I have found Dinesh D’Souza’s voice a helpful contribution to that War on Whatever we are arguably fighting—both in his recent book The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 and in his discussions of it in this magazine and elsewhere. He is right to tell people that when Muslim fanatics condemn America and everything it stands for, they are thinking mostly of the de-Christianized “Blue State” America, with its Hollywood narcissism that waves all kinds of depravity in their faces, not the “Red State” America of family and church.
D’Souza is right that the great majority of Muslims have no taste for Islamist violence and no focused de-sire to expand the “Dar al-Islam.” Most would rather live quiet lives, as most Germans and Italians and Japanese would probably have chosen, had they understood their options in the 1930s. Yet they are, overwhelmingly, what we now call “social conservatives,” and the Islamist argument that America is an invasive and corrupting force plays well to the gallery.
He is moreover right that the contemporary Islamist ideology dates back only to the 1920s; that it got its big breaks starting in the 1970s from incredibly naïve foreign policy decisions of two Democrat administrations—most catastrophically, President Jimmy Carter’s decision to pull the carpet from under the Shah of Iran. America and Europe have been, alike, the opposite of steadfast in con-fronting terrorism, and have indeed presented an image of themselves in which licentiousness substitutes for freedom. A quick survey of the terrorist targets tends to confirm this: They choose, even in Israel, secular over religious symbols most of the time.
In all these senses, the secular Left has played into Islamist hands and is now embracing Islamist fashions. For in everything from hip-hop to radical chic on campus, the revolutionary vocabulary of Islamism is gradually replacing the old buzz-phrases of the communist god-that-failed—simply because it is nasty, anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Christian.
Islamism is a distortion of Islam, just as Jimmy Carterism is a distortion of Christianity, but this does not change the deeper history. Catholic Christians are called to remember more than 13 centuries of civilization- al conflict, including the real historical events to which the Islamists allude, from Al Andalus to the gates of Vienna; from the causes of the Crusades to the reasons why Egypt is no longer a Christian country. We can no more afford to overlook this in the West than overlook a rival proselytizing faith that, from its beginnings, enjoined its followers to “compel the good.” This is not a sudden irruption from a pacific background; for through this long history, neither peace nor war has been an anomaly between East and West.
Carter and President Bill Clinton were not born when the modern Islamist movement was coalescing, and its inspiration lies deeper than any phase of American foreign policy. Its appeal lies in the resentment en-gendered by Islam’s grander modern failure to keep pace with what the Islamists still call Christendom—in the humiliation that came with the col-lapse of Muslim prestige.
This is not to recommend spoiling for a fight, and D’Souza is right that we have a tactical interest in detaching the great majority of Muslims from a fanatical vanguard. We should wish to live and let live. But we must not fall into a dream of appeasement that is symmetrical with the Left’s. We must not expect that if we change our habits, radical Islam will go away. We must struggle to restore decency and Christian order within our own society, and to defeat the culture of death that is feeding on our entrails. But we are very foolish if we imagine Islam can be our ally in that task.