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February 03, 2007

Andrew Stuttaford Reviews Dinesh D'Souza's New Book

This story is very old in blog terms, but as I've been criticized for prejudging it before reading it, the least I can do is offer the judgment of someone who has read it. Stuttaford will be familiar to readers of the Corner, and I believe he is, despite being British, no homo:*

Even if it's clear that the hedonism of the West has contributed in some way to its current difficulties with the Muslim world, the size of that contribution is not. The primitive political structures and woeful economic underperformance that have characterized the Middle East for generations, not to speak of the resentment felt over Israel, have also played their poisonous and, I suspect, substantially more significant part. There's also the delicate, not-supposed-tobe-asked question as to whether there is something built into the very nature of Islam that ensures that it will always, to borrow Samuel Huntington's despairing phrase, have "bloody borders."

Unfortunately, this is a question Mr. D'Souza doesn't really put to rest. Instead, in his fawning, flattering portrait of a supposedly "traditional" Islam, he offers Americans possibly the most misleading depiction of an unfamiliar way of life since Margaret Mead returned breathless and babbling from Samoa. The reason that such a smart writer has chosen to take such a strange tack is, alas, all too obvious. He's more interested in fighting the culture wars at home than confronting the global ideological challenge posed by Islamic extremism. In "The Enemy at Home," Osama Bin Laden is reduced to little more than another stick with which Mr. D'Souza can beat those he considers to be our naughtier, more godless citizens: so not only is same-sex marriage a bad idea, but it will also bring the wrath of Al Qaeda crashing down upon our heads, and as for that pesky separation of church and state, well …

To say this line of reasoning is somewhat unconvincing is to be very polite, but even worse is the way it leads Mr. D'Souza to suggest that America should somehow attempt to keep "traditional" Muslims out of the extremist camp by doing what it can to stress this country's own more socially conservative side. As propaganda distributed internationally, that might perhaps have some value. Sadly, Mr. D'Souza goes further than that, effectively arguing that the need to cultivate that traditional Muslim constituency of his is in itself a good reason for Americans to clean up their act at home. There's a word to describe that type of logic. It begins with an "a," ends with a "t" and is usually associated with a British prime minister named Neville.

The last paragraph is a killer, but I won't quote it out of respect for fair-use rules.

Again, the word everyone is looking for is "overdetermined." They hate us for ten or twelve major reasons (topping the list: their religion compels them to and their own backwardness creates in them a powerful psychological need for scapegoating and laying low those who humiliate them by their successes), so focusing in like a laser on Reason Number Eleven seems pure jackassery.

And, look: What the fuck should it matter to Khalid in Khartoum whether or not Lindsey Lohan is running about without her panties? If you're scrutinizing a society for its faults in this way, your problem is not that society's failings. Plainly, you have a driving psychological need to scapegoat that far-away place that has very little effect on your life, and if you weren't slamming the West's sexual permissiveness, you'd just find something else -- anything else -- you could critique. The point of this game is, after all, to reassure yourself of your own worthiness by denigrating the worthiness of the hated other; were every woman in America wearing six petticoats and every homosexual closeted and afraid, they'd just find some other reason to despise us ("Look at the Infidels, with their depraved and polytheistic chicken-and-steak combo Gorditos...").

The need to hate comes first. The reason for the hate is whatever point of differentiation is easiest to make out. Hell, they could just list their reasons to hate the Crusaders and Jews as "TBA;" it really doesn't fucking matter.

When the entire raison d'etre of an ideology and religion is to reassure its pathologically-insecure adherents of their fundamental superiority, don't expect a particularly rigorous analysis of the merits of one culture versus another.

It's not as if the KKK suddenly renounced its views upon learning that blacks were more athletically gifted than whites with a long apologia entitled, "Sorry, We Just Had No Idea. Guess We Booted This Whole 'Master Race' Thing Pretty Good, Huh?"

They do hate us for our "decadance," but only because a culture, in order to decline into decadance, must have at first achieved a peak of progress, prominence, and prosperity. What they hate is that the West can still remember its peak (and, at least in America and Australia, that peak may yet continue), whereas they simply never had one at all -- or, at best, they had it for 100 years around 1000 AD.

* Granted, the distinction between "British" and "homo" is often a subtle and evanscent one.

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posted by Ace at 09:04 PM

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