Book Review - The Islamic Threat to America

By Carl F. Horowitz
Volume 17, Number 3 (Spring 2007)
Issue theme: "The decline of industrial civilization"

Two Saber-Rattling 'Conservatives' Grapple with the Significance of Assimilation.

Book reviews of:

America Alone - The End of the World as We Know It,
by Mark Steyn
Washington, D.C.: Regnery
224 pages, $27.95.

The Enemy at Home - The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
by Dinesh D'Souza
New York: Doubleday
333 pages, $26.95.

Why do they hate us?” The question has sprung eternal since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “They,” of course, are Islamic terrorists and their co-religionists, here and abroad, cheering them on; “us” are Americans, and more broadly, Europeans and anyone else in the world bearing the moniker “the West.” Explanations fall into one of two general categories: 1) They have no right to hate us; or 2) They have every right to hate us. Two new books by marquee conservatives bring this divergence into sharp relief. One, though not without its flaws, provides an embarrassment of riches. The other is an outright embarrassment.

Mark Steyn, a native Canadian residing in New Hampshire, is a syndicated columnist and arts critic whose slash-and-burn style is a welcome antidote to the mushy, get-with-the-program universalism that Western political elites have come to learn by rote. His new book, America Alone, reveals him to be a satirist the match of P.J. O’Rourke (Right) and James Wolcott (Left). A bearer of bad tidings, most of all for our European cousins, he intends for readers to enjoy themselves in the face of a likely calamity.

Europe, Steyn argues, has done an about-face, trading one brand of despotism for another. Whereas its hyper-nationalism gave the world the two bloodiest wars ever, its current welfare-dependent, feminized, anti-American post-nationalism welcomes Third World immigration into its presence, even going so far as to silence unenlightened natives who might complain. European Union countries are now home to 20 million or more Muslims, increasingly brazen in their desire to win their hosts’ lands for Allah. British Muslim leader Anjem Choudary, for one, has hailed the September 11 attacks on the U.S. as “magnificent,” and advocates Islamic law for all of Britain, even as he and his wife are on the welfare dole. Yet because Muslims and various organizations representing them are adept in the language of civil-rights radicalism, they manage to win favors from fearful political establishments. “The more Islamists step on our toes, the more we waltz them gaily round the room,” Steyn ruefully notes.

That leaves it to America, ever the unappreciated cowboy gunslinger, to save the day—unless, of course, our own post-nationalists muck things up, in which case we may find ourselves by 2030 where Europe is today. Our good fortune owes more to geographic accident—location between the world’s two largest oceans—than to the benevolence of Muslims or the wisdom of our political class. And even that accident can go only so far, witness the growing capitulation by our Canadian neighbors.

Steyn enjoys extracting belly laughs, but underneath he’s a hard-headed Machiavellian who knows nations have interests, not natural alliances. And promoting national interests is especially difficult when its leaders can’t (or worse, won’t) define them, especially in the face of growing minority populations asserting racial, linguistic, and religious separatism. A refusal of the majority culture to say “no” to their demands—which is the very essence of multiculturalist inertia—imposes great costs upon sovereignty and security. So you want to give peace a chance? Well, rolling out a welcome mat to your avowed enemies assuredly is not the way to do it. Nearly 1,400 years of history have given us every reason to believe that our primary enemies, the Muslims, are going to stomp on our welcome mats as soon as they get here. Like Pat Buchanan, Tony Blankley, and Bruce Bawer, the author sees the West as on a suicide mission—a long whimper, not a bang. He cites three mutually reinforcing syndromes: multiculturalism, socialism, and low birth rates. As for the first two at least, the author acquits himself brilliantly.

Multiculturalism, an invention of Western hosts, not non-Western guests, is a fraud. “Multiculturalism,” Steyn writes, “was conceived by the Western elites not to celebrate all cultures but to deny their own: it is, thus, the real suicide bomb.” Even if we succeeded in assimilating Muslims, he adds, appearances can be deceiving. Successful terrorists know how to blend. Outwardly, Steyn notes, the London subway bombers “were, to the naked eye, almost perfectly assimilated—at least in respect to sports, fashion and pop music.” They adopted so many trees that the Brits couldn’t see “the big overarching forest—the essence of identity, of allegiance.” Islamism is a transnational movement, and its goal, wherever it plants its seeds, is the same: conquest on the installment plan.

