Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews



The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 by Dinesh D’Souza








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Dineh D’Souza’s premise in The Enemy At Home comes down to this: the cultural left in America by promoting sexual promiscuity, an aversion to religion and policies that are anti-family, so enflamed those who embrace Islamic values that it must be held responsible for what happened on 9/11. D’Souza’s intention in writing what he knew would be a controversial book was to open the debate on those aspects of American culture that can foment hatred of our country and can explain why some consider our nation to be the Great Satan. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 3, “America Through Muslim Eyes: Why Foreign Policy Is Not the Main Problem,” pp. 68-73:


It is supremely difficult for Westerners—especially Ameri­cans—to understand the Muslim world. One reason, of course, is the embarrassingly poor level of knowledge that many Americans have of other cultures. The writer Salman Rushdie gives the example of his sister, who was asked on several occasions in California where she came from. When she said, “Pakistan,” most people had no idea what she meant. One American said, “Oh, yes, Pakestine!” and im­mediately started talking about his Jewish friends.1

Such ignorance is sometimes reflected at official levels. In 1949, on the occasion of Thanksgiving, President Truman decided to pre­sent the president of Turkey with a gift that he considered especially appropriate: a turkey. The turkey, when it arrived in Istanbul, caused bewilderment and extensive speculation. The reason is that the bird that is known in English as a “turkey” is known in Turkish as a hindi—the Indian bird. Historians tell us that the Europeans first en­countered the bird in the Americas, and having seen nothing like it, they named it after the most exotic place they could think of, which was Turkey. The Turks, in their turn, named the bird after the most exotic place they could think of, which was India. President Truman apparently never discovered his mistake, which fortunately was a harmless one.2

More recent, and potentially more harmful, is former New York mayor Ed Koch’s statement that “the supporters of fundamentalist Islam are fanatics who are prepared to die to kill those who observe a religion other than Islam.”3 If Koch is right, it would seem to fol­low that the West must prepare to fight and if necessary kill a sub­stantial segment of the world’s Muslim population because Islamic fundamentalists simply cannot coexist with people of other reli­gions. Yet historically Muslims of all types have coexisted with other religions and even permitted them within the Islamic empire. In the days of the Islamic caliphate that bin Laden nostalgically invokes, innumerable Jews and Christians lived and practiced their religion under Abbasid, Mughal, and Ottoman rule. No one in the Muslim world—not even Al Qaeda—has called for the murder of everyone in the world who observes a faith other than Islam.

Equally remarkable is columnist and former presidential candi­date Patrick Buchanan’s insistence that a written constitution is un­likely to work in Iraq because “Islamic men are not people of parchment.”4 This is being written of a people who have been living by parchment—not just the Koran but an elaborate system of writ­ten laws and codes—since the eighth century (when Buchanan’s Irish ancestors could not even write their names).

The deeper problem, even for Americans who take the trouble to learn something about the Muslim world, is ethnocentrism. Al­though it is liberals—usually of the academic type—who like to com­plain about ethnocentrism, the problem affects Americans across the political spectrum. In fact, as we will see, it is especially egre­gious among liberals. Ethnocentrism simply means that we see others through the lens of our preexisting, homegrown prejudices. Regard­ing our own ways and values as normative and right, we are quick to find the customs and beliefs of others to be strange and ridiculous. We simply don’t know why foreigners do what they do, and so we make sweeping inferences about them that are unjust and wrong. In some cases, we simply project our assumptions and values onto other cultures, presuming that their motives and goals must be identical with what ours would have been in a given situation.

Ethnocentrism is a universal tendency. Students who take courses in multiculturalism have heard a great deal about Western ethno­centrism, and indeed Western historical writing offers many exam­ples of it. For hundreds of years Europeans referred to Muslims as “Mohammedans” because they erroneously presumed that Muham­mad occupies the same position in Islam that Christ does in Chris­tianity. There is also a tradition in the West, more characteristic of the modern than the Christian era, of viewing the East as mysteri­ous, exotic, and inferior—a tendency that Edward Said called “Ori­entalism.”5 What Said ignores, however, is the equally long tradition in Muslim historiography of viewing the West as unmysterious, un­exotic, but no less inferior. Said’s work illustrates an unfortunate tendency in Western multicultural scholarship to deplore the sins of Western culture while ignoring or justifying the same (or greater) of­fenses in non-Western cultures.

The point here is that other cultures—not only Islamic culture but also Hindu culture and Chinese culture—also give striking displays of ethnocentrism. When Jesuit missionaries first arrived in China and showed the Chinese the new maps they had made of the known world, the officials of the Chinese court declared that the maps had to be wrong since they did not show China at the center of the globe. The Jesuits obligingly redrew their maps placing China at the center and the emperor and his courtiers were satisfied.

