WHO IS THE ENEMY
FrontPageMagazine.com Friday, January 11, 2008
FrontPageMagazine.com Friday, January 11, 2008
Mike Ghouse: The good people, the moderates need to speak up. The extremists keep on attempting to label every one as the Islamists… if we do not speak up, the label starts sticking in the minds of the weak and feeble who cannot think on their own. It is a reality… I urge you to really go to the link… and respond to them in 50 words… give them a reason …. Turn things around. I have been on their site endlessly, it is your turn.
The following interview with FrontPage editor-in-chief David Horowitz was recently conducted (Dec. 18) by Jesse Singal, an Associate Editor for Campus Progress. An offshoot of the Center for American Progress -- a leftwing think tank created by George Soros and Hillary Clinton, Campus Progress describes its mission as working to "empower new progressive leaders nationwide." In a wide-ranging exchange, Horowitz discusses Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, the war in Iraq, the nature of the left and whether a dialogue over these issues is possible. FrontPage welcomes the opportunity to begin such a dialogue with Jesse Singal who has shown himself to be a fair-minded interlocutor.
Campus Progress: One of the more common critiques of “Islamo-fascism Awareness Week” is that it sweeps a huge number of groups into one category. Setting aside the question of whether or not these groups can accurately be described as “fascist,” isn’t it dangerous, strategically, to lump together Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas? Since these groups all have different agendas, and some have slightly more moderate wings that have attempted to enter legitimate politics, isn’t there a danger of not “knowing thy enemy”?
Horowitz: Well first, let me say this was not the complaint that was made about Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week by its opponents who labeled it “Islamo-phobic” and attacked it. This is an intelligent question. It actually deals with the issue. Would that the criticisms at the time had been like that. Instead our critics said that we were attacking Islam and the Muslim religion, and all Muslims. And that was a vicious slander and allowed what I would call campus thugs to attack students who were putting on these events as racists and bigots. It is a form of hate speech to call somebody a racist or a bigot if they’re not, and none of the kids who were organizing these events were racists or bigots, so it was really disgusting.
So, to answer your question: All of the groups you mentioned are part of a movement within Islam. First of all, they all either were created by the Muslim Brotherhood or inspired by its doctrines. The Muslim Brotherhood is really the founding organization of this radical movement in Islam. Even though Hezbollah is a Shia organization and Hamas a Sunni organization, they work hand in glove in the attacks on Israel. There is some discussion about whether the Muslim Brotherhood has a moderate wing. I’m not someone who thinks there is.
The utility in calling the radical movement within Islam “Islamo-Fascism” and not just describing our conflict with it as a “war on terror” is that the term “Islamo-Fascism” forces you to look at a total movement and to see that it a religious movement that is a political movement as well. And that’s the big problem. What we were are confronting is a political religion, and therefore a totalitarian force. The Islamo-Fascists want to control every aspect of human life. As a religion, it is concerned with individual morality and social religions. As a political movement its goal is state power; its aim is to have the force of the state behind its religious doctrines, which is a totalitarian project. That’s why, for example, the poster we used for Islamo-fascism Awareness Week was of a Muslim woman having her head blown off by the Taliban because she had allegedly violated some religious law.
If you have a religious movement like this, a political religion, it’s going to have agencies that are specific to its social and political goals, civil liberties organizations and welfare roups. Hezbollah provides social services; the fascists made the trains run on time. What defines Hezbollah, however, are its religious goals, among which is to kill the Jews. This is an explicit agenda. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah – a holy man – has said in so many words, their agenda is to kill the Jews. The Nazi agenda. I don’t care if they give free food to poor people; that doesn’t make them any less Nazi. I would say the same about the Muslim Brotherhood. If it really is a moderate organization, it can say that very clearly by denouncing its creation, Hamas, which is a military terrorist organization whose goal is to destroy the only Jewish state.
Campus Progess: Do you think there’s a risk of the “Islamo-fascism Awareness Week” alienating Muslims who would be otherwise sympathetic to the cause of fostering moderation and preventing terrorism?
Horowitz: I think that’s a reasonable question. There is no term that one can use that confronts the issues that doesn’t have this problem. Politically, since people will misunderstand what you say, there’s no way to find a term that is not going to upset some, unless you choose one that’s not going to upset the reigning presumptions. In this life, if you’re going to make a difference, you’re going to cause conflict.
