In his new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, far-right provocateur Dinesh D’Souza argues that Al Qaeda really does hate our freedoms–and so does he. Forget geopolitics–Israel/Palestine, US military bases in Saudi Arabia, our support for assorted corrupt regimes, Arab socioeconomic stagnation. No, 9/11 was provoked by feminism, birth control, abortion, pornography, feminism, Hollywood, divorce, the First Amendment, gay marriage, and did I mention feminism? Muslims fear the West is out to foist its depraved, licentious, secular “decadence” on their pious patriarchal societies. And, D’Souza argues, they’re right. Working mothers! Will & Grace! Child pornography! Our vulgar, hedonistic, gender-egalitarian, virally expanding NGO-promoted values so offend “traditional Muslims” that they have thrown in their lot with Osama and other America-haters. At times D’Souza sounds like he can barely keep from enlisting himself: “American conservatives should join Muslims and others in condemning the global moral degeneracy that is produced by liberal values.”
Well, it’s a theory. Specifically, as D’Souza acknowledges, it’s a secular version of Jerry Falwell’s contention that 9/11 was a divine rebuke to “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.” Of course, Falwell got hammered; even George W. Bush had to distance himself. Besides the obvious objections, God’s aim seemed wide of the mark: Did He think the ACLU had an office in the Pentagon and that Windows on the World was a gay bar? The same objection can be raised to D’Souza’s cultural explanation for 9/11: Al Qaeda didn’t send planes crashing into Universal Studios or the headquarters of Planned Parenthood. It blew up the emblems of US economic and military might. Subsequent attacks took place in countries that sent troops to Iraq, not condoms to Cairo. As Osama himself has noted, he’s not attacking Sweden.
But let that pass. The Enemy at Home isn’t really about Osama. It’s about us–the cultural left, a k a “the left wing of the Democratic Party” (plus a few Republican friends), “the domestic insurgency” that is “working in tandem with bin Laden to defeat Bush.” (With typical slipperiness, D’Souza claims he’s not accusing anyone of treason–just of allying themselves with the evildoers out to destroy us. Note that the book jacket features a torn and burning flag.) D’Souza boasts that he’ll go McCarthy one better and name names in high places–his long list includes Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore, Howard Dean, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Salman Rushdie, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Wendy Kaminer, Planned Parenthood, Rosie O’Donnell, Alec Baldwin and a whole bunch of Nation writers, including Eric Alterman, Jonathan Schell and me. OK, Eric and me, possibly. And Hillary is a workaholic, so maybe she promotes America-hatred and child pornography in the wee hours, after her day job beefing up the US military. But Rosie O’Donnell working with bin Laden? Salman Rushdie on the same side as the fanatics who tried so hard to kill him? Does D’Souza have any idea how weird that sounds?
When the left isn’t coddling terrorists, it’s alienating “traditional Muslims,” a group D’Souza believes the right ought to win over. The way to do this is not by building schools and hospitals that might actually improve their lives; it’s by defending their cultural values, which fortunately just happen to be D’Souza’s own. (Honor killings and child marriage aren’t Islamic, he claims, just things that regrettably happen in Muslim societies. As for the veil, he approvingly quotes Sudanese radical cleric Hassan Turabi, who claims it lets women be seen as human beings. It’s nice to see the cultural-relativist shoe back on the far-right foot.)
Actually, the Bush Administration has been doing just that for some time. It supports the ultraconservative Saudi regime. At the United Nations, it lined up with the Vatican, Iran, Libya and Sudan to oppose comprehensive sex ed. This last item got them nowhere, except with the US Christian right–but that’s the point. D’Souza’s proposal looks international, but it’s really domestic. It’s all about revving up the flagging Republican base: The Vagina Monologues caused 9/11! Unfortunately for the Republicans, not only are there not quite enough true believers stupid enough to believe that, but most Americans–not just Eve Ensler and Barney Frank–are on the other side of the culture wars. There is no support, none, for restricting divorce, as the Institute for American Values discovered when it tried to get state legislators to make divorce harder to obtain. Polls show increasing comfort with gay rights. Even South Dakota balked at outlawing abortion. As for the vulgar raunch-fest that is popular culture, Americans, and foreigners too, pay zillions for the music, movies, TV shows and magazines D’Souza claims US leftists are cramming down the throats of the world.
If the last election showed us anything, it was that the culture wars are not an automatic win for the right. Moreover, the extraordinary rejection of Bush’s war in Iraq, which crosses all sorts of demographic and political lines, shows how little appetite Americans have for intervention in the Muslim world even when they really do share the values supposedly being promoted, like constitutional democracy and ethnic and religious tolerance. The idea that Americans are going to embrace the mullahs and ayatollahs out of a shared dislike of gays and working mothers is fairly fantastic. Besides, the Americans who come closest to sharing “traditional Muslim” family values are fundamentalists like, um, Jerry Falwell, who think Islam is the devil’s work. The minute they tried bringing their new best friends to Christ, they’d find out that a mutual obsession with female chastity can take you only so far.
The Enemy at Home is not just slimy and nasty and silly, it’s deeply confused. After all, who is urging Americans to combine with foreign powers against their fellow citizens? Not Bill Moyers. Who is saying we must adopt the mores of an alien culture or be destroyed? It’s Dinesh D’Souza–surrender monkey.