So why the bellicose attacks against me? Consider the difficulty now faced by some American conservatives. The right-wing strategy based on the “clash of civilizations” idea first proposed by Samuel Huntington has proven intellectually short-sighted and politically a failure. This is what is so hard for these conservatives to digest. The problem as I see it is that certain conservative pundits, undeterred by their ignorance of the Muslim world, have formed a phalanx in support of an extreme ideological view that not only lacks convincing evidence but is actually dangerous to our interests. This extreme view of Islam has some tactical advantages, in that it helps to maintain a certain intellectual discipline on the Right. But like the political correctness on the Left on matters of race, it falsifies reality and can only hold together by branding dissenters like me as wicked and heretical. If Islam is simply an evil menace, then no one needs to understand it or address any actual grievances, and anyone who says the contrary is an apologist and a traitor to the cause.
So much for the conservative movement as the party of ideas. What we are witnessing, I’m afraid, is evidence of the closing of the conservative mind — a retreat to the comforts of parochialism in an age that more than ever demands intellectual honesty and openness to fresh perspectives on important national problems.
What is so frightening about my argument? The central point of The Enemy at Home is that the culture war and the war on terror are not separate and distinct, as we often assume, but one and the same. It’s perplexing that American conservatives who spent the last two decades inveighing against liberal excesses at home refuse to admit that this domestic problem could have anything to do with the problem of anti-American terrorism. They forget is that nothing that happens in the U.S. is a purely domestic phenomenon. What we do and say reverberates around the world. Our elections are closely monitored because they can have dramatic consequences for people in other countries. Our local scandals have a global audience. What is so outlandish about suggesting that we take this fact seriously and turn it to our advantage?
By suggesting that we make common cause with traditional people around the world who share our abhorrence of liberal cultural excess, I am not “blaming America” or taking the side of the Muslims. It would be one thing if we were winning that war and didn’t need new ideas and new tactics. The reality, of course, is that we are not winning and we are desperately in need of both ideas and tactics.
What progress do Berkowitz, Spencer, and Hanson have to show for all their rhetorical efforts? Nothing. Despite their attempts, they have not won any supporters among liberals and leftists in this country (and of course they have completely failed to persuade the Europeans). Moreover, by attacking and “exposing” Islam, these conservatives have been foolishly alienating their potential allies in the Muslim world, pushing them toward the radical camp. Then right-wingers plaintively ask why more moderate Muslims don’t join American conservatives in condemning the Islamic radicals. Read Spencer, Berkowitz, and Hanson, and the reason becomes apparent. If you were a traditional Muslim, would you want to associate yourself with people who were constantly attacking your prophet, your holy book, your values, and your religion?
Yet right-wing pundits keep writing their articles, citing each other, and whipping themselves up into a frenzy, and when things go badly they blame Bush or simply refuse to face up to the limits of their approach. Now they are mighty upset that I’ve come along and shown the bankruptcy of their understanding and have proposed a new way of looking at the problem. After all, if I am right then much of what they have been saying for the past five years is wrong and has contributed to putting us into the mess we’re in.
I can think of no other explanation for why these guys, some of whom I know personally, have attacked me so viciously, abandoning their usual civility and collegiality in discussing the work of a fellow conservative. They know I’m not a bin Laden apologist or an America-hater. They also know perfectly well that the Left wants us to lose this war and is doing whatever it can to ensure a Vietnam-style defeat for America in Iraq. And yet these pundits on the Right are doing their best to cover up the Left’s role in 9/11, as well as the Left’s working relationship with the Islamic radicals, all to save their crumbling intellectual edifice from crashing down.
Unfortunately for them, it’s collapsing anyway. Think about this. If we’re in a war against Islam, that means America is up against one billion Muslims. Moreover, unlike in the World War II period, America is no longer united. Conservatives must somehow take on the entire Muslim population and at the same time fight against the vast majority of Europeans who are against us, as well as against the liberal Democrats and Leftists in this country who seem determined to defeat Bush and run the conservatives out of town. How does any sane person on the Right expect to win this kind of a war? If this is the lineup of forces, we are sure to lose.
The only way to win, I suggest, is to create a new configuration of forces. We must give up on leftists in America and Europe who will never join our side and instead find common cause with the traditional Muslims who share many of our values and can actually help us defeat radical Islam. In fact, as the limits of our military strategy have shown, they are the only ones who can.