May 28, 2007

A recent exchange held on WDAY’s Hot Talk with Scott Hennan between Serb journalist and author of Sword of the Prophet, Srdja Trifkovic and best-selling neocon celebrity Dinesh D’Souza underscores the silliness of what today passes for high-toned political discussion. In a widely discussed book, The Enemy Within (Doubleday, January 2007), D’Souza, a John M. Olin Scholar at American Enterprise Institute,” contends that orthodox Islam and “American conservatism” (whatever that may mean at the present moment) are eminently compatible. Traditional Muslims, we are told, object not to Christianity or to traditional Western values but to American pop culture. Complicating this situation is the phenomenon that D’Souza, borrowing the phrase of his talking partners on the PC Left, designates as “Islamophobia”— an evil that he attributes to right-wing disparagers of Islam, including Trifkovic. Such slanderers have produced attacks on “the Koran as a gospel of violence” and on “Muhammed as the inventor of terrorism.” D’Souza, who claims to have studied the Koran, considers such positions “tactically foolish” and “historically wrong.” He conveniently presents Islamic Fundamentalism as a deviation from the historic religion founded by Mohammed in the seventh century. Since the detailed coverage of his work in the Washington Post in January might lead to the conclusion that D’Souza is an expert on Islam, one might also think that he has mined the relevant primary sources.

But Trifkovic, a multilingual critic who seems to know some Arabic and a great deal of Near Eastern history, revealed in less than a minute of questioning that D’Souza had no idea of what was in the Koran. He also reproduced the radio conversation (which I actually listened to) for the May issue of Chronicles. Any fair judge would have to conclude with Trifkovic that “D’Souza has not studied the Koran, and that he may never have even held one in his hand.”

For the successful author, however, a Catholic from Southern India who is showered with honors as a “conservative” intellectual beloved to the media, such chutzpah is part of the game. In an earlier, New York Times-best-selling work, The End of Racism, part of whose arguments the author borrowed from the late Sam Francis, whom he then accused of “racism” and helped to kick out of his job at the Washington Times, D’Souza makes a host of counterfactual assertions. For example, he told the reader repeatedly that “racism” was a product of nineteenth-century Europe, an assertion that might have made sense if it had been modified to read “scientific racism in the West arose during the Enlightenment, and it then underwent further development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” The most outrageous thing about this journalism is that it is puffed up as serious scholarship in a culture in which real scholars have trouble publishing and marketing their books.

An acquaintance of mine, already in his mid-sixties, Anthony T. Sullivan, has been presenting an argument similar to D’Souza’s, about the overlap between Christian traditionalists and Muslims, for several decades. Unlike D’Souza, Sullivan is a distinguished Arabic scholar who spent a large part of his life in the Middle East. His bad relations with the neoconservatives, caused by his known anti-Zionist opinions, may have doomed his career but there is no question that Sullivan fully anticipated D’Souza’s arguments. He did this, however, without getting his research published by Doubleday and without the honor of being treated as a scholar of high standing in the Washington Post. Sullivan’s ideas, which are framed in elegant but guarded prose, have come out in slender monographs that only reach limited numbers of educated readers. The characterization of D’Souza in promo material as a respected scholar and a leading “conservative” thinker, both terms that would describe the less well-known Sullivan, is entirely out of place.

This imposture reminds me of another incident, in which arrogance was made to mask questionable learning. Last year the second most widely circulated political science journal, after the American Political Science Review, namely Political Science Quarterly, reviewed my work The Strange Death of Marxism. The person who was given the assignment, George Ross, is a faculty member at Brandeis University, and his remarks suggest to me that he understands the contents of my book about as well as D’Souza does the chapters of the Koran. The reviewer raged over the half dozen typos that showed up in the book, before going on to describe my scholarship as a “strange minestrone [sic!]of intellectual history.” “The book’s recurrent problems of scholarship show quickly” when I mistakenly identify Jean-Paul Sartre and his compagne Simone de Beauvoir as “Communists.” Technically Ross is correct that neither of these celebrated longtime defenders of Stalin and denouncers of any “fascist” who dared to expose the crimes of the goulags ever formally joined the Communist Party of France. But starting both, from the Liberation of France in 1944 onward, expressed unflinching support for the Soviet regime and for a Moscow-oriented CP in France. In the preceding period neither one did such things, nor they did show any scruples about taking copious favors from the Vichy government, as demonstrated by Gilles and Jean-Paul Ragache in 2.0.CO;2-B”>Des écrivains et des artistes sous l’occupation.

