if it's this roundly hated by both sides in the Ideology Wars, there is probably something to it.
Now there are some cases when triangulation is good and some cases when it is bad, but adopting it as one's preferred default position as Mark often does in order to "prove" his point is recipe for disaster. The issue of the D'Souza book strikes me as being one of those situations where disaster seems quite likely to ensue. Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I have read D'Souza's previous works and enjoyed them but think that he is exceedingly wrong-headed in his understanding of this issue. That Mark is so eager to buy into the thesis that he elevates him to the level of a Biblical prophet indicates to me that he doesn't understand much about what either D'Souza is saying or about the role of the prophets:
Part of the way to do this, of course, is to examine our own house and see if we've got some repentin' to do. That's essentially the annoying approach the prophets tended to take with Israel. When the Assyrians came into town, the prophets didn't tells Israel that the Assyrians were misunderstood guys who meant well if your properly contextualized the mounds of human heads they liked to construct. But they also didn't blather jingoistic crap about Our Israelite Way of Life Must Be Preserved Against Terrorists Who Hate Our Freedom. They said, "Repent and the Lord will take care of the Rod he has brought against you."
Except that from what I understand of his book, if D'Souza were an Old Testament prophet he would basically be arguing that the Assyrians were fundamentally correct in their worldview about why Israel had to go. Now I have read all of the major and minor prophets on many occasions, but I have never seen that particular exegesis invoked. D'Souza, while correct in his view that there are a number of features about the post-Christian West that are worthy of derision and repudiation, more or less accepts the al-Qaeda propaganda line that this is why the United States and its allies are hated and even goes as far as to buy into the claim that there is an active conspiracy against Islam afoot in the West.
If only it were that simple.
For those of us who actually bother to read documents like bin Laden's 2002 letter to America that attempt to summarize his ideology, it's a little more complicated than that:
(viii) And because of all this, you have been described in history as a nation that spreads diseases that were unknown to man in the past. Go ahead and boast to the nations of man, that you brought them AIDS as a Satanic American Invention.
(xi) You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and*industries.
(x) Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media and economy.
I notice that no one ever seems to discuss these particular grievances when we talk about why al-Qaeda hates us. John J. Reilly noted the following concerning al-Qaeda's objectives in his review of Michael Scheuer's Imperial Hubris:
Readers will note that the list of al Qaeda's grievances seems a bit self-generating. The U.S. is in Afghanistan, for instance, because of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11. (That's also true of Iraq: irrespective of the Baathist regime's role in 911, there was no way a comprehensive response could have been made without resolving the Iraq question, though Anonymous will have none of this line of argument.) We find the same damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don't quality in Anonymous's extended list of things that the U.S. does to annoy Muslims. For instance, we are told:
“America has declared that waging jihad against Islam's attackers is a criminal act and seized and incarcerated—often without trial—hundreds of suspected mujaheddin around the world. For a Muslim to refrain from joining a defensive jihad to protect Islam means disobeying God's law and earning damnation.”
This is a head-scratcher. Apparently, arresting an aspirant martyr as he tries to smuggle explosives over the Canadian border is not just a disappointment, but a grievance. In fact, it's a legitimate grievance, since Anonymous accepts the characterization of al Qaeda's project as a “defensive jihad.” When Osama bin Laden says that Muslim lands are under assault all over the world at the behest of the U.S., he is describing reality. That is why the United States was struck on 911.
Other observers may find bin Laden's list of “attacks” against Islam to be, at best, unevenly persuasive. It includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic on which differences of opinion sometimes occur, but at least Anonymous is clear that no solution that includes the existence of Israel would be acceptable to al Qaeda or other Islamist groups. It includes the independence of East Timor, which I had thought of as a Catholic country that Islamic Indonesia had tried and failed to assimilate, but I can see how other people might think differently. As far as I am concerned, however, there is only one sane opinion about this complaint from bin Laden:
“What documents incriminated the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina and warranted the Western Crusaders, with the United States at their head, to unleash the Serb ally to annihilate and displace the Muslim people of the region under U.N. cover?”