At Columbia members of the Muslim Students Association came to my speech. During the question period, the vice president of the organization made a little speech about how jihad is a spiritual struggle and not a holy war. I had not even referred to jihad in my speech, but I understood what her talking point was driving at. So I asked her, “Will you condemn Hamas, which is a terrorist organization and has sworn to eliminate the Jewish state?” She dodged that three different ways as I repeated the question. Finally I said, “Well, I know your answer.”
If there are moderate Muslims who have a problem with the term “Islamo-fascism” I haven’t met them. I don’t regard this person or that Muslim Student Association as moderate.
Yours is a reasonable question, but there are also reasonable ways to approach it, and giving up the term “Islamo-Fascism” isn’t necessarily one of them. When we announced our Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, we said we were defending Muslims, which we were. Muslim women and others who are oppressed by the Islamo-Fascists. The moderats. Moreover, it would have been perfectly possible, for somebody, on any one of these campuses, to propose a panel to discuss the appropriateness of the term, if their agenda had been dialogue and not obstruction. I instructed all the students who were organizing to welcome panels with diverse views on these issues. Our contention was to stimulate a dialogue, not to ram a conclusion down people’s throats.
Campus Progress: So do you think Islam is a inherently violent religion?
Horowitz: Well there’s a billion and a half people in Islam, and many, many divisions among them. As you know, the Quran, just like the Bible, has plenty of contradictory statements. It is my experience that most people are conflict-averse. They may, in their individual lives, get into conflicts but they certainly don’t want to go blowing themselves up. They aren’t eager to go to war. That was true of many Germans in the 1930s. But moderate Germans didn’t make a difference in the end.
Moreover, Islam has problems associated with it that Christianity and Judaism in their modern forms don’t have. The most important is the separation of church and state. If you look at Islam, it’s really been an imperialistic religion since its beginnings. It was created by a warrior not a carpenter; its prophet was directly responsible for genocidal massacres. It is very troubling when a Muslim government which we put in power acts on beliefs which we would otherwise associate with extremists. Our ally in Afhganistan, the Karzai government, sentenced to death a Muslim who had converted to Christianity. They sentenced him to death for leaving the Muslim faith. The United States government had to intervene, to get him out of the country. That was the “solution.” So there is an intolerance in Islam which is much, much greater than in the modern, sort of diluted versions of Christianity and Judaism.
Islam, as it is practiced in the Muslim world, and enforced by Muslim states, presents serious problems that cannot be ignored. I don’t think it’s helpful in discussing these problems to call people who raise them religious bigots. That is merely a bid to stop the discussion all together, which is why it is a constant complaint of organizations like CAIR, which is a creation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Unfortunately there seems to be a united front of the left on campuses which takes precisely this approach. Robert Spencer and I took out an ad in The Emory Wheel, at Emory University, which we titled, “What Every American Needs to Know About Jihad.” The ad quoted Osama Bin Ladin and Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and said: Jihad is a war against Christians, Jews, atheists, gays, and women. Instead of starting a discussion about our ad, the entire religious life faculty, including the rabbi who headed the campus Hillel organization, attacked us as religious bigots. I don’t think that kind of tactic is very helpful.
I’d like to see a discussion of the issues. American Muslims have been very peaceful in these tense times. Is it possible to have a peaceful Islam? Why not? My concern, however, is that the most dynamic movement within Islam is a fascist movement, which I associate with the Muslim Brotherhood and the organizations that can trace either their organizational roots or their spiritual roots to the Brotherhood, and to what is known as Salafism and Wahhabism.
Campus Progress: I do see where you’re coming from here. I think the question is, if you followed the Old Testament to the letter you’d have a pretty brutal system of law…
Horowitz: I think that’s exactly right. But Judaism and Christianity have had a history since their sacred texts were written. If you encountered Christianity in the Middle Ages as a Jew, for example, you could have been burned at the stake. But what Christians are burning Jews now? Or for the last 500 years?
