly, in fact there is often sympathy for them. The current leader of Iran denies the Holocaust and threatens Israel daily - but where is the outcry against him? The Democrts in Congress attack Bush when he stands up to Iran, not the other way around. New York Times journalists discuss why Ahmenididjad is such a "puzzling" figure.


This guy is a dangerous madman, but he doesn't deserve harsh condemnation from the LEFT; he deserves "understanding." Nice.


Have a look at this book, at least with an open mind. See what it says both about us and our enemies. While I tend to see as the people that want to kill us as the "enemy" we should be mindful of the cultural signals we send that identify our ultimate intentions as a society.


For aiding this discussion, this book deserves more than passing attention or scorn.


Dinesh D'Souza is a conservative author and pundit who gained prominence in the early 1980s through the Dartmouth Review, a bi-weekly college newspaper with a national conservative readership, and who reached something of a Waterloo in 2007 with the near-universally criticized book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11, which sought to blame the 9/11 attacks on such factors as sexual immodesty in America.


Fast Facts

Born: April 25, 1961

Birthplace: Bombay, India

Religion: Roman Catholic

Arrived in U.S. in 1978 through a Rotary International program

Graduated Dartmouth College in 1983

Dated Ann Coulter

Became a U.S. citizen in 1990

Books include The Enemy at Home (2007)

Former fellow of the American Enterprise Institute

Former fellow of the Hoover Institution


D'Souza has often sought and found controversy throughout his career. While he headed the Dartmouth Review, the paper obtained and published correspondence from a campus homosexual group, 'outing' several students. A subsequent article, the anti-affirmative action Dis Sho Ain't No Jive, Bro, was written in minstrel dialect, and caused New York Congressman Jack Kemp to resign from the paper's Advisory Board. D'Souza wrote a series of generally well-received books from a 1984 biography of Jerry Falwell to 1991's polarizing Illiberal Education before 1995's The End of Racism drew fire from both the left and right for allegedly justifying slavery and denying the existence of racism in America.


Conservative Apostasy

Like many conservative authors and pundits, D'Souza has drawn an income from foundation grants and fellowships, allowing for a certain independence from the exigencies of book sales. However, it was allegedly a desire to produce a bestselling title -- like those of Ann Coulter -- that led D'Souza to attempt The Enemy at Home, a book whose arguments against freedom in America were so beyond the comfort level of mainstream conservatism that National Review Online, normally the most casual of conservative venues, published a multi-author symposium attacking it. D'Souza's subsequent book, the pious What's So Great About Christianity, is considered by many as a work of atonement.


Abridged Too Far: The Unmitigated Gall of Dinesh D'Souza




I am a freelance journalist for the weekly San Diego Reader, where, during the last seven years, my profiles, narrative nonfiction, and investigative articles have appeared. This past spring, the Reader published my 12,000-word cover profile of Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza is an Indian-American immigrant who is one of America's prominent conservative authors as well as a skilled debater and right-wing pundit.


D'Souza is best known for two books: Illiberal Education (1991), which attacked affirmative action and political correctness on campus, and The End of Racism (1995), a book still mired in debate because of D'Souza's claims that the economic disadvantage of African-Americans are due to the "pathologies of black culture."


In the first paragraph of my piece, I wrote that he, his wife, and daughter live "in a very big house" in Fairbanks Ranch, a community second only to Rancho Santa Fe as San Diego's most exclusive. I reported that D'Souza has made a lot of money at the American Enterprise Institute as resident scholar. I reported on other money he earned. And I reviewed the many controversies surrounding his work, commenting once or twice about his writing style. My aim was to give the fullest picture I could of him, his background and his conservatism.


The article appeared in print--the cover featured a Chuck Close-like colorized close-up of D'Souza's photo--under the title, "The Controversialist." The piece also appeared on the Reader's website, though I own the copyright. A week later, cover and text were on D'Souza's personal website. I was surprised, for he had not asked my permission.


At once I noticed the phrase "in a very big house" was missing from the first paragraph. I read on. Two paragraphs were gone in which I had criticized one of his recent commentaries. It was a column he wrote about Democrats: because they supported gay rights, they were now the party of "bestiality" and sexual deviance. I read further and found more eviscerations--the paragraphs describing his wife and his home were gone; so, too, was my reporting of his earnings during the 1990s, which he later disputed. Comments by scholars who differed with him and comments by his friends on the Right were left in.


