Why the rise of Islamism?

According to the Hoover Institution's Dinesh D'Souza in his new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, the Western radical left has so repelled Muslims with its secularity, impiety and license that it, rather than gruesome Islamist imperial ambition, is a primary cause of Muslim rage and terror against America.

The left ought to be indignant, but a peculiar aspect of this controversy, little remarked upon, is that D'Souza's liberal critics, for reasons best known to themselves, are missing in action. True, Alan Wolfe wrote a review for the New York Times , but his is an exception. Andrew Sullivan's long review in the New Republic is a late-comer and seems more anxious to prove that D'Souza's views are mainstream conservative (a perusal of the pages of this publication or National Review Online decisively refutes this thesis) rather than simply wrong. It has been left largely to conservatives to rebut D'Souza in detail.

D'Souza acknowledges that he "is making a strong charge, one that no one has made before." In doing so, however, he has been obliged to charm away some alarming facts and doctrines and it is instructive to watch the exorcist at work. This is especially evident in his treatment of Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual inspiration of Al-Qaeda's Islamism, whose works D'Souza has read and acknowledged as central to Islamist thinking.

From Qutb's clear assertions rejecting the secular state and affirming the supremacy of Islamic sharia law, with its drastic restrictions on non-Muslim minorities, women and free expression, D'Souza gleans a previously undetectable commitment to democracy.

From Qutb's plain assertions reiterating centuries-old doctrines of Islamic supremacy, D'Souza contends that an imperialist strain in Islam disappeared (for reasons not disclosed) in the fifteenth century.

From Qutb's plain assertions intolerant of social mixing of the sexes based, not on his having fraternized with revelers at Woodstock, but on having attended a church social in 1949, D'Souza awards Qutb points for a moral sensibility sorely missed in the 21st century.

The left "has a measure of responsibility" (to use D'Souza's own circumspect phrase) for many things, but church socials in the 1940s are not among them.

In rightly insisting that Western vices are self-evidently offensive to Islamists, D'Souza wrongly surmises that Western virtues are not equally so. Yet it is clear that Western freedoms minus the license that can come with them is equally unacceptable to Islamists. Qutb's church social is but one index of the fact. Indeed, some of D'Souza's critics have pointed out Islamism's long-standing detestation of Western mores, but D'Souza declines to address it. Instead, he merely insists that Islamism only started making inroads across the Muslim world due to Western permissiveness rearing its head. Perhaps it is his refusal to recognize the historical connection of Western totalitarian movements and radical Islam that has led him to confuse concurrence with cause, but the connection is easily established.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banna, an admirer of Italian and German fascism who corresponded with Hitler. It was the Brotherhood that attracted Qutb, whose intellectual leader he became, and who in turn exerted his considerable influence upon its growing followers. In the 1950s and 1960s, this was extended to Saudi Arabia and beyond by his many exiled comrades, including his brother Mohammad, who disseminated Qutb's ideas widely. One of his pupils was Ayman Zawahiri, now Bin Laden's second-in-command. Is it credible that these ideas had their impact on someone in Saudi Arabia like Zawahiri because Western permissiveness was getting into full swing in North America?

Beyond precise historical links, D'Souza also misses the hallmarks of totalitarianism writ large in Islamism. Like fascists and communists, Islamists pursue a utopian re-ordering of the world; exhibit a willingness to use unbridled violence and terror to bring it about; and anchor their justification for the consequent barbarism in immutable, iron laws. All three have claimed to know where history is or should be headed and decreed the complete obliteration of all opponents - whether whole classes, peoples or states - as the necessary and beneficent prelude to an epoch of orderliness and justice. These ideas can have mass appeal in societies that are old, established - and failing.

One wonders how D'Souza missed all this. But then conservatives and liberals alike were once oblivious to the seductive appeal of fascism and communism and refused to face them on their own terms. Instead, they accounted for their drawing power by reference to socio-economic grievances leveled at the democracies - a condescension reprised by D'Souza today in respect of Islamism. Such blindness did not equip the world for dealing with Nazism and it will do as little to equip Americans in this war.

How dubiously meritorious is D'Souza's thesis can be gauged by the two claims he has made for its importance. The one - that he is exposing the radical left seeking to prioritize defeating Bush at home over defeating Bin Laden abroad - scarcely requires an error-ridden thesis on the nature of Islamism. The other - that it will be taken seriously because he is a serious scholar - suggests a unique susceptibility to instruction on the part of congressional Democrats and liberals on the views of a conservative intellectual at the Hoover Institution.

Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, London, 2004). His blog can be found on the History News Network.
According to the Hoover Institution's Dinesh D'Souza in his new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, the Western radical left has so repelled Muslims with its secularity, impiety and license that it, rather than gruesome Islamist imperial ambition, is a primary cause of Muslim rage and terror against America.

The left ought to be indignant, but a peculiar aspect of this controversy, little remarked upon, is that D'Souza's liberal critics, for reasons best known to themselves, are missing in action. True, Alan Wolfe wrote a review for the New York Times , but his is an exception. Andrew Sullivan's long review in the New Republic is a late-comer and seems more anxious to prove that D'Souza's views are mainstream conservative (a perusal of the pages of this publication or National Review Online decisively refutes this thesis) rather than simply wrong. It has been left largely to conservatives to rebut D'Souza in detail.

D'Souza acknowledges that he "is making a strong charge, one that no one has made before." In doing so, however, he has been obliged to charm away some alarming facts and doctrines and it is instructive to watch the exorcist at work. This is especially evident in his treatment of Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual inspiration of Al-Qaeda's Islamism, whose works D'Souza has read and acknowledged as central to Islamist thinking.

From Qutb's clear assertions rejecting the secular state and affirming the supremacy of Islamic sharia law, with its drastic restrictions on non-Muslim minorities, women and free expression, D'Souza gleans a previously undetectable commitment to democracy.

From Qutb's plain assertions reiterating centuries-old doctrines of Islamic supremacy, D'Souza contends that an imperialist strain in Islam disappeared (for reasons not disclosed) in the fifteenth century.

From Qutb's plain assertions intolerant of social mixing of the sexes based, not on his having fraternized with revelers at Woodstock, but on having attended a church social in 1949, D'Souza awards Qutb points for a moral sensibility sorely missed in the 21st century.

The left "has a measure of responsibility" (to use D'Souza's own circumspect phrase) for many things, but church socials in the 1940s are not among them.

In rightly insisting that Western vices are self-evidently offensive to Islamists, D'Souza wrongly surmises that Western virtues are not equally so. Yet it is clear that Western freedoms minus the license that can come with them is equally unacceptable to Islamists. Qutb's church social is but one index of the fact. Indeed, some of D'Souza's critics have pointed out Islamism's long-standing detestation of Western mores, but D'Souza declines to address it. Instead, he merely insists that Islamism only started making inroads across the Muslim world due to Western permissiveness rearing its head. Perhaps it is his refusal to recognize the historical connection of Western totalitarian movements and radical Islam that has led him to confuse concurrence with cause, but the connection is easily established.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banna, an admirer of Italian and German fascism who corresponded with Hitler. It was the Brotherhood that attracted Qutb, whose intellectual leader he became, and who in turn exerted his considerable influence upon its growing followers. In the 1950s and 1960s, this was extended to Saudi Arabia and beyond by his many exiled comrades, including his brother Mohammad, who disseminated Qutb's ideas widely. One of his pupils was Ayman Zawahiri, now Bin Laden's second-in-command. Is it credible that these ideas had their impact on someone in Saudi Arabia like Zawahiri because Western permissiveness was getting into full swing in North America?

Beyond precise historical links, D'Souza also misses the hallmarks of totalitarianism writ large in Islamism. Like fascists and communists, Islamists pursue a utopian re-ordering of the world; exhibit a willingness to use unbridled violence and terror to bring it about; and anchor their justification for the consequent barbarism in immutable, iron laws. All three have claimed to know where history is or should be headed and decreed the complete obliteration of all opponents - whether whole classes, peoples or states - as the necessary and beneficent prelude to an epoch of orderliness and justice. These ideas can have mass appeal in societies that are old, established - and failing.

One wonders how D'Souza missed all this. But then conservatives and liberals alike were once oblivious to the seductive appeal of fascism and communism and refused to face them on their own terms. Instead, they accounted for their drawing power by reference to socio-economic grievances leveled at the democracies - a condescension reprised by D'Souza today in respect of Islamism. Such blindness did not equip the world for dealing with Nazism and it will do as little to equip Americans in this war.

How dubiously meritorious is D'Souza's thesis can be gauged by the two claims he has made for its importance. The one - that he is exposing the radical left seeking to prioritize defeating Bush at home over defeating Bin Laden abroad - scarcely requires an error-ridden thesis on the nature of Islamism. The other - that it will be taken seriously because he is a serious scholar - suggests a unique susceptibility to instruction on the part of congressional Democrats and liberals on the views of a conservative intellectual at the Hoover Institution.

Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, London, 2004). His blog can be found on the History News Network.