One of the points I made in my speeches during Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week is that during the middle ages a lot of Jews gravitated towards the Muslim world because even though they were treated as dhimmis or second-class citizens—given special taxes, forced to wear a mark that showed that they were Jews and not Muslims—they were treated better than in the Christian world, where their faith put them in mortal jeopardy. But, unfortunately, during the 1930s and the Second World Wa r, Islam in the Middle East was subjected to a huge Nazi influence and absorbed virulent Jew hatred. The Jew hatred expressed by the Arab Muslim World is now worse than in in Nazi Germany before the war. Hitler never announced his plan to exterminate the Jews. Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah shout it from the rooftops, with massive crowds cheering them on and little or no opposition from the rest. “The Protocols of the Elders for Zion ” was serialized on Al Jazeera TV. Mein Kampf is a best seller in the Muslim world. Jew hatred is taught to children in elementary schools. This is much worse than the Hitler Thirties. This is not the Islam of the Middle Ages, hostile as it was to Jews. This is new. That’s why, by the way, the term “Islamo-Fascism” is very important. Because this is not just about Islam; it’s about Islam with a fascist face.
Campus Progress: But there is material on your web site that makes it out as though there is an inherent difference between Islam and other religions. Your website has this description of a film you are promoting: “‘Islam: What the West Needs to Know’ reveals the violent, expansionary ideology of the so called ‘religion…’”
Horowitz: That is the way the film-maker Greg Davis describes his film, which I haven’t seen. I would not use the same phraseology. But I’ve discussed some of the reasons with you why I regard Islam itself as problematic. We have to keep in mind that Islam is a political religion, and that makes it problematic.
Campus Progress: Robert Spencer has a book is called Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity is and Islam Isn’t and he is one of the Front Page, major contributors.
Horowitz: I’ve read the book, and it’s a good book. Read the book.
Campus Progress: Do you disagree with the assertion in the title?
Horowitz: I don’t disagree with any of the particulars. I have had my disputes with Spencer over this issue. It’s a large and complicated issue. It’s one that I intended, with Islamo-fascism Awareness Week, to raise. But we haven’t been able to really raise it, because of the storm of hate storm that greeted it. “Is Islam a peaceful religion?” is a good question, but you can’t discuss it. When a Danish paper published some cartoons, Muslim mobs, egged on by Muslim governments, rioted across the world – killed people, burned embassies. I didn’t see a lot of outrage coming from the Muslim community against that. On the contrary, what I have seen is defenses of that behavior from Muslims claiming to be moderates, and from their non-Muslim apologists in the West.
I have never said that the United States should not seek allies in the Muslim world or should not be engaged, supporting Muslim countries, which we do. We support Pakistan. I think Saudi Arabia is really problematic but I haven’t said we should break off relations with Saudi Arabia. As for the intellectual issue, Robert Spencer is an expert in Islam and Greg Davis knows a lot more about it than I do. I’m not going to rule out their points of view and I’m certainly not going to consider them bigoted because both of them are scholars who are raising important issues which need to be discussed, not just attacked.
Campus Progress: What is your stance on France’s law banning the wearing of religiously significant attire in public schools?
Horowitz: I’m not familiar with the French law. There is a well-informed opinion that says hijabs have nothing to do with religion, but are a political statement, although when religion and politics are conflated it’s hard to know the difference. If you have a religion that doesn’t want to assimilate in some way, at least in the public square, you’ve got a serious problem.
I don’t think we should give drivers licenses, which are essentially identity cards, to people who want to be masked. It’s that simple. If you can’t handle that, you need to go to a country which accommodates medieval customs. I am against clitorectomies. I don’t care how religious such a custom it is, I’m against it. I’m against women getting half the inheritance of a man, I believe in that kind of gender equality. And I thought modern-thinking progressives did too. So I’m not willing to make an accommodations to barbaric religious customs. Now I’m sounding like Christopher Hitchens.
Campus Progress: I bet people sometimes compare you guys. You must sometimes get that.
Horowitz: I have a lot of affection for Christopher although we don’t agree on a lot of things.
Campus Progress: One of your major causes has been a state-level Academic Bills of Rights. These initiatives have been rejected in most states. I just wanted to get your thought on why.
