Monday, January 29, 2007

The Muslim Street Is Not Ready To Follow Jerry Falwell

Well, it doesn't take much effort to figure out why thoughtful people on both the left and the right are rushing to distance themselves from the latest book by the egregious Dinesh D'Souza. Here is how he summarizes his argument in The Washington Post:
I argue that the American left bears a measure of responsibility for the volcano of anger from the Muslim world that produced the 9/11 attacks. President Jimmy Carter's withdrawal of support for the shah of Iran, for example, helped Ayatollah Khomeini's regime come to power in Iran, thus giving radical Islamists control of a major state; and President Bill Clinton's failure to respond to Islamic attacks confirmed bin Laden's perceptions of U.S. weakness and emboldened him to strike on 9/11. I also argue that the policies that U.S. "progressives" promote around the world--including abortion rights, contraception for teenagers and gay rights--are viewed as an assault on traditional values by many cultures, and have contributed to the blowback of Islamic rage.
It would take thousands of words to properly dissect the logical and factual problems with just this single paragraph, and life is too short. I'll just confine myself to two quick points:

1. According to D'Souza, Jimmy Carter (not normally identified with "the American left," but let that pass) is partly responsible for Muslim anger because he withdrew support for the Shah of Iran. But Muslims who resent the US say they do so, in large part, because of American interference in the region, including American support for corrupt, tyrannical regimes like that of the Shah. So is D'Souza saying that Muslim rage against the US would have been less if we had continued to prop up the Shah? Where is the logic in that?

Apparently "left-wing" figures like Carter and Clinton are to be condemned both for offending conservative Muslim sensibilities and for yielding to them (which suggests our nation's "weakness"). Please tell us, Dinesh, what you think we should do.

2. D'Souza says that Muslims hate the US because of our readiness to export "progressive" social values--gay rights and the rest. The implication is that American leaders who favor conservative values and abhor progressive ones ought to be more popular in the Muslim world than liberals.

Well, I am currently in Bangladesh, a Muslim country where conservative social mores are very much in force--alcohol is almost entirely unavailable, women dress extremely modestly (even on the beach), men dominate the business world, public displays of affection are unheard-of, etc. But every single Bangladeshi I have encountered expresses strong dislike for President Bush--and, without prompting, many mention their respect for President Clinton and their hope that Hillary Clinton will be president some day.

This is partly because Hillary Clinton actually visited Bangladesh while first lady, impressing local people with her interest and openness. But it is mainly because they feel that both Clintons respect Muslim people and culture, while Bush, by contrast, is viewed as an arrogant bully.

As for Clinton's personal morality, which social conservatives in the US find so distressing--and which you might assume would horrify the strait-laced Muslims: When Bill is mentioned in conversation, I often recount my favorite anecdote about him, which is about the time Mary-Jo and I were having dinner in a French bistro in Chappaqua and Bill came in to have dinner with not one but two beautiful young women. (True story.)

When I told this tale to a group of six or seven Bangladeshi men the other night, they all reacted exactly the way Americans usually react--with a big, appreciative laugh, as if to say, "That dog!" There was certainly no suggestion that Clinton lost any stature in their eyes as a result.

Dinesh D'Souza may wish that the typical Muslim hated the cultural decadence of the American left and admired the rigid moralism of American conservatives. He may even believe that to be the case. The only problem is that there is no evidence to suggest he is right.

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