Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Should we gag ourselves for peace?

Dinesh D'Souza, author of The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, wrote an op-ed recently for the Christian Science Monitor in which he summarizes the thesis of his book. To summarize the summary, D'Souza believes that Muslim anger toward the U.S. exists mainly because they feel our pop culture promotes depravity. He points to sex and profanity, both in lowbrow fare like Howard Stern and highbrow culture like The Vagina Monologues. He believes that to win the war on terror, we need to "restore" our culture to traditional Judeo-Christian values and make sure that Muslims see those values reflected in our movies and television. Only then, he suggests, will they begin to see us as non-threatening.

This is one of those ideas that seemed so blatantly wrong to me that it took me some time to decide what exactly was wrong about it. But I see two basic problems with D'Souza's modest proposal.

The first problem is that it won't work. Even the most conservative Americans (who appear to be D'Souza's target audience) are unlikely to concede enough to placate Islamic radicals. Given the choice between an increased risk of terrorism and forcing every woman on television to put on a burqua, Americans are going to choose the former.

The second problem is closely related, but more philosophical. The idea that Americans should restrict their own freedom of speech in order to avoid offending non-Americans is contrary to the very ideas that America stands for, or indeed the ideas that we're supposed to be exporting to Iraq and Afghanistan. Would D'Souza have us become like the Taliban, which destroyed ancient statues because they offended those who felt they represented idolatry? Logically, we cannot go down the road D'Souza suggests and remain a free nation.

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