Below John writes about Dinesh D’Souza’s appearance at Gustavus Adolphus College last night. The theme of his talk, John reports, was loosely based on D’Souza’s first post-9/11 book, What’s So Great About America. The title of the book, incidentally, is a statement, not a question.
The book stands in marked contrast with D’Souza’s second post-9/11 book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. The latter not only contrasts with WSGAA, it is also one of the worst books I’ve ever read. It’s not just bad in the usual ways, however, it is also deeply dishonest.
I wrote about The Enemy at Home at some length in the New Criterion essay “D’Souza goes native” (subscribers only) and in one of the comments on D’Souza’s four-part response to his critics. D’Souza’s response to his critics is immortalized in the paperback edition of The Enemy at Home. NRO collected comments on D’Souza’s response to his critics under the heading “The enemy D’Souza knows” and separately posted Victor Davis Hanson’s comment as the column “The mind of Mr. D’Souza.”
D’Souza framed the The Enemy at Home on a thesis that, he acknowledged, would “seem startling at the outset.” His thesis was an indictment that he levels in the second sentence of the book’s introduction: “The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11.” D’Souza didn’t reveal how, more than five years after the event, he alone among the thousands of commentators on 9/11 had tumbled to its root cause.
In The Enemy at Home D’Souza expressed great sympathy with, and understanding for, the radical Islamic critique of the United States. I may be the only person outside D’Souza’s immediate family to have read both WSGAA and The Enemy at Home, but the two books cannot be reconciled. They contradict each other. One has to read them both to see how bald the contradiction is. Here is the conclusion of my New Criterion essay:
The Enemy at Home is a strange book, both for what it says and for what it does not say on subjects that D’Souza must know conflict with its thesis. D’Souza says, for example, that he would rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Michael Moore than with the grand mufti of Egypt (is this another lame stab at humor?), but that when it comes to “core beliefs,” he feels closer to “the dignified fellow in the long robe and prayer beads than to the slovenly fellow with the baseball cap.”
Having engaged in the effort to understand the Muslims as they understand themselves, in The Enemy at Home D’Souza generally does not seek to judge them by a standard above or beyond Islam. In this respect The Enemy at Home stands in contrast with D’Souza’s first post-9/11 book, What’s So Great About America.
In the earlier book, D’Souza first rehearsed many of the same themes that he explores in The Enemy at Home. There he placed radical Islamists among the “blame America first” crowd. There D’Souza lauded the disentangling of the institutions of religion and government, “a separation that was achieved most completely in the United States.”
There he argued that Islamic fundamentalists don’t just object to the excesses of American liberty, they object to liberty itself. There he noted that America could not appease the radical Islamists by staying out of their world because we live in an age when the flow of information is unstoppable.
There he concluded that there was no alternative to facing their hostility. There he condemned the “coerced virtues” of the realm of Islam, because “compulsion cannot produce virtue.” There he declared America to be, on balance, “an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism.” There he chose to cast his lot with his fellow citizens rather than with the grand mufti of Egypt.
If provocation is the standard by which The Enemy at Home is to be measured, the book is undoubtedly successful. It seems to me, however, that its cynicism exceeds its provocation.
The Enemy at Home was a flop. Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that D’Souza is on the lecture circuit talking about “what’s so great about America” rather than “the enemy at home.” Or perhaps its another sign of his cynicism.