Perhaps an isolated villager in the Hindu Kush could be forgiven for believing that the United States tried to use Serbia to de-Islamize all or part of the Balkans. However, as Anonymous never ceases to remind us, Osama bin Laden is a well-informed man, with a sophisticated understanding of the world. In the case of this grievance, at least, we are not dealing with a culturally different perception. We are dealing with what Joseph Goebbels used to call “The Big Lie.”
Now one might argue that there is a rather large gulf of differences between the worldviews of Muslims and even Islamists and that of Osama bin Laden. I certainly agree with that, but the reason we even care about the worldview of the former to begin with is because those holding to the latter are currently attempting to kill us. The idea that this rather nutty understanding of geopolitics can be separated from al-Qaeda's views of Western depravity is a red herring, because as a practical matter one flows naturally from one into the other as far as they are concerned. Unfortunately, we Westerners do, which is why there are people like D'Souza who think that it is possible to discuss only their criticism of Western immorality or far too many others (see the combox examples to come) who only want to talk about al-Qaeda's geopolitical aims when giving credence to the group's stated objectives. In both cases, I think people are rather bizarrely using al-Qaeda as a stepping stone for their own pet ideological objectives.
Michael Scheuer discusses this on pages 211-212 of Imperial Hubris when explaining the reasons for bin Laden's popularity:
First [unlike Ayatollah Khomeini], bin Laden is from the Muslim world's Sunni majority - and a Salafi, its fastest growing, most conservative, and most martially inclined sect - and not a minority Shia like Khomeini. Second, he has spurned the Ayatollah's wholesale condemnation of Western society and focused on six specific, bread-and-butter issues on which there is widespread agreement among Muslims, whenever they lie on the liberal-to-militant spectrum. Most Muslims would like to see the Prophet's land vacated by non-Muslims, the infidels who, as Mohammed said on his deathbed, had no place on the Arab Peninsula. Likewise, many would relish the elimination of Israel and the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state. Large majorities also can be found in support of making a greater profit on the sale of Muslim-produced oil and natural gas to the rest of the world, and using the money to improve the quality of life for Muslims. Few Muslims, moreover, would oppose the destruction of a set of apostate governments that are among the planet's most brutal, repressive, corrupt, and hypocritical, family ruled regimes that have the profits from oil sales to fund their own debauchery and rent the loyalty of their bankers, businessmen, and academics. Finally, the oppression of Muslims outside the Arab heartland - in Kashmir, Chechnya, India, and Xinjiang - has become a gut issue for Muslims thanks to bin Laden's rhetoric and, even more, the pervasive presence of real-time, Muslim-owned satellite television. These six foreign policy goals are Mom-and-apple-pie for most Muslims, and bin Laden has tied them to the positive message that God promises Muslims victory if they take the path of jihad that He required and His messenger explained and preached.
Now I think that Scheuer's a nut when it comes to his policy recommendations, but I would be a fool to doubt the validity of his factual understanding of al-Qaeda and its objectives. But no doubt Mark and D'Souza know far more about al-Qaeda, what it wants, and why it appeals to Muslims than does the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit.
That said, I note that Josiah, who has been considerably more measured than yours truly, has been banned by Mark for criticizing him and pointing out the holes in his arguments. Now it's Mark's blog and he can ban whoever the heck he wants, but I continue to find it interesting that people like Josiah are banned while stuff like this are okay:
The Israelis still control Gaza, the points of entry, the airspace, the water, etc. The reason the Arabs opposed Zionism was not religious hatred, it was political. They knew Zionism meant expulsion and territorial dispossesion for them. It turned out they were right. It is also not true that non-Jews have the same rights in Israel as Jews. It would not be a Zionist state if that were true! Yes there are some real anti-semites out there...probably many Arabs who have had their land taken, homes bulldozed, and loved ones killed by the Israelis, but anti-semitism is an overused label thrown at those who are hated by the Israeli lobby. Sorry to see you are such a sucker for Israeli propaganda!
Now maybe it's just me, but I find that a lot more objectionable than anything Josiah ever wrote.