Horowitz: I’ve explained this many times, although my powerful opponents choose to ignore my explanations. I never, ever intended or attempted to legislate what teachers should say in the classroom. I was associated with three “academic rights” bills: in Georgia, Ohio and Colorado (I was also associated with legislation creating a committee to look into the state of academic freedom in Pennsylvania.) None of these bills were bills – statutory legislation. They were all resolutions, which means a “sense of the legislature.” They were all of the order of, “We would like you…to support the principle intellectual diversity,” which means to me, exactly this: If an issue is controversial, then students should be made aware that it’s controversial. Or if a point of view is controversial, a matter of controversy, then students should be made aware that there is a controversy, and should be provided materials that would allow them to decide which side of the controversy they want to be on for themselves. I have never found anybody who disagrees with that when I state it that way.
Why did I go to legislatures? Because when I went to universities I got nowhere. I started with the chairman of the trustees of the State University of New York. I wrote the Academic Bill of Rights for him. He was a Pataki appointee, and his name was Tom Egan. He loved the Academic Bill of Rights, and told me exactly how he would implement it. But he never did so, because he could not oppose his faculty which was dominated by leftwing teacher unions.
So my original intention was to get universities to adopt the academic bill of rights. Before I made this attempt, before I published the bill, I showed to to Michael Berube, Todd Gitlin, Stanley Fish and another leftwing academic named [Phil] Klinkner, who is the dean of students now at Hamilton University. I asked them if they objected to anything in the Academic Bill of Rights. They had a couple of objections to the original document. I took out the clause they objected to. I argued with them, and I couldn’t convince them, so I took it out, because I wanted this not to be a partisan campaign. I am an out-spoken conservative, but I wanted to make this a bi-partisan campaign. It should not have been a left-right campaign.
I wanted an ecumenical approach to this problem because as I have written and said many, many times, the students who suffer most from professors who indoctrinate them and from the lack of conservatives on academic faculties are liberal students because they are never challenged intellectually. Their assumptions are shared by their professors and often the majority of their classmates. They can get up in a class and people will agree with them and support their perspective. All the teacher will tell them is that they need to get such and such a source, or “This is a better argument.” What they won’t get is a challenge to their assumptions.
If you’re a conservative student, and you have the gumption to speak up in class, you’ve got to be prepared to defend yourself. So the conservative kids are getting, ironically, a much better education. They are being faced with critical opinions from liberal and leftwing adults whereas the leftist students never even encounter a conservative faculty member.
To go back to my odyssey with the academic bill of rights. I went to Egan, the chairman of the SUNY board of trustees and nothing happened. I kept coming back at him until finally I realized what the problem was, and the problem was the leftist teacher unions, which are run by aggressive activists who are not primarily scholars, but political ideologues, who saw this as a plot contrived by their political enemies. These radicals are a minority on any faculty. In my book, The Professors, I estimate they’re 10 percent of a given faculty. But they dominate all the political instrumentalities of the university. They’re the leaders of the faculty senate; they’re the officers of the AAUP and the American Federation of Teachers. The reason for this is they like politics, while other professors, the scholars, detest academic politics and generally avoid it. I realized that the administrators don’t really run the universities any more. Their business is fundraising and maintaining institutional calm. As far as the curriculum is concerned, the faculty and the faculty left rule the roost.
When I saw this, I also realized that I go to a hundred administrators and while I might get sympathy, nothing would happen and nobody would ever hear of the Academic Bill of Rights. So I realized that what I had to do was to get some leverage. The leverage could just be perceptual. But that was crucial. If a leftist came out with the Academic Bill of Rights, the New York Times would have published it and it would have received the support it needed. But for conservative there would only be silence, as though it didn’t exist. On the other hand, once I went to legislatures, the left became hysterical. When the left gets hysterical, the media pays attention.
So the left put the Academic Bill of rights on the national radar. As you know, the Academic Bill of Rights is now discussed everywhere. And even though it’s completely misrepresented, including on your web site, the fact that it is essentially a liberal document with which no reasonable person could actually disagree, in the minds of most students and professors who’ve heard of it, there’s a receptiveness to its principles. Before my academic freedom campaign, you didn’t hear much about the subject, not in the context of presenting one-sided arguments in the classroom. There was not a link between about traditional academic freedom values and hearing two sides to a question. Now there is. As for the legislation, I haven’t pushed any legislations, not even resolutions for several years.
Campus Progress: And you’re saying that when you did, it was non-binding.