The Chinese may appear from this example to be amusingly unsophisticated, yet we all adopt a reference point that privileges our own position in space and time. When we speak of the “Middle East,” for example, we are using a geographical term of Western ori­gin. From the point of view of Western observers, the “East” began where Europe ended, and the middle region of the then-known East was conveniently called the Middle East. So, too, the term “Middle Ages” is based on a Western division of time into ancient, medieval, and modern. Obviously the people who lived in the Middle Ages didn’t know they lived in the Middle Ages.

Moreover, terms such as “Middle Ages” or “Dark Ages” do not have the same connotation outside Western civilization that they do within it. Recently historian Joseph Ellis accused Islamic fundamen­talists of trying to take Muslims back to the “Dark Ages.”6 Apparently Ellis doesn’t know—or simply forgot—that the Dark Ages were not dark in the Muslim world. In fact, the period between 700 A.D. and 1500 A.D. was the golden age of Islamic civilization. From the point of view of Muslim historians, the Islamic world was civilization itself and beyond Islam’s borders were only barbarians.

This Islamic perception may strike us as arrogant, but historian Bernard Lewis writes that this arrogance was “not without justifica­tion.” China during this period had a rich, powerful, and sophisti­cated civilization, but it remained regional, confined to one group of people and one part of the world. By contrast, Islam was the first universal civilization, stretching across three continents and encom­passing an astonishing diversity of white, black, yellow, and brown people. Lewis notes that “Islam represented the greatest military power on earth. It was the foremost economic power in the world. It had achieved the highest level so far in human history in the arts and sciences of civilization.”7

As historian Albert Hourani shows in A History of the Arab Peoples, the great culture of Islam radiated outward from its great cities: Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Nishapur, Granada, and Istanbul. This was at a time when London and Paris were small towns. The intel­lectual heritage of Greece and Rome, largely lost to Europe, was pre­served, debated, and enriched by Islamic thinkers of the caliber of Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Farabi, al-Ghazali, al­Biruni, and al-Kindi.8 Western historians commonly identify the “Dark Ages” as a low point of European history, so they define “progress” as moving onward and upward, away from the past. By contrast, many Muslim historians see their history as one of precip­itous decline from the glorious era, and they do not hesitate to iden­tify “progress” with moving back to the days when the Muslim civilization was at its summit.

Ethnocentrism is not only a problem in understanding history; it also inhibits us from understanding contemporary events, such as those leading up to 9/11. For example, it is an article of faith, at least among conservatives, that the West won the Cold War against what Reagan justly termed the “evil empire.” But bin Laden strenuously disputes the premise. His view, echoed by other radical Muslims, is that by pushing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, the Muslims began the process that resulted in the Soviet collapse. Bin Laden thinks he won the Cold War. In making such a claim, he is not en­tirely delusional: the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan by a combination of American technology, American and Muslim money, and the indefatigable fighting zeal of the Muslims who called them­selves the ~Arab Afghans.” What matters here is not whether bin Laden is right or wrong, but that he is convinced of having won a great victory over godless communism, and this belief emboldened him to attack the United States.

To some degree ethnocentrism is unavoidable, because human beings have no alternative to viewing the world through some back­ground set of assumptions and beliefs. If ethnocentrism cannot be completely overcome, however, the scope of its errors can be re­duced and minimized. The way to do this is to turn assumptions into questions. We should always be aware of the blinders that ethnocen­trism places on our minds. We should listen open-mindedly to what the Muslims have to say, trying to understand them as they under­stand themselves. We should try to make sense even of the people and practices that seem most outlandish to us, such as Muslims who seek divine rule in the modern world or Muslim men who marry multiple wives.

Equally important, we should try and see ourselves as they see us. In doing this we should recognize that they, too, are viewing us somewhat ethnocentrically, through the lens of their assumptions and beliefs. Even so, we should carefully consider what our critics and enemies say, even when what they say is harsh. We cannot con­tent ourselves with goofball expressions of innocence, such as Pres­ident Bush’s profession of disbelief that there are people in other parts of the world who hate America. “I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. . . . Like most Americans, I just can’t believe it. Because I know how good we are.”9 Painful though it may be to admit, some of what the critics or even enemies say about America and the West is not necessarily based on misunderstanding. Some of their charges may be true. In that case we will have to figure out how to respond to their justified complaints.

Contrary to the multicultural mantra, true understanding does not involve a suspension of judgment about other cultures, or a dou­ble standard that routinely condemns Western culture and exalts non-Western cultures. Rather, it involves a willingness to critically and open-mindedly evaluate other cultures as well as our own cul­ture. In some cases, this involves a quest for an independent or uni­versal standard of evaluation to assess others as well as ourselves. Although sometimes challenging, these efforts are indispensable to helping us comprehend better why the Muslims do what they do, so that we can more intelligently resolve what we should do about them.


Any reader who wants to think about America’s position in the world in a comprehensive way will want to gain insight from the point of view expressed in The Enemy at Home. For some readers, take some blood pressure medication before reading too much at a single sitting.


Steve Hopkins, June 20, 2008



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 in the July 2008 issue of Executive Times


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