Socialism augments this road to ruin. Not only does it fail to deliver economically—hardly startling news—but it now serves as a political handmaiden to Islamism. European Muslims tend to vote for socialist politicians, who eagerly return the favor, promoting mass immigration and easy naturalization, while pandering to existing immigrants at every opportunity. London’s current mayor, “Red Ken” Livingstone, owes his job largely to his ability to stoke grievances among traditional Muslims, which is to say, those who prefer Islamic “honor” to English law. Very recently, a Muslim father in London murdered his wife and four daughters, ages 16, 13, 10, and 3, because according to the Daily Telegraph, “He could not bear them adopting a more westernized lifestyle.” Supporters of mass immigration downplay such barbarities, for to do otherwise would be to question their own blind faith in the idea of a nation as an ethno-religious rainbow. Socialism, of which NATO can be seen as one form, also promotes an illusion of comfort, for its cradle-to-grave “protections” undermine the risk-taking and moral responsibility that are essential for self-governance. And those protections may prove unsustainable. In Greece, for example, public pension liabilities are projected to rise to 24.8 percent of GDP by 2050, a figure not exactly conducive to capital formation or military protection. Falling fertility rates lead to lower worker-to-retiree ratios, which in turn increase the pressure to import more workers.

That leads to the final element in Europe’s trifecta of decline: fertility, or rather the lack of it. Here, the author, while always entertaining, is far from compelling. Throughout the book, Steyn, quite smitten with the warnings of Ben Wattenberg and Philip Longman, admonishes the present-oriented West for its failure to reproduce. “A huge lack of babies” has become Europe’s master affliction. As maintaining population equilibrium requires women to bear an average of 2.1 children during their lifetimes, native Europe is now operating at about two-thirds that level, compared to the roughly 3.5 births per woman among its Islamic population. Steyn fears Europe’s dwindling, aging populations will render the continent helpless to resist the tide of Islam, whether with ballots or bullets.

What Steyn neglects, or at least relegates to secondary importance, is that Europe, with four million square miles, still has a population in excess of 700 million, if one includes Western Russia. In 2004, France, Germany, Poland, and Spain and Switzerland, respectively, had population densities of 287, 609, 328, 209, and 485 persons per square mile, compared to our own 83 persons per square mile. It’s hard to remember, but until a few decades ago Europe actually fretted about overpopulation; the Dutch government at one point actually encouraged its people to emigrate to the U.S. As for the Japanese, whom Steyn describes as being in a “demographic death spiral,” their density in 2004 was 835 persons per square mile. Think what their rush-hour traffic must be like. Muslims have a lot more breeding to do before they become a majority even in countries dumb enough to welcome them.

Aside from ignoring Lewis Mumford’s classic admonition, “Trend is not destiny,” Steyn appears unfamiliar with Michael Teitelbaum and Jay Winter’s The Fear of Population Decline (1985), a book challenging the notion of national population decline as the product of cultural decay and thus nearly irreversible. Nor does he cite extensive research by the late Princeton demographer Ansley J. Coale showing that over the long run, falling fertility rates have contributed to economic growth. Steyn also fails to explore the possibility that trying to defeat Islam in a great fertility race, in Europe or anywhere else, could heighten political conflict and severely strain ecosystems.

Steyn warns the West that time is running out. He lays out three scenarios—submit to Islam, destroy Islam, or reform Islam—noting that only the latter is acceptable. The problem is that he’s overlooked a fourth alternative: exclude Islam. In other words, instead of trying to assimilate separatist Muslims, let’s try these measures: impose moratoria on all Islamic immigration; impose political and cultural loyalty tests upon all Muslims already here; and promote (via population agencies) lower fertility rates among Muslims everywhere. Supporting women’s rights, refuting Wahhabi theology, and supporting economic and civil liberties in Islamic-majority nations, among other paths to assimilation, are fine but insufficient.