Horowitz: It was completely non-binding. In Texas, the legislature meets every other year. In Missouri, they meet for 40 days. State legislators often have to have day jobs. Moreover, anyone who actually reads the Academic Bill of Rights will see that I have a very high regard for the independence of the university. So I never really pursued binding legislation. It was the American Association of University Professors, a leftwing organization that first mis-characterized my campaign and now has come out and actually endorsed indoctrination in the classroom. The new AAUP statement validates what I’ve said from the beginning, and that is that their attacks on the Academic Bill of Rights have been because the left and the hard left, the feminist left in particular, want to indoctrinate students in their particular political ideology.
The AAUP now says that if a discipline, such as Womens Studies, declares a doctrine, such as the “social construction of gender” to be true, then it can be taught as true, regardless of whether other disciplines, for example biology and neuro-science, contest its claim.
I have no objection to a feminist teaching, so long as she makes clear that her feminist views are opinions not scientific truths. I have never called for the firing of a teacher for their political views. I defended Ward Churchill over his political views. But when it was revealed that he was a fraud and a plagiarist, I couldn’t defend that. I defended Erwin Chemerinsky, who is an ideological leftist whom I’ve dealt with over the years. But I thought it was wrong to withdraw his appointment because his politics. Chemerinsky was defended by many conservatives, whereas I’m not familiar with a case in which leftists have come out to defend conservatives under similar attack.
Campus Progress: I wanted to ask you a couple questions about the troubled relationship between your organization and ours, if that’s all right. A quote from an interview you gave to National Review Online caught our eye: “But the larger agenda is create a national movement to stand up to the coalition between Islamo-fascists and American liberals at home who are running interference for the terrorists. The coalition attacking Islamo-fascism Awareness Week extends from the Iranians and CAIR through the Revolutionary Communist Party to Campus Progress and College Democrats.” Do you actually think we’re running interference for terrorists?
Horowitz: Well, when you look at the coalition to defame Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week and prevent rational discussion of the issue, Campus Progress was prominent in that campaign. [inaudible]. I was appalled though not wholly surprised that College Democrats would get into bed with the forces that attacked us, and of course Campus Progress as an offshoot of the Center for American Progress is part of the coalition that makes up the Democratic Party. Before we held our events, if a student or professor used the term Islamo-fascism in a discussion on campus, whether in a classroom or not – that person would be attacked as a religious bigot, an “Islamo-phobe.” In other words, before we came on the scene with hundreds of people prepared to use the term, there was an effective ban on the term and therefore on the very idea of Islamo-fascism.
Our week was designed to have so many people publicly using the term “Islamo-fascism” that it would be much harder to discredit and intimidate individuals, and a discussion then could take place. I don’t know if you can use the term Islamo-fascism yet on college campuses but that is my agenda. Campus Progress should have been defending us. Instead Campus Progress attacked us.
Campus Progress: Well that’s a difference of opinion and we happen to have different ideas about how to best address terrorism.
Horowitz: You are a political organization. In politics, it’s the practice that counts. The rest is just talk. During the latter phase of the Cold War, the New Left supported the Soviet empire “critically.” New leftists would say “The soviet union is bad but America is worse,”— which is what the left in effect has been saying in the current war, first about Saddam Hussein and now about Ahmadinejad.
If you interviewed the millions of leftists who went out into the streets to try to save Saddam, they would say “Oh, he’s a monster.” But that didn’t stop them from opposing his overthrow. Until 2003, the left would endlessly complain, “America supports dictators if they’re anti-communist or pro-capitalist—we want America to stand up for human rights.” Well, that’s what America did in 2003 in Iraq and the left attacked America anyway. So the left’s real agenda is not human rights; it’s bring down the Great Satan.
Campus Progress: The point of view of organizations like my own is that none of us were arguing that Saddam wasn’t a horrible person; we were arguing that the results of an invasion would be worse than the results of leaving him in place.
Horowitz: Oh but you don’t really believe that. The United States has gone into countries with your approval. Did you go out intp the streets to attack Bill Clinton when he was bombing Belgrade? Leftists complain that America didn’t save the Rwandans, which would have meant invading an African country. America’s invasion of Iraq was undertaken to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution and a violated truce. It wasn’t even an invasion, but the continuation of a war that began in 1991, when you were a toddler. Saddam violated the terms of the Gulf War truce over and over and over again. The Iraq War was a war that Bill Clinton called for, and the entire Clinton security team, and I’m sure John Podesta, supported. To have the left so unified in attacking such a good war is telling.
