Rejected by the American people at the polls in November, the long, wagging finger of the far-right is still shaking all over. Its most recent manifestation arrives in the form of Heritage Foundation “scholar” Dinesh D’Souza’s new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left And Its Responsibility For 9/11, which lays the blame for the attacks of 9/11—and for the extremist Islamist threat—squarely on the shoulders of the American left (explicitly including, I am proud to say, yours truly).
In other words, D’Souza blames America, and Americans, for the terrorist attacks of 2001. He writes that bin Laden did not attack the United States “because of U.S. troops in Mecca,” or because of America’s alliance with Israel, but instead because the American cultural and political left “has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies.”
Specifically, he writes, “the cultural left [that’s me] 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.”
Nice work if you can get it. Alas, it involves forgetting the fact that bin Laden himself has said “We fought you because we are free … and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security we undermine yours,” and that “it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind.”
As you may recall, conservatives’ tendency to try to exploit the tragedy of 9/11 to score political points against their domestic political adversaries is as old as, well, 9/11 itself. This blame-America-first mentality on the part of right-wing critics is hardly anything new. We saw the first stirrings of this attitude on September 13, 2001, when Jerry Falwell literally couldn’t wait for the fires to go out in Lower Manhattan and the smoke to clear at the Pentagon before he told the nation what al-Qaeda’s real motivations were: “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…I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’” He said this on fellow televangelist Pat Robertson’s show, “The 700 Club,” and Robertson agreed, adding, “Jerry, that’s my feeling,” and “Well, I totally concur.”
D’Souza writes that “the left has produced a moral shift in society that has resulted in a deluge of gross depravity and immorality…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.”
D’Souza’s argument differs from Falwell’s in the singular aspect that he does not believe that the terrorists are agents of God’s wrath; he simply thinks that terrorism against American citizens is the logical outcome of “the scandalous sexual mores that they [religious Muslims] see in American movies and television,” as well as “the sight of hundreds of homosexuals kissing one another and taking marriage vows.”
In the years since 9/11, some radical conservative commentators have wised up—if ever so slightly. Blogger Andrew “Little Roy” Sullivan has morphed into the kind of person he used to want to ship off to Gitmo—sans habeas corpus, natch. But following 9/11, he professed to spy a “decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts [that] is not dead—and may well mount a fifth column,” adding that we need not worry about those loyal, honest Americans living in “the middle part of the country—the great red zone that voted for Bush.”
D’Souza, unfortunately, is still singing the same old song. He writes, for instance, that “The cultural left opposes the war against radical Muslims because it wants them to succeed in defeating President Bush in particular and American foreign policy in general,” adding that “the American Left is secretly allied with” the terrorists, whose victory would “represent a huge win for the cultural left, in fact the left’s greatest foreign policy victory since the Vietnam War.”
It’s worth noting that, much as conservatives may wish to pretend, it’s simply wrong to dismiss D’Souza, Falwell, Robertson, old-Sully, and their allies as politically beyond the conservative pale in our political discourse. Falwell is a ubiquitous presence on cable TV, and when Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court, this same Jerry Falwell reported that the White House had called him asking for his “input” on Bush’s choice. And watch how Republican candidates race one another to kiss his ring in the coming primary season—just as Bush did eight years ago.
Their views are hardly unique among conservative Christians. In March of 2002, conservative Republican Sen. James Inhofe gave voice to almost identical sentiments, insisting that America got what it deserved on 9/11, which was a divinely sanctioned attack, in retaliation for George W. Bush’s insufficiently pro-Israel foreign policy. “One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America,” he explained, “is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them.”
Intellectually D’Souza’s book is sometimes so dishonest, it’s almost comical. In one case, for instance, he attacks Ted Kennedy for implying that the invasion of Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism—ignoring that this is also the view of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. And his rhetoric about the glory that is now America-occupied Iraq, well, it would be funny if it weren’t so go**am infuriating.
Meanwhile, D’Souza has been punished for his shoddy scholarship and malicious malevolence toward patriotic American liberals by having his books published by a major publishing house, Doubleday, and earning reviews—albeit appropriately scornful ones—in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. He’s also been offered space to spew his poisonous views in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and USA Today—and that was just this week.
As Walter C. Uhler has noted, an excellent rebuttal to D’Souza’s pap comes from a man who actually has some experience on the ground fighting radical Islamic extremism. Retired CIA man Michael F. Scheuer, who served as the chief of the Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999, and as Special Advisor to the Chief of the bin Laden unit from September 2001 to November 2004, wrote in his book Imperial Hubris that:
“One of the greatest dangers for Americans in deciding how to confront the Islamist threat lies in continuing to believe…that Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than for what we do. The Islamic world is not so offended by our democratic system of politics, guarantees of personal rights and civil liberties, and separation of church and state that it is willing to wage war against overwhelming odds in order to stop Americans from voting, speaking freely, and praying, OR NOT, as they wish.”
Perhaps it’s time to ask Mr. D’Souza and his fellow America-hating right-wingers the age-old question: “Which side are you on, my friend, which side are you on?”
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His popular blog, “Altercation,” has moved from MSNBC.com to Media Matters. The new URL is http://mediamatters.org/altercation/