As an author I don’t mind criticism, and I get it a lot. In a sense, I ask for it. I write controversial books on timely topics and I try to introduce something original into the argument. In my most recent book The Enemy at Home I even began my first chapter with the title, “What Conservatives ‘Know’ About 9/11, and Why It’s Wrong.” Even some pundits on the right got upset and a lively debated ensued. Readers who want to follow my response to prominent right-wing critics can find it on my website dineshdsouza.com.
What no author appreciates, however, is reviewers who misrepresent and lie about a book. In that case the reviewer is giving the reader a false picture of the book’s argument, and then the critic proceeds to demolish the straw man, in the process impressing but also thoroughly misleading the reader. A case in point was Alan Wolfe, who was the academic hit man tasked with trashing my book in the New York Times.
Conservatives don’t expect favorable reviews in the New York Times. But they have a right to expect a minimally-accurate account of what they are trying to say. Wolfe’s review was one of the most vitriolic attacks that I have ever seen in print. He deemed my book a “national disgrace” and said I was “either self-delusional or dishonest.” He declared me a “childish thinker” with “no sense of shame.” He even said I was a spurned suitor of Bin Laden.
Over the years I have tried to become thick-skinned about this stuff. Even so, when conservative students at Boston College told me that they had raised funds from the school for me to lecture there, I reminded them that Alan Wolfe was the head of the Boisi Center on Religion at their institution. I asked them to find out whether he would debate me. He agreed, and the debate took place before a packed auditorium on April 18.
The resolution focused on whether the left was responsible for 9/11. Speaking first, I decided to take the high road. Rather than dispute the specific claims of Wolfe’s review, I thought I would present my ideas to the students and let them evaluate them on their merits. I showed how liberal foreign policy helped Khomeini come to power in 1979. I explained how Clinton’s inactions emboldened Bin Laden to plan the 9/11 attacks. I argued that liberal cultural values projected abroad have alienated traditional Muslims and strengthened the recruitment of radical Islam.