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The Right's Real 'Enemy at Home'

By Robert Tracinski

In the classic 1956 science-fiction film Forbidden Planet, Doc Ostrow discovers what destroyed the ancient, hyper-advanced civilization of the Krell: "monsters from the id." Having scaled the heights of civilized refinement, the Krell were brought down by the unexpected return of a more primitive and violent side of their psyches.

This might be how conservatives are beginning to feel about The Enemy at Home, a new book by one of their own, Dinesh D'Souza. According to the publisher's description of D'Souza's book:

Whenever Muslims charge that the war on terror is really a war against Islam, Americans hasten to assure them they are wrong. Yet as Dinesh D'Souza argues in this powerful and timely polemic, there really is a war against Islam...by the American cultural left, which for years has been vigorously exporting its domestic war against religion and traditional morality to the rest of the world....

Islamic anti-Americanism is not merely a reaction to US foreign policy but is also rooted in a revulsion against what Muslims perceive to be the atheism and moral depravity of American popular culture....

D'Souza argues that the war on terror is really a war for the hearts and minds of traditional Muslims--and traditional peoples everywhere. The only way to win the struggle with radical Islam is to convince traditional Muslims that America is on their side....

"In order to defeat the Islamic radicals abroad," D'Souza writes, "we must defeat the enemy at home."

In a revealing interview at National Review Online, D'Souza expands on this theme:

In his Letter to America, issued shortly after 9/11, [Osama bin Laden] said that America is the fount of global atheism, and it is imposing its morally depraved values on the world. So Muslims must rise up in defensive jihad against America because their religion and their values are under attack. This aspect of Bin Laden's critique has been totally ignored, and it's one that resonates with a lot of traditional Muslims and traditional people around the world.

It is clear that Bin Laden's message also resonates with D'Souza.

To state the obvious implication of this argument is to grasp its basic depravity. As I put it in TIA Daily (and in the October 2006 issue of TIA), "This is a program for American dhimmitude, in which we try to appease totalitarian Islam by showing that we are willing to subject ourselves to our own religious tyranny."

I also predicted that the conservative response to this book would be revealing--and it has been.

After his interview was posted at National Review Online--where D'Souza had long been a fixture and where he originally stated the thesis of his book--he found a chilly reception at The Corner, a blog that serves as a kind of chat room for National Review authors. What is interesting is not just the negative reaction to D'Souza's argument, but the nature of that reaction.

Andrew McCarthy criticizes D'Souza for denying that Muslim jihadists are "against democracy." What is most interesting about this response is that it makes clear that the American right has already committed itself to opposing "Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose a sharia state," that is, those who want to impose Islamic law as opposed to secular law.

What, then, does this opposition imply?

Andrew Stuttaford spells it out partially: it implies a defense of Western secularism.

[I]t's...difficult to avoid the conclusion that what [D'Souza] wants is a public face of America that is apologetic for its (relatively) laissez-faire approach to sexual morality, and its (relative) secularism. Well, so far as I'm concerned, that laissez-faire approach, and that secularism, are neither left-wing, nor right, and they are features not bugs [i.e., they are good, not bad]. How (and why) is America expected to downplay them?

But Mario Loyola makes explicit the full implications of this view.

Pushing for the victory of secularism and separation of church and state in Islamic society, which D'Souza waves away as a foolish habit of ours, is indeed one of the keys to the entire struggle.

The idea that "justice" should have nothing to do with religion, but must come instead from reason, is a cardinal principle of the Enlightenment and part of the necessary bedrock upon which the democratic state is founded. And the idea that "justice" should be enshrined in a secular text of law and a constitution which together trump all other texts (including the Bible and Koran) and all other theories of justice, is equally a cardinal principle of the Enlightenment and of post-Enlightenment societies. It is a principle which the most conservative and religious Americans share. And yet in these beliefs we are almost as far apart from many traditional and even moderate strains of Islamic society as we are from the most radical....

Islamic civilization is not merely pre-Enlightenment but even in many ways pre-Renaissance.

Because so few radicals, traditionalists, or moderates in the Islamic world share Renaissance values--humanism, naturalism, and moral skepticism--we do not in fact have many real allies among them. And people who do not embrace Enlightenment values--secularism, separation of church and state, rule of law, minority rights, and deism instead of theism--cannot be real democrats.

Aside from a few corrections (such as replacing "democracy" with liberty), I could hardly have put it better.

But this argument raises an enormous question. Since when did conservatives become defenders of the legacy of the Enlightenment?

It is to the credit of the intellectuals of the right that many of them are eager to disown D'Souza and his repellent thesis. But so long as they embrace the cause and ideas of the religious right, they cannot fully, convincingly do so. Every part of D'Souza's screed against the "depravity" of godless modern culture and his call to re-impose religious values--all of it is taken straight from the boilerplate arguments of the religious right. The right may not like D'Souza's identification of the fact that the same ideas are echoed by Osama bin Laden, and they may repudiate him for following that connection to its full, logical conclusion, taking up Bin Laden's cultural jihad as his own. But they are, in effect, shooting the messenger. They are blaming him for revealing a horrifying implication of their own ideas.

For example, how does defending secularism and humanism square with the right's history of condemning "secular humanists"? How does defending the separation of church and state square with longstanding conservative complaints that religion has been excluded from the "public square"--or their claims that the Constitution guarantees "freedom for religion," not "freedom from religion"? How does defending science and reason square with demanding that America be "one nation under God" instead of "one nation under Darwin"? And as for Stuttaford's defense of sexual freedom--how does that square with outlawing abortion or defending laws against homosexuality?

The conservatives do not and cannot resolve these contradictions; they ignore them. They want all of the values made possible by the Enlightenment: science, technology, and political, economic, and intellectual freedom, but they can't bring themselves to shake the influence of religious traditionalism. Faced with the runaway subjectivism of the contemporary left, they don't have the vision or courage to follow the Enlightenment example of searching for a secular foundation for freedom and morality (a quest that the modern left has also dropped). Instead, they fall back on old-time religious dogmatism as the only alternative to modern subjectivism.

The essence of today's right is not religious traditionalism. Its essence, especially in its effort to confront Muslim religious tyranny, is an attempt to combine religious traditionalism with the legacy of the Enlightenment. In this sense, mainstream conservatives aspire to the heights of civilized refinement--but Dinesh D'Souza is the monster from their id, reminding them of the primitive religious outlook that they still haven't relinquished.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com.

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