Campus Progress: So you think there’s a disingenuousness there?
Horowitz: Yes, what overrode the principles leftists claim to support was the fact that America is the great Satan for the left. When I was a kid, Harry Truman said that it was going to be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who were resisting totalitarians. It was a message to Stalin. There was a civil war in Greece, which Stalin was supporting, and Truman showed that he was going to oppose the Communist takeover which was Stalin’s objective. He sent military and economic aid to Greece. The progressives of the day, who are still the progressives of today, marched out of the Democratic Party in protest to form the Progressive Party, which was run by the communist party, to oppose the Truman policy. They used all the arguments the left uses today, talked about the “liberation” of Greece and of Eastern Europe when the Communists were actually enslaving the region. They split off from the Democratic Party and supported the presidential candidacy of Henry Wallace – against Truman and thankfully lost. Unfortunately, the left returned to the Democratic Party in 1972 to support McGovern, a veteran of the Wallace campaign. I think the left is so entrenched and so powerful in the Democratic Party today that I would be hard to sever them from the party, but I would like to see a Democratic Party freed from their influence—
Campus Progress: But if you’re right, why did the Democrats support the war in Iraq?
Isn’t that a counter argument to your claim that the party is overrun with leftists?
Horowitz: No, because when I say the Democratic Party is a left party, I’m talking about the apparatus. I’m talking about the congressional party. I’m not talking about the voters. The Democrats in congress who voted for the war did so mainly out of fear that if they didn’t the voters would reject them. Leftists look at Democratic legislators as excessively cowardly. In fact what the legislators are doing is listening to their pollsters and saying “My whole constituency may be screaming for this but I can’t do this, because I’m not going to get elected next time if I do it.” That’s what that’s about.
I would like to see the anti-Islamist liberals come out of the woodwork and form a coalition with people like me, with Republicans to fight the enemy. Then I’d be happy. I haven’t seen in the Democratic Party a will to actually fight the war on terror. What I see is a lot of sabotage of the war on terror. I’ve just written a book about this called The Party of Defeat, which will be out in February.
Campus Progress: When you look at the trajectory of the Iraq war, what’s your stance on how it’s going, how it was executed…
Horowitz: First of all, I think it’s been sabotaged from the outset by the Democratic Party leadership, starting with Al Gore and Jimmy Carter, who attacked the president’s policy on Iraq in September 2002 even as he was attempting to compel Saddam to readmit the weapons inspectors and taking his appeal to the UN General Assembly. This began one of the most disgraceful episodes in American politics – the spectacle of a major political party turning its back on a war it had supported when the war had hardly begun.
I think that Bush has mismanaged the war and failed to explain it well to the American people. But, you know, the Democrats created a situation in which he had very little flexibility. General Shinseki, who I was critical of a the time, was absolutely right when he said there weren’t enough troops. But no Democrats proposed bills to increase the troop numbers. The surge is working, but the Democrats have opposed it. They’ve done it in part for really shortsighted political objectives. It’s opportunistic and disgraceful. It’s embarrassing.
Campus Progress: You don’t think that there are people who genuinely think the war is lost. You think it’s political opportunism?
Horowitz: Oh I think there are always honest people on differing sides of issues such as this. My comments aren’t really about the motives of the Democrats in committing this betrayal. They did it from a mix of motives. It’s about the consequences of what they did. As I said,
I’m sure that most of the leftists who marched to save Saddam Hussein thought he was a bad man, but one has to to evaluate what they did, not their intentions. Do leftists worry about the intentions of Dick Cheney or George Bush? Come on! They look at what they think these two men did and then condemn him for it.
Campus Progress: So you think they’re overly consequentialist?
Horowitz: I didn’t say that. I think they have a double standard. They’re consequentialist when it comes to conservatives. They never allow conservatives good intentions. And they’re intentionalists when it comes to themselves—they never concede that they have bad motives.
Campus Progress: Isn’t everybody guilty of that a little?
