In media appearances promoting The Enemy at Home, D'Souza backpedaled from book's central conclusions
Research ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
In recent weeks, right-wing author Dinesh D'Souza has published op-eds in four major newspapers and appeared in interviews with all three major cable news channels to discuss his latest book The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (Doubleday, 2007). Yet in several of these media appearances, D'Souza has misrepresented some of the book's primary conclusions, understating and whitewashing his attacks on "the left." This pattern was most pronounced in his January 28 Washington Post op-ed, in which he argued that much of the literary "reaction" to his book has been "a little hysterical":
- D'Souza wrote in his Washington Post op-ed that he has faced an "onslaught" of criticism because his book "argue[s] that the American left bears a measure of responsibility for the volcano of anger from the Muslim world that produced the 9/11 attacks." In his January 25 op-ed in The Christian Science Monitor, D'Souza asserted that Muslim distaste for the "popular culture" of "blue" America "can blossom into the kind of anti-American pathology that partly fueled the 9/11 attacks." Yet in the book itself, D'Souza does not argue that the cultural left "bears a measure of responsibility" for provoking the anger of the 9-11 hijackers or that it "partly fueled" 9-11. Rather, he asserts that the "cultural left" is the "primary cause" of the "visceral rage" that produced the terrorists who attacked America, and that "without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened":
In faulting the cultural left, I am not making the absurd accusation that this group blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 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. The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage, some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice, but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left. Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened (Pages 1-2).
- In the Post op-ed, D'Souza also downplayed his endorsement of terrorist critiques of American culture, including in the purported "onslaught" of criticism he has received that "insistent" Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert "asked again and again" whether D'Souza "agree[s] with the Islamic radicals." What D'Souza neglected to mention, however, was his response to Colbert's question. Asked by Colbert on the January 16 edition of The Colbert Report whether he "agrees with some of the things these radical extremists are against in America," D'Souza replied: "I agree with it."
Indeed, D'Souza repeatedly refers to elements of the radical Muslim critique of American culture as "valid" and "legitimate" throughout The Enemy at Home. On Page 2, he writes: "The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage -- some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice, but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left." Asserting on Page 21 that 9-11 was "a message" from Osama bin Laden and other "Islamic radicals" that the United States is a "repulsive sewer" and an "immoral, perverted society," D'Souza concludes: "Thus we have the first way in which the cultural left is responsible for 9/11. The left has produced a moral shift in American society that has resulted in a deluge of gross depravity and immorality." D'Souza asserts on Pages 122-123 that the "radical Muslim critique" of America largely relates to the belief that there is "no moral standard" condemning licentious behavior, concluding on Page 130, "It seems that there are none, just as the Muslims allege." On Page 131, D'Souza adds that the "Muslim case against American popular culture" is actually "understated" if one does not also take into account that America's "cultural depravity" is "actively championed by leading voices on the cultural left." He states on Page 119 that "[t]he accusation of decadence against the West is obviously valid in one sense: Western societies (including America) are not reproducing themselves."
D'Souza similarly suggested in his Christian Science Monitor op-ed that "the radical Muslims [are] right," and that "pious Muslims ... rightly fear that this new morality will destroy their religion and way of life."
- D'Souza bemoaned in his Post op-ed that Warren Bass, senior editor of the Post's Book World section, claimed D'Souza "think[s] Jerry Falwell was 'on to something' when he blamed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on pagans, gays and the ACLU." Yet while D'Souza correctly noted in the op-ed that his book's argument "has nothing to do with Falwell's suggestion that 9/11 was God's judgment on the ACLU and the feminists for their sins," he did not address his assertion in the book that Falwell nonetheless stumbled upon the true parties responsible for 9/11:
The real issue raised by Falwell's comments is entirely secular. What impact did the abortionists, the feminists, the homosexual activists, and the secularists have on the Islamic radicals who conspired to blow up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Unfortunately this crucial question got buried, and virtually no one has raised it publicly (Page 5).
D'Souza goes on to assert throughout the book that the groups Falwell targeted provoked the terrorists' hatred of America by exporting their values to the Muslim world.
- In The Enemy at Home, D'Souza asserts that bin Laden "developed his theory of American weakness during the Clinton years," because "[i]t was [former President Bill] Clinton, after all, who ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Mogadishu [Somalia]." D'Souza dismisses the notion that Republican President Ronald Reagan could have similarly emboldened bin Laden by pulling American forces out of Beirut, Lebanon, after an attack on U.S. troops there. "Although Reagan had ordered the pullout of America troops following the 1982 embassy bombing in Beirut, Muslim radicals recognized that Reagan was a strong leader," D'Souza writes (Page 213).