Still, it was clear: D'Souza had combed through the piece, taking out things he didn't like. He didn't write a letter to the Reader seeking clarification of my reporting on his income. Instead, he censored my piece, then brazenly put it on his website.


I don't know what authors feel when they've been plagiarized by other writers--certainly anger and violation. D'Souza's act for me was emotionally no different, though it seemed the opposite of being ripped off. It was a kind of reverse plagiarism where instead of being copied without attribution I was being edited without permission.


Of course, writers are edited by editors, their leads refocused, their endings reduced; whole paragraphs often disappear. But for a writer who is the subject of a profile to edit another writer's work, then put it on his website without declaring it is "used by permission," or, what would be accurate, "used by permission and edited to my liking," is galling to say the least.


What to do? First, I demanded (via email) that he remove it. D'Souza did not. Instead, he told me, in what he describes as a "cordial tone," that he thought the publicity would be good for us both. And, naturally, since it contained personal things (things he revealed to me on two long visits to his home and a trip to Texas to hear him speak), he would rather not have them on his site. Again, no permission asked, no apology offered. He suggested I contact him so we could find a "solution." Perhaps we could just say it's been "abridged."


That word really pissed me off. An abridgement suggests making cuts at the end or making cuts approved of by the author.


My temperature up, I sought a lawyer to write a letter citing copyright law and threatening a lawsuit. I pursued legal action, in part, because I didn't want to deal with D'Souza directly: I felt that would only dilute the principle: this was his theft, and he wanted me, his victim, to arbitrate it for him.


While the lawyer drafted the letter, I realized that I, too, had fallen into the Web's porousness, the widespread looting of intellectual property without regard to copyright that goes on. D'Souza, a Republican committed to a core belief in the principle of private property, who often touts Bush's "ownership society," adopted the self-serving notion that anything on the web belongs to anyone, like toys in a sandbox. People could download or post a person's work as they liked, music or porn being the most abused examples. As the originator, I got nothing but the proposition that I should be a good sport and share my work.


In my email telling him to remove my article, I told D'Souza that had he asked me to put a link on his site to the Reader's site where the piece is archived, then fine. (Others have and I've granted it.) But D'Souza never asked. He assumed. His chief assumption--that I wouldn't mind his parsing my story--rankled me no end.


When he got the lawyer's letter, toothily spelling out the statutory terms for what he had done wrong and for what payment he might be liable, I got yet another galling email from him.


In it, D'Souza blamed me for over-reacting. He wrote again that he thought I wouldn't mind the publicity and that his reasons for not asking permission and for "suggesting a solution" are still valid. "Is this the way you deal with people on a regular basis, by writing them indignant letters and then, ignoring all attempts at dialog and compromise, following up with legal threats? What kind of weird behaviour is this?"


Incredible! I am robbed of $1000 and, to adjudicate, the robber chooses the system of justice he prefers--namely, that we divide up the money because my reaction to being robbed is, well, just too weird for the robber to have to deal with.


Still, after D'Souza's petty attempt to make his crime the equal of my "behaviour," he agreed to remove the piece from his website. Which he did. But not before, as a friend suggested, he generated controversy and used it to serve his self-interest.


Yes, we are a nation of laws, and laws do protect us. But, in this instance, D'Souza has superseded the law by adopting what I would call the law of the righteous, where self-interest is king. The law of the righteous says that it's more important to have faith that you're right, than to be right by some objective or ethical standard you would share with others.


We see the law of righteousness operating everywhere these days, particularly in Washington: in a morally illegitimate invasion of and war on Iraq; in the Bush administration-sanctioned censoring of scientific documents on global warming; in Duke Cunningham's insistence that since he's never smoked a marijuana cigarette his real estate transactions are beyond reproach.


In the end, D'Souza removed his censored version--as the law and I demanded--and then, after reading the permissions statement on the Reader's website, received permission to put a link to my article on his site. There it sits alongside the irony that he could have gotten permission the day it was published to do this: had he asked.

August 16, 2005

Thomas Larson can be reached at: