Published March 16, 2007
National Review Online
**Over the course of four days this week, Dinesh D’Souza has been responding at NRO to conservative critics of his book The Enemy at Home. Below EPPC Senior Fellow Stanley Kurtz responds to D’Souza.
“The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11.” Dinesh D’Souza opens The Enemy at Home with this intentionally startling phrase. Sounds pretty mono-causal to me. D’Souza goes on to argue that the cultural Left is “the primary reason” for Islamic anti-Americanism, without which “9/11 would not have happened.” And throughout The Enemy at Home, D’Souza downplays and dismisses the notion that “traditional Islam” had much of anything to do with 9/11. Put that all together and D’Souza’s rejection of the charge of mono-causality rings hollow.
D’Souza’s defense against the point that Sayyid Qutb was outraged by even the tame social mores of 1940s America reflects the same problem with D’Souza’s argument. In explaining why Muslims only now view Qutb’s 1940s musings as prophetic, D’Souza writes as though the decline of American popular culture is the single thing of importance that’s happened in the past sixty years.
Actually, recruitment to radical Islam first burgeoned in 1970s Egypt, prefigured by Egypt’s 1967 defeat by Israel. That defeat punctured confidence in Nasser’s Arab nationalism and occasioned a series of religiously motivated visions and revivals, in which many argued that God had used defeat in war to punish Egypt for its declining morals. Egypt’s initial success in the 1973 war against Israel seems to have been the immediate impetus for the turn to traditional dress among college students, and for increased organization by radical Islamist groups.
Behind these changes lay larger social factors. Expanding higher education brought increasing numbers of traditionalist youth into coeducational contact to which they were unaccustomed. And large numbers of previously home-bound Egyptian women began doing office work. The extended family system gave way to more nuclear arrangements. And as the traditional Egyptian family seemed to come under threat from the demands of modern life, there was a broad reaction against the image of the Westernized Egyptian working woman, then lionized in the secular media.
All this played into the rise of Islamism. Was disgust with American pop-culture part of the mix? Sure. Yet by far the deeper cause was this whole series of tensions between traditional Islamic mores and modern social life. To say that Qutb was revived after being read through the prism of the Vagina Monologues, without also adding that he was revived after being read through the prism of the wars of ’67 and ’73 — and all the profound social tensions between Islamic tradition and modern Egyptian life — is misleading and mono-causal in the extreme. My earlier critique of D’Souza stressed that Muslim objections to Western pop culture serve as proxies for distress over these deeper social changes. D’Souza has not truly responded to this point.
What does Muslim cousin-marriage have to do with modernity? A lot. Cousin marriage (even for non-Arab Pakistani immigrants) is a major barrier to Muslim assimilation in Europe, and clearly distinguishes Muslim immigrants from immigrants of other religious traditions. And traditional Muslims in Europe have kicked off scandal after scandal with dramatic cases of forced marriage and honor killings. Even typical arranged marriages reflect a broader tension between hierarchical and communal traditions, on the one hand, and the individualist mores upon which democracy depends, on the other. Muslim polygamy very much reflects this deeper cultural tension.
Japan and India do indeed showcase successful examples of relatively less individualist democracies. I discussed Japan and India at length in “After the War,” and “Democratic Imperialism,” highlighting critical differences with the Muslim case. Contrary to D’Souza’s claim, I do not assert that Islam and democracy are inevitably incompatible. I’ve argued that it may well be possible to create a genuinely liberal Muslim democracy. Yet I also warned — before the war — that successful democratization would take far more time and be far more difficult and demanding than many expected at the time. D’Souza, on the other hand, is far too complacent about the illiberal character of the sharia-dominated Islamic democracies he appears to favor.
In response to my critique, D’Souza now concedes that American conservatives and traditional Muslims are “not entirely on the same page.” His case for an alliance remains weak — and his suggested precedent of the World War II alliance between America and the Soviet Union is neither convincing nor reassuring. As D’Souza himself concedes in his book, the difference between Muslim traditionalists and radicals is relatively slight. And unfortunately, instances of open and energetic opposition between these two groups are relatively few.
D’Souza’s plan for an alliance of American conservatives and Muslim traditionalists depends too much on his childhood acquaintance with what appear to be relatively urbanized and Westernized Muslims in a non-Muslim-majority country. The ability of these acquaintances to stand as examples of the critical populations at issue in this debate is questionable. Until D’Souza deals fully and honestly with the many complex factors, over and above American pop culture, that are actually driving Islamic radicalization (and even then, his argument is a difficult one), he will never convince anyone that a culture-wars-based world-wide alliance of conservative American and Muslim traditionalists is either possible or desirable.
As D’Souza notes in his book, there is indeed something problematic about forcing Muslims into an all-or-nothing choice between their religion and modernity. Yet neither American conservatives nor the cultural Left are primarily responsible for this choice. It is the character of Islam itself — of its all-embracing link between the religion and worldliness — that tends to force this choice (another point I’ve made repeatedly, and which D’Souza has yet to answer). That is why Turkey is currently trapped between incompatible secularist and Islamist alternatives.
Contrary to D’Souza’s claim, Samuel Huntington never called for a warlike “clash of civilizations.” On the contrary, Huntington’s awareness of the power of cultural differences led him to warn against overly ambitious plans to spread our own democratic way of life. In general, D’Souza seriously mischaracterizes, and falsely lumps together, a broad array of conservative authors with widely divergent understandings of Islam, democratization, the war on terror, and related issues. What unites this group of conservatives is not so much any single view of Islam or democracy as a shared sense that there is something seriously off-the-mark about The Enemy at Home.
— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.