However, in televised interviews with conservative hosts Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson, D'Souza dodged the issue of Reagan's Beirut pullout when it was mentioned by each host, suggesting he agreed with their statements about Reagan's culpability for withdrawing troops from Beirut or at least did not object to them.
From the January 18 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:
CARLSON: [H]ere's what I don't buy, the second part of your thesis, which is American weakness and examples of it. Our retreat from Somalia, for instance -- I assume you believe our retreat in '83 from Beirut would be another -- showed the Islamists that we are beatable, OK? And I buy that. But it doesn't explain why they hate us in the first place.
D'SOUZA: That's true. And I'm not saying -- I do explain that in the book, The Enemy at Home.
D'SOUZA: But here I'm getting at something a little different. After the Cold War, many of the Islamic radicals went back to their own countries. Bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia. Al-Zawahiri went back to Egypt. They were fighting to overthrow what they call the near enemy, their own governments, to establish an Islamic holy state.
From the January 18 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck:
BECK: I am a conservative, sir, who is telling you the nut jobs over in the Middle East have used the fertilizer of things like Hollywood and liberalism, or the idea here of, you know, Bill Clinton emboldening them or even, dare I say it, Ronald Reagan doing the same thing in Beirut. Yes, that's fertilizer. That's not the root, Dinesh.
D'SOUZA: No, true. But I agree with this. But you have to realize that the radical Muslims, while they are exploiting these themes, are striking a resonant chord among traditional Muslims. And the traditional Muslims are the recruiting pool of radical Islam.
- In the book, D'Souza touts the words of criticism bin Laden has issued about U.S. culture, quoting extensively from bin Laden's November 2002 "Letter to America" that criticized the United States for its "oppression, lies, immorality, and debauchery" (Pages 102-103), while downplaying one of bin Laden's major stated reasons, in the letter and elsewhere, for opposing the United States: The American troop presence in the Middle East. Rather than quoting bin Laden's frequent criticisms of this policy, D'Souza simply asserts that bin Laden's "occasional condemnations" of America's military presence in the Middle East -- as well as his criticism of America's support for Israel -- "must be understood in a metaphorical sense" (Page 100). Without citing bin Laden saying so himself, D'Souza suggests that bin Laden opposes a U.S. military presence in the Middle East only because he sees U.S. foreign policy as "the vehicle for the coercive transmission of corrupt American values to the Muslim world":
Does the radical Islamic case against America, then, not have a foreign policy component? Of course it does. But as bin Laden and his associates see it, U.S. foreign policy is the vehicle for the coercive transmission of corrupt American values to the Muslim world (Page 103).
Earlier, D'Souza states as fact that "Islamic hatred of America ... is not based on the presence of American troops abroad" (Page 25).
But in his Post op-ed, D'Souza went even further in seeking to discredit this alternative explanation for bin Laden's hatred of America, setting up a straw man argument that "Bin Laden isn't upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.)" D'Souza cited no examples of liberals explaining bin Laden's fury under the mistaken assumption that the United States has a military presence in Mecca, either in the op-ed or upon explaining that "there are no American troops in Mecca" in his book (Page 100). In his appearance on the January 17 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, D'Souza falsely claimed that bin Laden "talks about U.S. troops in Mecca" in the November 2002 "Letter to America."
- Despite the fact that the central premise of D'Souza's book is that "[t]he left is the internal enemy that is helping the external enemy achieve its goal of the destruction of America" (Pages 272-273), he still manages to complain that liberals attack President Bush more frequently and viciously than they criticize Islamic terrorists. He writes: "[T]he left's war is not against bearded Muslims who wear long robes and carry rifles; it is against pudgy white men who wear suits and carry Bibles. While the left is certainly not comfortable with Islamic mullahs, it is vastly more terrified of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Antonin Scalia, James Dobson, and Rush Limbaugh" (Pages 10-11). In a January 20 interview with Salon.com, D'Souza referred to this purported phenomenon as "the left's" "indignation gap ... a gap of shrill denunciation at Bush and no shrill denunciations of bin Laden and Saddam that are comparable in volume and temperature."
However, D'Souza moderated this assertion in his Post op-ed, complaining only that "the far left seems to hate Bush nearly as much as it hates bin Laden."