Ross also attacks me for my “remarkably idiosyncratic” “order of arguments,” in a stricture that continues to amaze me. Since my transitions from Marxism to Neo-Marxism to something even less related to Marxism follows the evolutionary pattern proposed by a number of European scholars, some of whom I cite in my footnotes, it is hard to figure out why my unoriginal divisions are seen as “idiosyncratic.” Ross then proceeds to misrepresent my references to Habermas, as the preacher of the negative view of the German past that emerged from the Nuremberg Trials. Pace Ross, I am not linking Habermas to “the hard-nosed American colonels and Nuremberg lawyers who tried to de-Nazify Germany after the War” but to the pro-Soviet advisors and Frankfurt School “anti-authoritarian” psychologists who advised these non-intellectuals. If Ross can bring himself to look up some non-authorized reading on the themes of my book, he should consult Caspar von Schrenk-Notzing’s Charakterwäsche. This is the best work, in my opinion, treating the intention and range of “German postwar “reeducation,” a process that Habermas and Germany’s present academic and journalistic elites maintain was not sufficiently thorough or relentlessly enough “antifascist.” My chapter on Germany focuses on why national masochism, as preached by Habermas, has become a dangerous, aberrant characteristic of German public life.

The review also makes the astonishing statement that Western Europeans were less anti-Communist and more anti-fascist than Eastern Europeans because they had suffered under the Nazis but not under the Communists. Thus Western Europeans “had good grounds for worrying about a renaissance of extreme-right hate politics after the war.” My immediate response was “Go tell that to the Poles!” who suffered grievously under both Hitler and Stalin but who were never as “antifascist” as today’s European leftists. Ross also seems blithely ignorant of the bloodbaths, affecting tens of thousands of people, that the Communists unleashed in 1944 in Rome, Paris, and other Western European cities, to punish “Fascist collaborators,” but which conveniently took no account of their own collaboration with Hitler during the period of the Soviet-Nazi Pact. Such actions were undertaken to intimidate political opponents, and they certainly give the lie to the contention that Western Europeans had no sense of the violence that the revolutionary Left was capable of producing. Moreover, the statement about the “good grounds” for Western intellectuals to fear [note the generic] “Fascism” rather than Stalinism after the War borders on the moronic. Communists came close to taking over France and Italy several times after the war, with popular votes. They were kept from doing so because the more democratic Socialists had no stomach for an alliance with Stalin’s Western European puppets, and because in the Italian case, the U.S. meddled properly to prop up the Catholic Christian Democrats. (See my forthcoming essay in the Fall issue of Orbis.) There was no chance of “Fascists,” let alone Nazis, winning majorities or pluralities anywhere after the War, unless one accepts Ross’s quintessentially post-Marxist leftist designation “extreme-right hate politics” as our reference point. Presumably a popular failure to move far enough leftward in the multicultural spectrum to please Ross may be taken to reflect “hate politics.”

Before dropping this subject, I would note that there are points of view developed in my book which are indeed open to challenge. Such acute reviewers as Daniel Mahoney, Nino Langiulli, William Lind, and Paul Belien offer critical observations about my core arguments in discussions that are available to those who are interested. One can certainly challenge the degree of American influence that I ascribe to the European post-Marxist Left; and it is also possible to insist that I understate for dramatic effect the gulf between traditional Marxism and the present multicultural Left. Such criticisms have considerable merit, and they have made me reconsider some of my arguments. But Ross’s clumsy efforts at authenticating himself as an academic leftist do not fall into the same category of useful assessments.

As soon as I read his review, I called the editorial office of PSQ at Columbia University and asked if they would publish my response. Although I was led to think that open exchanges had been the practice of this publication, apparently in my case non-leftist facts have no status if cited for reactionary purposes. I then asked a well-healed, neoconservative-funded organization that purports to fight for academic freedom whether it would investigate the double standard. Although I was assured that “this is entirely up our alley,” I was not surprised when the organization did not pursue the matter. The reason is not far to seek: I did not qualify as someone who had suffered from academic intolerance, as a pro-Iraq War or outspokenly Zionist student or professor. Indeed nothing that I complained about fitted neoconservative concerns—and what is even more significant, my name would not have evoked warm feelings among those payrolling the watchdog enterprise. In retrospect it seems that I wasted my time by calling the journal’s editors and then the supposed guardians of my freedom. Still this frustration no less than the fruitless exposure of D’Souza’s pretence underscores the bad choices offered by what Russell Kirk facetiously called our ”higher learning.” Among these distasteful choices are media charlatanry, pseudo-conservative guard rails, and the post-Marxist sanctimony exemplified by my critic at Brandeis.


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