He fails, however, to explain adequately how Third World opposition to “a decadent American culture” led to 9/11, still less why those Americans who share his opposition to this decadent culture should support the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. To be sure, D’Souza is right about a number of things that more conventional defenses of the Bush administration are likely to get wrong: he recognizes that Muslims do not “hate us for our freedom”; that Islamic radicalism is not a form of fascism; that we are not at war with terror; that Abu Ghraib horrified the Muslim world because it involved the sexual humiliation of men, not because it violated treaties that are widely ignored when interrogating prisoners in the Middle East. And he expresses at least some skepticism, though hardly enough, about making the forcible export of democracy the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, these lapses into common sense and reality do not redeem D’Souza’s stubborn, ideological defense of the Bush administration.

“The only way to win the war,” D’Souza believes, “is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.” But he does not produce any evidence that Bush’s invasion of Iraq, rhetorical belligerence toward Iran and Syria, and dismissive dealings with Palestinian leaders of whom Israel disapproves have endeared the U.S. to traditional Muslims. The reality is quite the opposite. ~Tom Piatak, The American Conservative

Tom does a nice job separating the different strands of D’Souza’s argument in The Enemy at Home and recognising the things that D’Souza manages to get right in spite of his other biases.  Tom does very well to focus on the incoherence of an argument that requires us to believe that Muslims are revolted by the cultural imperialism of the decadent, modern West to the point of fanatical violence while also holding that the only way to stop the fanatical violence is through increased political imperialism (or at least a hegemonic position sustained by interventionist wars that is in many respects indistinguishable from empire).  In other words, if you believe what D’Souza believes about the cause of the problem, the Bush administration’s remedy appears to be not simply counterproductive but perfectly mad.

Tom rightly acknowledges that our decadence and the promotion of it around the world by cultural liberals serve to antagonise Muslims and all other sorts of people from traditional societies, but asks the obvious question: if Islamic terrorism is primarily a response to this, and not a reaction against what the jihadis themselves claim it to be a reaction against (namely, formal U.S. policy in the Near East), why haven’t they focused their greatest outrage on Amsterdam and other places in Europe that have thrown out traditional morality even more openly and forcefully?  For that matter, when targeting America why aim for symbolic and real centers of economic and political power?  Why not hit Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Francisco?  Perhaps because moral decadence is simply an aggravating factor, which may help to stoke Muslim outrage but does not make that outrage the main reason for violence.  It is not one of the principal causes of why the jihadis target America.  Recognising that jihad is integral to Islam and is not some distortion or degeneration of the religion is important (and it is almost certainly something that the distinction between “traditional Islam” and “radical Islam” is meant to obscure or deny), but even this does not explain why jihadis are preoccupied with attacking America first rather than targeting infidels and apostates closer to home.

From what Tom presents in his review, the greatest problem with D’Souza’s proposal for how to respond to jihadis seems to be his view that there is a significant difference between “traditional Muslims” and “Islamic radicals.”  If there is a difference, and I might be persuaded that there is some real difference, it is surely one of degree only.  It is unfortunately mostly the difference between the jihadis who are directly involved in the fighting and killing and those who, for whatever reason, are not directly involved but who by and large sympathise with and support what the jihadis are doing.  As poll after poll from across the Islamic world has confirmed, the surefire way to guarantee that the “traditional Muslims” around the world who routinely declare their opposition to the policies of the U.S. government will increasingly strongly sympathise with jihadis is to engage in ham-fisted invasions of Muslim lands. 

This approach has two additional liabilities.  This not only provides jihadis with the immediate pretext that they are fighting infidel occupiers of Muslim land, thus lending their cause added credibility, but tends to confirm their historical narrative that explains the weakness and failures of the Islamic world in terms of Western domination rather than because of flaws in their indigenous religious and political cultures.  To the extent that such invasions confirm the jihadi picture of an infidel world that is putting Islam under siege in an attempt to destroy it, the more readily they can call upon Muslims, be they “traditional” or “radical,” to do their duty to defend Islam and the response they receive will be all the greater. 

If there is one psychological bias that Kahnemann and Renshon did not discuss quite as much as they ought to have done in their recent FP essay, it is the tendency that people have to assume that they are never aggressors and are always the ones responding justifiably to someone else’s aggression.  This is a powerful bias that helps drive “hawkish” policies as much as anything.  Many Americans will be literally shocked and outraged when you suggest that invading Iraq was an act of aggression.  Why, just look at all the “provocations” “we” have had to endure!  I mean, the Iraqis had the nerve to fire at planes that were enforcing an illegal no-fly zone in their airspace–outrageous!  Who do they think they are?  We can find pretexts for why we did what we did–look at all those Security Council resolutions!  (Not that anyone who invoked these resolutions normally cared a whit for the authority of the U.N. the rest of the time, but no matter.)  In the same way, there are probably more than a few “traditional Muslims” who will look at 9/11 and see, at worst, a more or less justified response to the injuries they believe have been inflicted on Muslims by our government.  They will make the same chilling, monstrous arguments that some apologists for Hiroshima and Dresden make over here: “They supported the enemy regime, so they deserved what they got.”  (Has anyone noticed that the people who typically display the most demonstrative outrage over 9/11 are often some of the same people who most loudly affirm the rightness of the mass slaughter of civilians in WWII through “strategic” bombing?)  These Muslims will see it as a necessary response for the sake of defending “the weak and the oppressed,” and in this way make murder into an act of nobly defending their brethren.  Both of these positions are quite mad, but the tendency to want to refuse to see the aggressiveness of one’s own side is a habit shared by all.  It is a habit that is only overcome with great effort, and for most people this an effort not worth making.  To make such an effort is to somehow sympathise with “the enemy” and to turn against your own side.  To suggest that your “side” has engaged in aggression at any point is to be unceremoniously labeled “unpatriotic” and the like (leave aside for the moment the profound confusion of country and government that this kind of thinking requires).  When people complain about someone “blaming America first,”‘ they usually mean that he is holding America to the same standard that Americans routinely apply to all other nations.  Part of applying the same standard involves questioning the government’s official explanations for its use of military force, which historians and long-time observers of international politics will know are often fraudulent, misleading or self-serving in the extreme.    

Making the effort to break this habit can certainly undermine a war effort if the war is one of aggression.  This is why it was so important to the Germans in WWI, for instance, to engage in the collective delusion that they were fighting a war of self-defense.  There was an iota of truth to this, but not much more, so they clung to that iota for all they were worth.  Of course, when they ended up being blamed (quite unjustly) for the entire thing they were doubly incensed at the injustice of it because they firmly believed they had been fighting a defensive war all along.  Almost everyone believes he is fighting some kind of defensive war.  Well, almost everyone since at least since the 18th century has believed that, when wars for conquest and loot increasingly had to be dressed up in the finery of high principle and justice or at least in the respectable clothing of reasonable economic and political interests.  In the last two hundred years, calling wars “wars of liberation” has become the alternative justification for wars that are clearly not really wars of defense but which are supposedly nonetheless deeply admirable and worthwhile.  The invasion of Iraq is fairly unusual in that some of its supporters routinely claim that it is at once a kind of war of self-defense and a war of liberation all rolled into one.  Some might be more willing to stress its supposedly defensive character, because they are not terribly interested in liberating Iraqis, while others recognise that the war cannot credibly be described as defensive and so they must find some other way to put it beyond reproach.