Er, okay. Before we get to that, let’s acknowledge what D’Souza gets right. He’s correct to bemoan what he calls the “ethnocentrism” of much western analysis of Islam. Take Patty Murray, Washington State’s senator (Democratic), and her bizarre assertion that Osama bin Laden’s popularity is due to EU-Canadian-sized social-welfare programs:
He’s been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building daycare facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful.
This is not just, as they say in Britain, bollocks on stilts but bollocks on such dizzying stilts as to put Senator Murray’s head way up in cloud-cuckoo land. Al-Qaeda has never built a single “daycare facility”, and they never will. Why? Because they believe Islam, like most traditional societies (including ours, until a generation or two back) already has a perfectly good “daycare facility”: the home. For a mother to leave her children to be raised by strangers while she goes to work at the convenience store would not strike most Muslims as societal progress. Maybe they’re wrong, maybe they’re right. But we ought at least to see the difference. Especially if we’re one of only a hundred out of 300 million people who get to be a US senator.
Patty Murray was a relatively lonely cheerleader for Osama bin Laden’s daycare program. But D’Souza identifies a much more widespread and dangerous form of “ethnocentrism” in the photographs from Abu Ghraib. For hysterical liberal ninnies, this was (and remains) a shocking exposé of torture. The question for western commentators was very simple: How far up the chain of command did authorization for these revolting techniques go? Faced with a guy being led around on a dog collar with female panties on his head and a banana sticking out his butt, the anti-war crowd wanted to know whether the Attorney-General had issued a memo on the use of tropical fruits in interrogation techniques and whether there was a smoking-gun invoice at the Pentagon revealing massive bulk purchases from Victoria’s Secret. The larkier conservative commentators scoffed: Anyone who’d spent ten minutes in an Iraqi – or Syrian or Egyptian or Saudi or Yemeni – prison would not regard the Abu Ghraib scenes as torture.
We scoffers were only half-right. In the Arab world, the “shocking exposé of torture” was shocking not because it was torture but because it exposed something worse. “Most Muslims did not view it as a torture story at all,” writes D’Souza. “Abu Ghraib was one of Saddam Hussein’s most notorious prisons. Tens of thousands of people were held there and many were subject to indescribable beatings and abuse. Twice a week, there were hangings outside the prison. This is what Muslims mean by torture, not the lights-on, lights-off version that American liberals are so indignant about… The main focus of Islamic disgust was what Muslims perceived as extreme sexual perversion.” Saddam’s guards pulling out your fingernails is torture. But a nobody like Lynndie England, a female soldier and adulteress, boozed up and knocked up and posing naked for photographs with paralytic casual acquaintances and making men masturbate in front of her and e-mailing the photographs all over the Internet… To Muslims, all that represented something far darker than a psycho dictator:
“It was just for fun,” reported Paul Arthur, the military investigator who interviewed Private England. “They didn’t think it was a big deal.” To the Muslim world, that’s the point: a society whose army recruits drunken pregnant adulterous fornicating exhibitionist women, and it’s no big deal.
When the Ayatollah Khomeini dubbed America “the Great Satan”, he was making a far more perceptive critique than Canadians and Europeans who dismiss the US as the Great Moron. Satan is a seducer, and so is America. And, when Muslims see Lynndie England, they don’t like where that leads.
I agree, up to a point. Remember a year or two back when Janet Jackson’s nipple put in an appearance at the Super Bowl? Everyone was affronted, and the Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation. But it wasn’t the nipple. I like nipples. Bring ’em on. The more the merrier. What struck me about the Super Bowl “entertainment” was how hollow and joyless and mechanical it was in the 20 minutes leading up to the offending nipple. It was sleazy and trashy when it was still fully clothed. I’m with that Maclean’s cover story on our skanky tweens: the sensibility of much of our pop culture is loathsome and degrading. D’Souza makes a shrewd observation about pornography: Every society has it, but you used to have to pull your hat down and turn your collar up and skulk off to the seedy part of town. Now it’s provided as a service in your hotel room by every major chain. That’s a small sign of a big shift.
Where I part company is in his belief that this will make any difference to the war on terror. In what feels like a slightly dishonest passage, the author devotes considerable space to the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual progenitor of what passes for modern Islamist “thought”. “Qutb became fiercely anti-American after living in the United States,” writes D’Souza without once mentioning where or when this occurred: New York in the disco era? San Francisco in the summer of love? No. It was 1949 – the year when America’s lascivious debauched popular culture produced Doris Day, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and South Pacific. And the throbbing pulsating nerve center of this sewer of sin was Greeley, Colorado, where Sayyid Qutb went to a dance: “The room convulsed with the feverish music from the gramophone. Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips…”
As I wrote in Maclean’s a couple of months back: “In 1949, Greeley, Colorado, was dry. The dance was a church social. The feverish music was Frank Loesser’s charm song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’…” Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban introduced it in the film Neptune’s Daughter.
Look, if it would persuade ’em to hang up the old suicide-bomber belts, I’d lay off the Tupac CDs and Charlie Sheen sitcoms and Britney Spears navel piercings. But you’ll have to prise “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from my cold dead hands and my dancing naked legs. As I said back then, “A world without ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ will be very cold indeed.”
From a sophisticated writer, the central proposition of this book is absurd – that western conservatives should make common cause with “moderate Muslims”. That would be merely the inversion of the freakshow alliance between the godless left and the jihadists embodied by the participation in one of the big “anti-war” rallies of a group called “Queers For Palestine”. “Moderate” Islam is preferable to jihadism, has many admirable qualities and many less so. But attempting to align our social values with theirs would be the right’s strain of appeasement and just as doomed. The reality is that Islam sees our decadence not as a threat but as an opportunity. For the west to reverse the gains of the cultural left would not endear us to Islam but it would make us better suited to resisting its depradations. However, the rationale ought to be that cultural decadence is bad for us in absolute terms, not because it makes Muslims despise us. We should reject Britney because she’s rubbish not as a geopolitical peace offering.
ADDITIONAL INDICTMENT #3