Book Review: "The Enemy at Home"

Dean Barnett

1/21/2007 5:27:09 PM - Dean Barnett

First, a disclaimer – I love making fun of lefties. As a matter of fact, the interests I list on my homepage are extreme sports, getting ink done and slagging on liberals. So you might think that Dinesh D’Souza’s new book, “The Enemy at Home” would be right up my alley. Quite the contrary, I found “The Enemy at Home” to be intellectually obtuse, poorly informed and, most importantly, an irresponsible exercise in putatively conservative bomb-throwing.

D’Souza doubtlessly intended his thesis to be provocative. As he put it on the book’s first page:

“I am saying that the cultural left 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.”

In D’Souza’s view, beleaguered, socially conservative Islamacists feel besieged by the American culture. Especially offensive to the Islamic world is our “blue state” culture that has brought things like homosexuality, abortion, cruddy reality shows and insipid pop artists to the doorstep of a Muslim world that treasures nothing more than traditional values. D’Souza further theorizes that if right thinking Americans can somehow control the pathologies of the American left or at the very least let the Muslim world know that the rest of us consider them pathologies also, the Muslim world will no longer hate America.

This view of things is dangerously misguided, and dangerously ignorant. The Radical Islamic world doesn’t hate us because our TV shows are too racy or our women too provocative. The Radical Islamic world hates us not for what we are but for what we aren’t. Specifically, the haters at issue loathe us because we’re not Muslims.

Here’s how the Ayatollah Khomeini put it:

“Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter their armies.”

One of the things that makes “The Enemy at Home” so strange is that D’Souza never grapples with this side of Islam. Especially odd is the fact that even though D’Souza quotes Khomeini at several points, he never cites this particular speech. This is almost inexplicable; the above quote comes from a 1942 Khomeini work that is more or less the equivalent of the madman’s Gettysburg Address. It’s his signature piece. It defies belief that D’Souza delved even superficially into the Khomeini collection and these comments didn’t catch his eye.

I have other complaints with the book. There are many instances that suggest either sloppiness or intellectual dishonesty on D’Souza’s part. To give us insight into the Jihadist loathing for American culture, D’Souza relies on the writings of the father of modern Radical Islam, Sayyid Qutb. Qutb spent two years in America and then returned to the Middle East thoroughly disgusted by American culture. He spent the rest of his life chronicling his hatred for America’s decadent society.

Here’s where D’Souza is dishonest or careless: He informs the reader that Qutb died in 1966. He fails to inform the reader that the time Qutb spent in America was between 1948 and 1950.

Since D’Souza blames our culture for much of the Islamic world’s animus towards America, this is no small matter. The culture of the 1940’s wasn’t what it is today. Perhaps Qutb was scandalized by pop culture products of the time like the overt raciness of “The Best Years of Our Lives” or the raw sexuality contained on the typical Bing Crosby record; the man was after all a lunatic. But the culture of the late 1940’s contained none of the things that D’Souza so obviously deplores and that he postulates are inflaming the Muslim world. The 1940’s had no filthy hippies, no gangsta rap, no gay weddings.

D’Souza may think it would be a swell thing for us to turn our cultural clock back to 1949. No big deal there – to each his own. The point is that even if D’Souza were able to wave a wand and pull off such a trick, the Jihadists wouldn’t care. Qutb briefly immersed himself in our late 1940’s incarnation and emerged full of hatred.

There are other signs that suggest D’Souza had a less-than-firm grasp on his subject matter. At one point, he suggested that befuddled American conservatives “commonly refer” to Islamic Radicals as “robed Bolsheviks.” That term was a new one for me, and I read a lot of befuddled conservatives. To find out how “common” the term is, I did a Google search. The search returned the grand total of one result. (That one item referred to arrogant judges. The good news is the next person who does a similar search will probably be directed to this site.)

At another point, D’Souza blithely asserts that Osama bin Laden “was one of the richest men in the world.” This is a common error, but not one made by people who have actually taken the time to rigorously (or even perfunctorily) study the matter. In truth, while Osama bin Laden’s father was one of the richest men in the world, Osama himself never had a net worth greater than 7 figures, and most of that vanished when he became the bin Laden family black sheep by declaring war on the House of Saud.

OKAY, YOU PROBABLY GET THE POINT – I don't think much of “The Enemy at Home.” That’s really no big deal. I read a lot of books, and I find many of them execrable. Still, “The Enemy at Home” demands some attention from conservatives for a couple of reasons.

First, if the book’s principal theory gains any traction it would be destructive. If conservatives decide that liberals are the reason we were attacked and why we’re hated, it won’t do anything for domestic unity. D’Souza’s theory in this regard is not only misguided, it is offensive. Liberals won’t have to bother to caricaturize D’Souza’s argument. He did that himself.

Second, and this is also no small thing, it’s not liberals’ fault. Radical Islam hates a respectable Church-going Presbyterian family man every bit as much as it hates a spoiled libertine like Paris Hilton. As far as radical Islam is concerned, the two are in the same basic class; they’re both infidels. Short of conversion or surrender, there is nothing our society can do to appease radical Islam.

One of the most distressing aspects of our domestic debate the past five years is the way our government and our intellectuals have so thoroughly failed to grasp the tenets of Radical Islam. It is dispiriting to see D’Souza stumble so badly, and distressing to think that he is selling the theories of this book as a de facto spokesman for America’s conservatives.

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