Demagoguery Posing as Scholarship

Dinesh D’Souza, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has raised a ruckus in his new book The Enemy at Home. In the book, he contends that the 9/11 attackers were motivated by neither U.S. foreign policy abroad nor by a hatred of U.S. freedom, as President Bush has repeatedly argued. Instead, D’Souza declares that Osama bin Laden hates the liberal U.S. culture that promotes contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post defending the book, D’Souza says that he doesn’t “hate America.” No, he just hates liberal America and is reprehensibly trying to use the horrible 9/11 attacks to score points against the Democrats of the left.

D’Souza is not the first person to try to turn the 9/11 attacks to his advantage. President Bush disingenuously tied them to Saddam Hussein and invaded Iraq. In fact, D’Souza is not even the first person on the right to try to pin the blame for 9/11 on the left. Jerry Falwell blamed gays, pagans, and the ACLU for the attacks. Although D’Souza seems horrified to have been compared with Falwell, they both end up at the same place. Falwell argued that God was punishing the United States for the activities of these liberal groups, and D’Souza argues that bin Laden has been enraged by American liberal groups’ overseas distribution of contraceptives and lobbying of non-Western countries to liberalize laws against homosexuality and abortion. Although Falwell’s explanation is religious and D’Souza’s is more secular, they both blame the left. Because D’Souza is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, however, he claims that he is not an “unqualified right-wing hack.”

But D’Souza’s qualifications for commenting on the causes of 9/11 are suspect. D’Souza’s biography on the Hoover Institution’s website indicates no scholarship expertise in fundamentalist Islam. In fact, D’Souza’s biography indicates no expertise on terrorism, foreign affairs, or national security policy. His Hoover Institution biography lists his expertise as follows: “Social and individual responsibility, civil rights and affirmative action, economics and society, higher education.” All previous books he has authored are on domestic subjects, and he was a senior domestic policy analyst at the White House during the Reagan administration. Academically, he earned a B.A. in English. After 9/11, everyone wants to be a foreign policy expert.

As a result of minimal credentials in the fields about which he is speaking, D’Souza, unsurprisingly, gets it wrong on the causes of 9/11. D’Souza writes in the Washington Post:

Contrary to the common liberal view, I don’t believe that the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden isn’t upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.) He isn’t upset because Washington is allied with despotic regimes in the region. Israel aside, what other regimes are there in the Middle East? It isn’t all about Israel. (Why hasn’t al-Qaeda launched a single attack against Israel?) The thrust of the radical Muslim critique of America is that Islam is under attack from the global forces of atheism and immorality–”and that the United States is leading that attack.

To evaluate D’Souza’s view, an examination is needed of bin Laden’s original motives for undertaking his war against the United States. Most terrorism experts–”not just liberals–”have concluded that bin Laden’s original motive for attacking the United States was seeing non-Muslim U.S. forces in the Islamic holy land of Saudi Arabia when he arrived back there after fighting the “infidel” Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan. In the Islamic world, it is the duty of every Muslim to do what he or she can to help evict non-Muslim occupiers from Muslim lands. This is what fuels Muslim resistance in Chechnya, Palestine, Afghanistan (both against Soviet and American occupiers), and Iraq. In fact, exhaustive empirical research on suicide terrorism by Robert Pape, a national security expert at the University of Chicago (hardly a bastion of liberalism), indicates that suicide terrorism has much less to do with religion than it does with the “nationalist” impulse to evict foreign occupiers from the homeland. Pape’s research shows that al Qaeda’s activities fall into this category because the group wants to evict the U.S. military presence from the Persian Gulf.

In addition, bin Laden’s other original motive for attacking the United States was its support for despotic, corrupt regimes in the Middle East. Just because there are many of them there doesn’t mean that this was not one of his prime motivators. His greatest hatred is for the autocratic government in his home country–”Saudi Arabia. D’Souza, however, is right that bin Laden was not originally motivated to attack the United States because of its support for Israel. This justification was added later merely to gain more support for bin Laden’s cause in the Arab world.

In addition to most expert opinion, based on bin Laden’s original writings, and Pape’s empirical research, repeated public opinion polls in the Arab/Islamic world discredit D’Souza’s unsubstantiated musings. Those polls indicate that people in Islamic countries like U.S. technology, political and economic freedom, and even culture (which polls high even in Iran). The numbers start going south only when U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world is mentioned. As D’Souza even admits, the opinions of the Islamic mainstream are important because it has been the traditional recruiting pool for Muslim extremists.

Since D’Souza has few qualifications in the field and has little empirical data or expert opinion on his side, one has to conclude that he is, in fact, a political hack in scholar’s clothing, who is exploiting 9/11 merely to pillory his political opponents. His demagogic bloviation, like that of Falwell and Bush, is dangerous because it obfuscates the demonstrated link between interventionist U.S. foreign policy and blowback terrorism and lets politicians and pundits avoid the most obvious solution: a more humble U.S. foreign policy.