Monday, March 19, 2007

A new extreme right: Dinesh D'Souza and the theocons

It's an old cliché that when the extremes go far enough to the political right or left, they end up meeting around the back. How really different were Nazism and Stalinism? Or indeed your skinhead neo-fascist football hooligan and the masked, Starbucks-smashing, anti-globalisation anarchist? But Andrew Sullivan, reviewing The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 by Dinesh D'Souza in The New Republic, demonstrates a new version of this - where the American (and this is predominantly an American phenomenon) religious right, the theocons, have fetishized their social conservatism to such a degree that they starts to see the up-side in the fundamentalist Islam of the Saudi Wahhabis or international Islamists more generally.

Sullivan argues that D'Souza is, like the Islamists, actually more interested in the earthly, political structures that he feels his religion requires, than in the actual religion itself.
In the goal of maintaining patriarchy, banning divorce, outlawing homosexuality, and policing blasphemy, any orthodoxy will do. D'Souza's religion, in a sense, is social conservatism. He is not going to let a minor matter such as the meanings of God get in the way of his religion.
Sullivan accuses D'Souza of then cynically sugaring the Islamism-isn't-all-bad pill for his fellow conservatives by saying that it was the actions of American liberals/progressives/lefties/what-have-yous who are responsible for making the Jihadis hate America by producing an ugly, morally repugnant and vacuous culture, and therefore bear ultimate responsibility for the attacks.

It would be comforting to say that D'Souza is just plainly f**king nuts. But he isn't. Nor is he stupid. He does though have a very, very weird outlook on the world. It would also be comforting to call him a marginalised extremist, but this doesn't appear to be true either. Although the book has taken some stick from many conservatives, other serious conservative figures have defended him and it has serious publisher and D'Souza himself is all over the media. Sullivan lists D'Souza's recent speaking invitations, and the one that jumped out to me was the U.S. Air Force Academy. For those who take an interest in the Christian Right in the US, that the Air Force Academy had invited D'Souza might not come as any great surprise after the scandals of recent years where cadets who weren't fundamentalist Christians claim to have been made to feel unwelcome by other students and members of the faculty. Nevertheless it's seems slightly alarming that an extremist like D'Souza gets to lecture the future guardians of the US nuclear forces.

I've often wondered what some on the politically active, religious right really have against Islamism. If we ignore bin Laden and co. and their violence aimed at the US, the more politically-inclined Islamists, be they the pro-monarchy Wahhabi sheiks of Saudi Arabia, or the more televisual Aljaazera imams of the Muslim Brotherhood, seem to be on the same wavelength when it comes to social policy. For example, the American politicization of homosexuality is particularly striking to Europeans; many argue that gay marriage was the issue that swung the 2004 presidential elections. D'Souza is with the Islamists on this issue; Sullivan's argues that D'Souza is unique only in having both the balls and gall to openly admit it. I've mentioned Ted Haggard on this blog before, and D'Souza thanks Haggard in the book (I wonder if it had gone to print before Haggard's gay-prostitute-crystal-meth-party fall-from-grace had hit the headlines?), but in an interesting radio show last autumn on Haggard's scandal, the journalist Jeff Sharlet noted:

Now the other villain, of course, for most of twentieth century evangelicalism was the communist…And then in 1992, in the early 1990s, the communist very quickly disappeared as a viable enemy…I noticed that a lot of these chastity organizations had all started, in fact, in 1992. And then as I started talking to them, they were quite plain that they felt that with the Cold War over, there was now room to focus on sexual issues. And, at the same time they felt that gay liberation had had some success and so they felt like suddenly, the gay man, and I always say the gay man singular, sort of an archetype, because they’re not really talking about real people…The gay man sort of rose as this looming figure who could be anywhere, just like a communist. Looks like us, moves among us, is in our schools…And so it’s an omnipresent threat that you have to be constantly on vigilance for. And this is a great organizing tactic, this is the ultimate fear tactic.
Sharlet went on to note that there is actually discussion within certain parts of the religious right, post-9/11, as to whether Muslims or gays are more dangerous for America. D'Souza appears to have taken a very public stand on this issue and is clearly more scared of gays.

Sometimes you are just left shaking your head at the utter weirdness of all.

(See also this earlier post.)


KGS said...

D'Souza has been thoroughly trounced by many of the main voices on the Right.

D'Souza is getting cooked by both the Left and Right, and they are as puzzled over his line of thinking as I am.

KGS said...

Check out the video and the reaction of the Right. Goldberg tells it correctly.