In his book "The Enemy at Home," Dinesh D'Souza shows little patience with the leftists who reacted to 9/11 by declaring that America had it coming. And yet, his book is a variant on that theme. It was our cultural decadence, our foul popular movies, music and pornography, D'Souza argues, that enraged traditional Muslims worldwide and moved some to violence.
D'Souza is a thoughtful and interesting writer, and many of his observations about the cultural left worldwide, and particularly about the dismaying state of popular culture in America, got vigorous head nods from conservative readers.
D'Souza summarizes episodes from a couple of recent TV sitcoms. "On the CBS show 'Two and a Half Men,' Charlie gets together with an old girlfriend only to discover that she is now a he. ... The humor deepens when Charlie discovers that the former girlfriend, now a man, is having sex with Charlie's middle-aged mom."
Shock jocks and rap music have long since blown through all barriers of taste and even what used to be called "common decency" on radio. Raw pornography is now available on all computers, most cable systems and in many hotel rooms. If you can't afford it in those forms, the American librarians have fought bravely to ensure that you can access it for free at your local library.
Conservatives no doubt emphatically endorsed D'Souza's view that this cultural filth is polluting America. But he has crawled out on a limb in suggesting that Islamic radicals are responding the same way to the same provocation. He quotes Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish Muslim writer, to the effect that "America must do a better job of portraying its principles of decency. Otherwise it will be despised by devout Muslims throughout the world, and the radicals will channel that contempt into violence."
For the sake of argument, let's stipulate that America's cultural exports in the form of movies and music are the principal cause of Muslim hatred of the United States. This cultural rot did not set in, D'Souza acknowledges, until after the 1960s. Yet the godfather of the radical movement that spawned Osama bin Laden was the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb, who formed his fanatical beliefs after living in the United States in the late 1940s.
Qutb was offended by everything about America, from its food to its delight in football and money, and particularly by what he saw as sexual libertinism. "Jazz is the American music," Qutb wrote, "created by Negroes to satisfy their primitive instincts -- their love of noise and their appetite for sexual arousal." Attending a church social in (dry) Greeley, Colo., in 1949, Qutb was revolted by what he saw: "Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips, and the atmosphere was full of love."
So the America Qutb despised was one that most conservatives consider pretty tame. Yet it was to his eyes a sewer. This suggests the cultural divide between American conservatives and Muslim conservatives is more like a chasm. D'Souza speaks approvingly of traditional Muslims seeking to "preserve the innocence of their children," perhaps forgetting that throughout large swaths of the Muslim world, child brides are quite acceptable. When Khomeini took power in Iran, the marriage age for girls was reduced to 9. It has since been increased all the way to 13.
There are other troubling aspects of traditional Muslim family life that D'Souza glosses over. The tradition of honor killing -- husbands, brothers and fathers killing their female relatives who engage in immodest behavior -- is widespread and uncontroversial in Muslim lands and even in Muslim communities in Europe. Temporary marriage permits Muslim men to "marry" any number of women, for as little as a couple of hours -- a barely disguised form of prostitution, which they piously condemn in the West. Rape victims are stoned to death, and so forth.
But even if the radical Muslims are truly enraged by American decadence and see it as an assault on traditional Muslim values -- by what stretch of the imagination do they take to suicide attacks as a response? That's some movie review. Besides, no one holds a gun to their heads and forces them to buy the output of Paramount and Time Warner. One can easily imagine a country in the Middle East excluding such things, unencumbered as they are by a First Amendment.
D'Souza is on far firmer ground when he analyzes the de facto alliance between leftists and Muslim extremists. Both need America to fail, and D'Souza is surely correct to point out that a defeat in Iraq will be far worse for conservatives and for America than Vietnam was.