Why do you write such controversial books?
I was introduced to political controversy in my college years when I was an editor of the infamous Dartmouth Review, a kind of thorn in the side of the college administration.
|Growing Up with Two Cultures
On the other hand, I have developed a certain kind of fearlessness in taking on controversial issues, and my editor, Adam Bellow, has been really good in encouraging me to sort of follow an argument where it leads. And so, for example if I say that the radical Muslims are not against us because we support the Palestinians, but because they see us as a pagan, immoral society, my editor then pushes me. Well, are they right to say that? And if there's an element of truth in what they're saying, then how can we discourage the moderate or traditional Muslims from joining them? Or, how do we best answer those arguments? Or, if what they're saying is partly right about America, which America are they describing? Is it red America, or is it blue America?
So, in pushing the argument in this way, it sometimes leads into controversial territory, and apparently it's a place I don't hesitate to tread.
The title of your book, "The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11," immediately brings to mind Jerry Falwell and his appearance on Pat Robertson's show a day or two after 9/11 in which he said a similar thing. Are you endorsing what Jerry Falwell said back then?
Not at all, and here's why.
Falwell was making a different kind of argument, which to my mind is a sort of theological argument. He was saying, essentially, that the left has made America into a morally corrupt place. That we are, to use another famous phrase, “slouching towards Gomorrah.” And God became angry with us, and basically sent us 9/11 to punish us for our sins.
Now, my book eliminates this theological reasoning completely. I'm asking a clinical question. Why did the people who did this do it? It has nothing to do with God's intentions in the matter. I'm not appealing to any divine justice. I'm simply saying since we are now five years away from 9/11, and 9/11 was followed by a kind of understandable moment of national unity, in which people said, "We don't want to understand any of this. We just basically want to strike back at the guys who did it."
They see this as having happened over here, and they say we are projecting these values over there. In fact, their objection to our military force is that they see our military force as the transmission belt for transmitting these immoral values to the traditional cultures of the world which reject those values.
So, this is a descriptive argument that is completely removed from the theological realm that Falwell was operating in.
But the assertion is fundamentally the same, isn’t it? I recall one day, sitting around with a colleague in the White House, who said, "You know, when I look at the claims of al-Qaeda, that American is morally corrupt, that we're sexually immoral, that we project this overseas, that we are essentially depraved." He went on to say, "You know what? They're kind of right. Obviously, I don't agree with their ends." He said, "But, that is kind of what America has become."
David, I think you're on to something very important here. Because it's very important to recognize, first of all, that this is in fact what al-Qaeda is saying. People say, "Oh, al-Qaeda is upset because the U.S. has troops in Mecca." Or, "Al-Qaeda is upset because of our foreign policy."
But, I think a careful reading of al-Qaeda's documents, the bin Laden videotapes, the leading thinkers who shape radical Islam, make it very clear that this cultural or moral argument is centrally important to them.
|Red vs. Blue America
Then you turn to the Muslim who's strapping bullets on his chest, and you ask him, "Why don't you like America?", and he says, "Oh, the reason I don't like America, it's such a sick, demented place, they've--atheism is the official policy that they call separation of church and state, the family has irreparably broken down. You've got homosexuals getting married to each other." In other words, the Muslims look at America and they see blue America.
So, both sides are seeing, in my view, a partial view of America. It's not, in fact, the real America. But, what I--but the Muslims are seeing the face of America that is projected by our popular culture. So, that is the America that they observe. We, here in America, can see a distinction. Our popular culture may be excessive, it may be ridiculous, it may be trivial, it may be vulgar, but it's not exactly the way that Americans live. But, what I'm saying is, that a lot of foreigners don't make that distinction. They don't see red America."
Why is it that you're so easy on the right and American “greed”? For instance, Bishop N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, a very conservative theologian, maintains that the greatest moral evil today is an economic system set up after World War II that benefits the rich nations and exploits the poor ones.
If you're going to look at how America is perceived overseas, how can you ignore questions of greed and how that impacts people? That isn't about the cultural left, that is about corporations and things more commonly associated with "the right."
|The Sins of America
I mean, we call the 9/11 guys suicide bombers. But, as I say in the book, it's not that they wanted to die. It's not that they love their life less, they hated America more. And this radical Islam has struck a cord among traditional Muslims, and perhaps even traditional people beyond the Muslim world.
So, my question is why? Now, my answer is, this has nothing to do with the golden arches of McDonalds, or the high cost of Nike shoes. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Americans are a hundred times richer than Asian Indians, or Africans. Those are valid and important issues, but in this book, I'm trying to look at what has produced the furnace of rage toward America from the people who want to kill Americans. But that's why, it is, in that sense, a foreign policy book that opens the door on the cultural and moral argument, as a way of illuminating foreign policy.
So, you think there's no distinction, then, between the cultural and the economic? That the economic does not influence the cultural?
No, what's happening here is that much of the world is indeed mired in desperate poverty. But, much of the world has been mired in desperate poverty since time immemorial. And so, if America has all this wealth, we may, from our point of view here in America, see that as scandalous. But the ordinary guy who's living on one dollar a day is not going to say, "I'm going to put bombs on my chest and go detonate something in New York," because his father lived on one dollar a day, and his grandfather lived on one dollar a day. So, if he's up to two dollars a day, he's making progress.
More of the interview, including Dinesh D'Souza's discussion of whether religious revival is the only hope for America, can be found on David Kuo's J-Walking blog.