Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dinesh D’Souza Goes Bananas

Tibor R. Machan

D’Souza is a man to reckon with. He is no fool and many of his ideas have considerable merit. But in his latest book, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, D’Souza has gone over the top big time. The theme of this work is that 9/11 is partly the responsibility of the American Left, which, as Publishers Weekly characterized the work, "roots the blame for the 9/11 attacks in the left wing's ‘aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family’."

The flaw in this is elementary and is contained in that famous saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones (but words will never hurt me)." The main point, a serious one, is that human beings can be unavoidably hurt only when physically attacked. Otherwise, when insulted or offended, they are free to turn and walk away from what doesn’t please them. There is, in short, nothing coercive about verbal assaults.

In turn, of course, the response to such "assaults" must be peaceful, non-aggressive. However much one may take exception to what someone else says, thinks, advocates, promotes, suggests, intimates, and so forth, none of it justifies responding with violence. Yes, there may some borderline cases, as with all things human. But those are few and far between—if someone is grieving for an intimate and you insult the person, the pain may be too difficult to bear and the response could be violent and excusable. Even in the criminal law in some countries crimes of passion are forgiven because, well, they are deemed to have been provoked. But that’s already too lenient, too willing to accept as an excuse one’s failure to act in a civilized fashion, namely, with proper restraint.

When the Danish newspapers ridiculed Mohammed, those were insults. A civilized response would not have gone beyond a verbal, if firm, protest. Instead many Muslims went out and burned down buildings and killed people. No insults warrant this.

So Mr. D’Souza is wrong to blame the American Left, with all of its moral relativism and support of decadence and licentiousness, for how Muslims acted, specifically when they assaulted and murdered innocent people in New York City on September 11, 2001. They should have confined themselves to criticizing those in the West, including, perhaps, those on the Left, for being wrong. Instead they acted like barbarians. And for this neither the Left nor anyone else besides the perpetrators are responsible.

Mr. D’Souza has a compatriot on the Left in this matter. Catherine MacKinnon, the University of Michigan law professor and author of the book, Only Words (Harvard University Press, 1993), argued against first amendment protection for pornographers because, well, their words, pictures, and films should be construed as being equivalent to physical weapons. But they aren’t. And when people who read or view pornography engage in violent conduct, it is not the pornography that’s responsible but they are. That is the meaning of human freedom of thought, namely, that the bulk of what we are offered without coercion is not assault by any stretch of the imagination. It may be offensive, insulting, annoying, irritating, blasphemous, and so forth; but it is no justification for violent reaction from any human being. If one’s culture taught one that being offended justifies violent response, one’s culture is misguided, wrongheaded, period.
The idea behind this is that human beings can read and view anything and freely accept or reject it—they have free will and aren’t coerced into doing what the material they read or view urges them to do. This is, indeed, the basis for the First Amendment’s protection of the right of freedom of speech and expression in the U. S. Constitution. It is the height of civilized law! The fact that many Muslims are unwilling to act accordingly cannot be blamed on those whose words and deeds offend them.

Mr. D’Souza, who has written some fine things about America and why it is such a free and essentially great country, seems to have forgotten his own ideas in this latest book.

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