Fortunately, Europe is awakening, even enough for the pessimist Steyn perhaps to take notice and crack a Mona Lisa smile. Immigration-restriction and nationalist movements have been popping up across the continent, most notably, Vlaams Belang, a Flemish secessionist party that—good riddance—threatens the existence of that nineteenth-century multicultural contrivance known as Belgium. The leaders of such movements are unafraid to speak out against Muslim immigration and cultural practices, knowing fully well they could lose their campaign subsidies or even go to jail.

America Alone is a good book— Realpolitik for Dummies, if one will—that could have been a great one. More academic rigor and less saber-rattling for effect would have done the trick. Like a runaway train, the book misses some key stops, but ultimately gets passengers safely to their destination—and hopefully willing to take another trip.

Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home, by contrast, is a full-fledged train wreck. As Dorothy Parker used to say, this is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but rather to be thrown with great force. Its central argument is that America has brought Islamic terrorism upon itself by spreading its coarsened culture to their reaches of the world, thus chasing reasonable traditional Muslims into the wild outer reaches of radicalism. Where Steyn castigates the West for not recognizing the enemy, D’Souza accuses the West, most of all Americans, of being the enemy—at least people likely to read Playboy, attend Joan Jett concerts, or watch Woody Allen movies.

Reading the book is an ugly experience—and a sad one. The India-born D’Souza, currently affiliated with Stanford’s Hoover Institution, has done some fine work as a celebrated youthful raconteur of the American Right. His 1991 lament against campus political correctness, Illiberal Education, still holds up very well, as does his reportage from the front lines of the new economy, The Virtue of Prosperity (2000). Moreover, he’s an effective debater, possessed of an almost preternatural gift for irritating Leftist opponents. On the downside, from his Dartmouth Review bad-boy days onward, D’Souza has been a calculating careerist, elevating sycophancy into a virtual art form. Like so many conservatives who came of age during the Eighties, his near-idolatry of Ronald Reagan has a flip side in his loathing of those not sharing in the celebration. And like Irving Kristol and Michael Novak, his fusion of free enterprise and cultural authoritarianism is unconvincing.

With The Enemy at Home, D’Souza’s authoritarianism has metastasized into a totalitarian contempt for all who embody individualism, especially the insufficiently religious. His sympathies clearly lie with pious Islam over impious America. The author believes our post-Sixties secular abyss, televised in living color, has led to Islamic backlash. The cultural Left’s beliefs, attitudes, and actions, our putative face to the outside world, have instilled in traditionalist Muslims a hatred for our nominally Christian nation. Terrorism for D’Souza is an understandable, if extreme, corrective to sexual immodesty and other moral transgressions.

“In this book I make the claim that will seem startling at the outset,” he announces in the Introduction. “The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11...I realize that this is a strong charge, one that no one has made before.” Don’t toot your horn too loudly, kiddo. Many of our traditionalists, including Pat Buchanan, William Rusher, and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, made the same charge, if less bombastically, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. And highly bombastically, so did the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom D’Souza manages to quote only a few pages later. To refresh one’s memory, Falwell stated on national television that God was sufficiently angered by the moral direction of our country “to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil.” Falwell listed pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way as having provoked divine wrath. D’Souza faults Falwell only for theological incoherence, not for his sense that America got what it deserved. Come to think of it, D’Souza’s first book, Falwell: Before the Millennium (1984), was an elongated mash note to the Lion of Lynchburg.

Yet the lack of originality in The Enemy at Home’s thesis may be the least of its problems. More disturbing is the thesis itself, a two-part interlocking morality play that holds: 1) Islam is a benign force recently hijacked by a radical rump faction; and 2) our cultural Left provoked the hijacking. Neither point withstands scrutiny.

D’Souza’s distinction between “traditional” (good) and “radical” (bad) Muslims is superficial, failing to note that from the seventh century onward, Islam’s primary, and avowed, legacy has been antinomian war against nonbelievers. The religion’s drive to conquest has resulted in the frequent enslavement and extermination, and not simply persecution, of non-Muslims. The Prophet Mohammed killed, or had killed, every single intellectual and artist who opposed him, notes Bill Warner, director for the Center for the Study of Political Islam. The mass slaughter of innocents accompanying the Islamic conquest of Constantinople in 1453 was hardly a break with tradition. During 1500-1800, Muslim pirates from North Africa’s Barbary Coast kidnapped and enslaved as many as a million white Christians from Europe and the New World. President Jefferson’s gunboat diplomacy, not Islamic self-reform, ended the practice.

