In his October 30, 2004 videotaped message, apparently timed to precede the presidential election, Bin Laden drew liberally from themes in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 to condemn the Bush administration. Bin Laden denounced Bush for election-rigging in Florida, for going to war to enrich oil companies and defense contracts like Halliburton, for curtailing civil liberties under the Patriot Act, and for reading stories to school-children while the World Trade Center burned. Apart from the rhetorical flourishes of “Praise be to Allah,” Bin Laden sounds exactly like Michael Moore.The other contribution D'Souza claims that the Left has made to the jihadist cause is that it has contributed to a moral degradation that the jihadists have exploited. I have only read the online introductory chapter of D'Souza's book, but others argue that he has overstated his case, seeming to suggest that the jihadists are in some way justified by the West's moral decline and that those who feel an obligation to defend the West should see traditional Muslims as better allies than their libertine Liberal compatriots. If this is so, I would agree that this is carrying the argument too far. What D'Souza gets right, as far as I'm concerned, is that what the rest of the world sees when it looks at contemporary Western (American) culture is something a good deal less edifying than Jeffersonian democracy, motherhood, and apple pie. It's the sexual hysteria into which what I called in the earlier post the Alfred Kinsey libertine Left has led the culture.
We should not dismiss the Islamic or traditional critique so easily. In fact, as our own domestic and cultural debate shows, we know that many of the concerns raised by the radical Muslims are widely-shared in our own society. Indeed, many conservative and religious Americans agree with the Islamic fundamentalists that American culture has become increasingly vulgar, trivial and disgusting. I am not merely referring to the reality shows where contestants eat maggots or the talk shows where guests reveal the humiliating details of their sex lives. I am also referring to “high culture,” to liberal culture that offers itself as refined and sophisticated.Again, this is not to say that the fanatics willing to kill innocent Westerners are motivated by moral scruple, but only that, in silencing their co-religionists or coercing their cooperation, the moral decadence of the West works in their favor. There is no doubt that the jihadists would be as eager to destroy a Norman Rockwell America as they would an Eve Ensler one, but the eclipse of the former by the latter has provided them with a very advantageous recruiting device among traditional Muslims who might be otherwise less easily rallied to their cause.
Here, for example, is a brief excerpt from Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” a play that won rave reviews and Hollywood accolades and is now routinely performed (according to its own publicity materials) in “more than 20 countries, including China and Turkey.” In the book version of the play — now sold in translation in Pakistan, India, and Egypt — Ensler offers what she terms “Vagina Occurrences”: “Glenn Close gets 2,500 people to stand up and chant the word cunt…There is now a Cunt Workshop at Wesleyan University…Roseanne performs ‘What Does Your Vagina Smell Like?” in her underwear for two thousand people…Alanis Morisette and Audra McDonald sing the cunt piece.” And so on. If all of this makes many Americans uncomfortable and embarrassed — which may be part of Ensler’s objective — one can only imagine how it is received in traditional cultures where the public recitation of such themes and language is considered a grotesque violation of manners and morals. Nor is Ensler an extreme example. If the garbage heap of American excess leaves many Americans feeling dirty and defiled at home, what gives America the right to dump it on the rest of the world?
The debate over popular culture points to a deeper issue. For the past quarter-century we have been having a “culture war” in this country which has, until now, been viewed as a debate with only domestic ramifications. I believe that it has momentous global consequences as well. When we debate hot-button issues like abortion, school prayer, divorce, gay marriage, and so on, we are debating two radically different views of liberty and morality. Issues like divorce and family breakdown are important in themselves, yet they are ultimately symptoms of a great moral shift that has occurred in American society, one that continues to divide and polarize this country, and one that is at the root of the anti-Americanism of traditional cultures.In the last post, I quoted a portion of d'Souza's reference to Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation. Here is that quote in its fuller context:
The cultural shift can be described in this way. Some years ago I read Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation, which describes the virtues of the World War II generation. I asked myself whether this was truly the “greatest” generation. Was it greater than the generation of the American founding? Greater than the civil war generation? I don’t think so. The significant thing about the World War II generation was that it was the last generation. Last in what way? It was the last generation to embrace an external code of traditional morality. Indeed this generation’s great failure was that it was unable to inculcate this moral code in its children. Thus the frugal, self-disciplined, deferred-gratification generation of World War II produced the spoiled children of the 1960s — the Clinton generation.Which is to say: my generation, we members of which still have a few years left in which to try to rectify the moral and cultural catastrophe that we actively celebrated or passively allowed to take place on our watch.
The introductory chapter of D'Souza's book can be read in its entirety here, and an interesting critique of it is here.
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