A wretched stew

After I became aware of the learned critic John Simon in the late 1960’s I saw him on one of the daytime television talk shows. Jacqueline Susann was the guest; the host was David Frost, and Frost was conducting a gushing interview with Susann about The Valley of the Dolls. Was this some kind of set-up? He turned to John Simon, sitting in the first row of the audience, and invited him to ask Susann a question or two. Simon asked Susann: “Do you think you are writing art or are you writing trash to make money?” (The interview degenerated into a memorable spectacle, as recalled in this remembrance of Susann by Abby Hirsch.)
Simon and Susann briefly exchanged comments and Susann then asked Simon if he’d read the entire book. Simon responded that he’d read only the first 40 or 50 pages, but that it isn’t necessary to eat all of a wretched, putrid stew before you get sick and spit it out. That’s how I feel about Dinesh D’Souza’s new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.
Today the Philadelphia Inquirer runs D’Souza’s column drawn straight from chapter 7 of the book book (chapter 7 is titled “A secular crusdade: Yes there is a war against Islam“). D’Souza has posted the book’s introduction. NRO ran an interview with D’Souza last Tuesday, the day of the book’s publication. Today the New York Times weighs in with a harsh review by Alan Wolfe. Wolfe expresses the revulsion I feel reading D’Souza’s book. I would add that it’s the worst book I’ve ever read by a writer whose work I have previously respected. My nausea began with the opening lines of D’Souza’s introduction:

In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset. The cultural left in this country (such people as Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, George Soros, Michael Moore, Bill Moyers, and Noam Chomsky) is responsible for causing 9/11.

In the course of the book D’Souza interprets Islamic thought generally and bin Ladenism specifically. I don’t think he’s a reliable guide to either. To take only one small example, I don’t think D’Souza fairly characterizes bin Laden’s post 9/11 “Letter to America.” D’Souza incorporates his analysis of it into the thesis that it is (in the words of the chapter’s subtitle) part of “The Islamic critique of Western moral depravity.” He picks one thread of the letter and ignores the rest, such as bin Laden’s indictment of America for its rescue mission in Somalia or bin Laden’s statement that “the first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.” I can’t find a reference to Lawrence Wright or The Loooming Tower in the book; he begs to disagree with Bernard Lewis’s interpretation of the clash between Islam and the West.
The book concludes with a “battle plan for the right” advising conservatives how to make America less offensive to traditional Muslims, “to stop attacking Islam,” “to let Muslims govern their own societies,” and so on. Here are a few of the bulleted book highlights in the materials sent out by Doubleday:

*Muslims are right: the West is waging a war against Islam.
*What has really enraged the fundamentalists is not America’s freedom, but our abuse of that freedom, specifically the sexual liberty we grant to women and the corruption of childhood innocence by our vulgar and licentious popular culture.
*By attacking the depravity of the left, conservatives can win friends among Muslims and other traditional people around the world.

It is typical of the crudity of the book that D’Souza characterizes Islam Unveiled, Sword of the Prophet and The Myth of Islamic Tolerance as “Islamophobic tracts.” Two of those three books are by Robert Spencer; Islam Unveiled comes with a complimentary introduction by David Pryce-Jones. Robert Spencer briefly comments on D’Souza’s NRO interview here.
I hope some scholar with greater knowledge and a stronger stomach than I have will do justice to D’Souza’s sickening book. In the meantime, Dean Barnett shows in his characteristically good-natured manner that he has read the book more closely than I have and arrived at similar conclusions.


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