Islamic behavior, of course, is sanctioned by Islamic scriptures, of which D’Souza gives a selective reading. Here’s a charming passage he overlooked: “Then your Lord spoke to His angels and said, “I will be with you. Give strength to the believers. I will send terror into the unbelievers’ hearts, cut off their heads and even the tips of their fingers.” ( Koran of Medina, 8:12). D’Souza’s supposed disdain for radical Muslims is highly disingenuous, for he eagerly rationalizes their disgust with American “decadence.” The late Sayyid Qutb, founding theoretician of modern Islamic radicalism, elicits enormous sympathy from D’Souza, as he quotes Qutb’s denunciation of America’s “animalistic behavior which you call the free mixing of the sexes, this vulgarity which you call the emancipation of women.” Particularly offensive to Qutb was his observation at a 1949 church social in Greeley, Colorado that men and women were dancing closely with one another. Scandalous!

D’Souza is even more reverential with latter-day A-list Islamists. He describes the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s face, plastered all over Iranian public buildings, as “gentle, avuncular, even giving the hint of a smile,” a man properly lauded for his “modest demeanor, frugal lifestyle and soft-spoken manner.” If those observations don’t put the reader in stitches, the author’s rendering of Osama bin Laden as “a quiet, well-mannered, thoughtful, eloquent and deeply religious person” surely will.

The second part of D’Souza’s complaint— jihad as an understandable reaction to Western “cultural depravity”—is likewise deluded. The author is convinced that our failure, or outright refusal, to enforce traditional cultural norms rightly has made us enemies in the eyes of Muslims the world over. Sex education, Madison Avenue, television talk shows, The Vagina Monologues, promiscuity, and Hollywood each earn D’Souza’s prim rebuke. No burden of proof is needed for our accusers. If Muslims are “offended” by American culture, well, then our culture is offensive—end of discussion. No doubt the London bombings of July 7, 2005 were understandable, if excessive, reactions to James Bond movies and Roxy Music album covers.

Up to a point, D’Souza even defends Islam’s institutionalized abuse of one-half the human race. He approvingly quotes radical Saudi cleric Fahd Rahman al-Abyan’s denunciation of America’s “putrid ideas” about women’s rights. He also favorably cites Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who accuses America of trying “to spread cultural values that lead to moral corruption” by encouraging mingling of the sexes and extramarital sex. D’Souza seems completely unaware that modern feminism, especially during its all-the-rage Seventies heyday, has been at least as much about an aversion to male libido as a seduction of it. It would be hard to find an Islamic fundamentalist anywhere who matches the anti-sexual fervor of that feminist tag team, Catherine MacKinnon and the late Andrea Dworkin.

The root cause of Islamic rage, unpalatable as it is for the author to accept, is Islam. Wherever Muslim terrorists have murdered innocent civilians in recent years—the U.S., Great Britain, Israel, Spain, Russia, Indonesia, and elsewhere—they have done so in service to their religion. Christians and Jews could be models of piety and modesty, but in the eyes of Muslims they would remain infidels deserving of second-class ( dhimmi) status. The Islamic grand strategy is conquest of infidel-held lands. As peaceful coexistence is not an option, any attempt by the infidels to fight back, in their mind, is an act of aggression. In February 1998, Osama bin Laden offered his “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders,” rationalizing holy war as a response to: First, U.S. troops “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of territories”; second, the Crusader-Jewish alliance’s “long blockade” of Iraq and its neighbors; and third support for Israel, “the petty state of the Jews, to divert attention from their occupation of Jerusalem and their killing of Muslims in it.” Somehow bin Laden, apparently incapable of discerning a predator from someone refusing to be prey, never got around to mentioning Brad Pitt or Michelle Pfeiffer.

To defeat Islamic terrorism—yes, he claims to seek victory—D’Souza urges traditional Christians and Jews and traditional Muslims to form a coalition. Mincing no words, he states, “American conservatives should join Muslims and others in condemning the global moral degeneracy that is produced by liberal values.” The author is as naive here as he is toxic. He believes that by suppressing immoral behavior among “liberals” and “secularists” (same difference), we would win traditionalist Muslim hearts and minds instead of losing them to the fundamentalists. Such passivity, if anything, would raise the likelihood of more attacks. Alan Dershowitz, for one, has argued persuasively that treating terrorism as rooted in legitimate grievances merely reinforces the terrorists’ conviction that their cause is just and their victory inevitable.

It might seem strange that D’Souza, a devout Catholic, empathizes with violent, thin-skinned Muslims. But there is rhyme and reason. Since the early Nineties, many of America’s religious conservatives have elevated “the culture war” into an issue of the first rank, demanding our nation roll back its spasms of post-Sixties self-indulgence. The antidote to hippies, punks, Goths, polyamorists, beat poets, and other supposed cultural nuisances is a coalition of the pious, whatever the theological differences. Conservative columnist Fred Barnes a dozen years ago approvingly termed this nascent coalition “the orthodox alliance.” More recently, Boston College theologian Peter Kreeft urged religious believers of all varieties to take up “ecumenical jihad.” D’Souza’s appeal to non-Islamic and Islamic traditionalists to jointly reclaim our country from all those spoiled, self-absorbed stepchildren of Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, and Timothy Leary is much in this vein. He is simply oblivious to Islam’s demonstrated incapacity to live peacefully among non-Muslims or even themselves—witness Iraq’s unfolding Sunni vs. Shi’ite bloodbath.

As a consumer guide to identifying our internal enemies, D’Souza on pages 289-90 provides a categorized list of representative “domestic insurgents.” Granted, it’s hard to object to the inclusion of such Leftist gargoyles as Ward Churchill, Ramsey Clark, and Noam Chomsky. But putting Garry Wills, Paul Starr, and Thomas Frank among such company is absurd. Whatever their shortcomings, these persons do not, as the author charges, “want bin Laden to win” (the same bin Laden, mind you, whom D’Souza earlier defended as “thoughtful” and “eloquent”—so much for consistency). D’Souza claims he’s not exhuming the ghost of Joe McCarthy. He writes: “The charge of McCarthyism is a diversion because...I am not accusing anyone of treason or even of anti-Americanism.” Don’t believe him. Accusing fellow Americans of treason is exactly what this book is about. Fellow McCarthy admirer Ann Coulter, though resembling Madame Defarge with a bad case of PMS, at least recognizes political Islam for what it is.

As for a strategy to win our culture war, D’Souza is short on specifics, but the book’s context provides more than a few clues of what he would do if he held the keys to power. First, as he has no problem with pious Muslims, it would seem he has no problem with their immigration to America—or their rapid naturalization. Hey, someone has to outvote those Blue State pagans. Second, as D’Souza supports punishment of Western-style licentiousness in Islamic countries, he would seem to recommend it here as well. In other words, the Shar’ia might not be the basis for our law, but it’s an improvement over Sharon Stone. Third, and most ominously, D’Souza gives every indication of endorsing Islamic terrorism on Western soil, if in a measured way against “appropriate” targets. The author’s take on the vicious murder by a young Muslim radical, Muhammad Bouyeri, of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam in 2004 is revealing. Without a hint of disapproval, D’Souza quotes the murderer’s court testimony as fulfilling “the law that instructs me to chop off the head of anyone who insults Allah or the Prophet.” The author adds that van Gogh was “famous for his sexual promiscuity and cocaine use.” For D’Souza, it is clear that the real villain was van Gogh, not his killer.

Reviewing The Enemy at Home in the New York Times (January 21, 2007), political scientist Alan Wolfe called the book “a national disgrace, a sorry example of a publishing culture more concerned with the sensational than the sensible.” Could anyone argue? This ludicrous and repellent book’s one saving grace, albeit unintended, is that it has given its conservative critics, from Victor Davis Hanson to Robert Spencer, renewed cause to defend modernity in a Western context. Let’s hope this response proves contagious.