Horowitz: It’s a human weakness. Who likes to say they’re wrong? Even 20 years after the fact it’s very hard to get people to admit they made a mistake. I wrote an autobiography which was ruthless with the left in terms of what it had done, but I took special care to also be ruthless about myself, so that my critique would be credible. So I know what it is to actually say I made a mistake; I did something wrong. I know how painful it is. So I’m a vert good judge of of whether people have actually had second thoughts or changed their minds.
Campus Progress: You’ve spoken about receiving death threats from people on the left and needing body guards. Do you think people on the left in the U.S. are more irrational or prone to violence than people on the right?
Horowitz: At the extreme ends no. But along the spectrum, yes. I’ve written a lot about this issue. The left and the right are not parallel formations. These are not people who look at a problem pragmatically and come to different judgments about it. They’re really different human types. The left is a missionary movement, a religious movement. The birth of the modern left coincides with the decline of institutional religion. During the French Revolution, the Jacobins turned Notre Dame into a “Temple of Reason” and slaughtered thousands because they lacked (revolutionary) “virtue.” The Jacobins conducted the first modern genocide, when they went in into the Vendée region and killed every Catholic man, woman, and child, because they represented the reactionary past. It was a fore-runner of Pol Pot.
If you’re on the left, you believe in an earthly redemption of one sort or another. You regard yourself as a social redeemer. You see the problems of the world, social problems, as the result of bad institutions that can be changed, and you believe that there can be a world with no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no Islamophobia, no poverty, no war, etc. This is really as close to the kingdom of heaven on earth as you can get. That’s conceptually what the left’s revolutionary fantasy – its fantasy of “social justice” – is about. It’s an escape from the existential reality that we all face, which is a world full of misery and suffering. Which is what it has always has been and -- unless we re-engineer mankind genetically -- always will be. So if you’re on the left you see yourself as a member of the Army of the Saints and you see your opponents—conservatives and Republicans who think that you really can’t do what you want to do and who are going to oppose it—you see us as the Party of Satan. So the left is by nature much more intolerant than the right.
Of course there are people on the right who are religious fanatics, who have the same mentality as leftists. People who blow up abortion clinics or people who, you know, think that you can eliminate abortions all together by passing laws. You can’t do that, anymore than you could outlaw alcohol and make that stick. You just can’t. I think abortion is a bad idea but I don’t think it should be completely outlawed. I’m kind of in the middle. When I grew up abortion was illegal after the first trimester, and so I regard that as a reasonable compromise.
Conservatives believe that the root cause of social problems is us -- individuals. We are the problem. We’re greedy, we’re deceptive, capable of evil. Everybody, without exception. It is remarkable, when you think about it, that people on the left can think that government can be the solution to anything. After all, government is responsible for slavery. The people in government have the same protoplasm as the people causing the problems, except that they more power. That’s why limited government seems like a really good idea.
Campus Progress: Well then, don’t you think that if liberals have that tendency to think government can solve everything, isn’t there a similar tendency among conservatives in regard to the free market or Christianity—it seems like they’re easy fixes.
Horowitz: I think that people are always longing for an escape from reality. You’re right about that. When I’m speaking to conservative audiences one of the things that I say is that there is a difference between religion and politics. Religion is about saving your eternal soul, and if you mess with the devil you endanger your eternal soul. In politics it’s about getting into office and you make pacts with the devil all the time. That’s my way of encapsulating the problem. So yes, there is an impulse in all of us to try to find an easy solution, to try to end not only human suffering but our own frustrations; and that just isn’t going to happen.
Campus Progress: You’ve referred to Campus Progress as part of the “gutter left.”
Horowitz: Well, after this conversation, maybe we’ve begun a new day here. We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of this.
Campus Progress: Okay.
Horowitz: On the other hand, until I see a change, I can’t just sweep under the rug the fact that
Campus Progress attacked me from the very beginning. I’ve gone over the profile you’ve posted on me under “Know Your Right Wing Speakers” to show you how many errors and slanders it contains. I have written before to Campus Progress and there has been little result. The best thing I can say about Campus Progress is first that you invited Jacob Laskin to be on a panel at one of your events and his impression was a good one; and second that you’ve initiated this dialogue. So I’m open to the possibility that my judgment needs to be revised as far as Campus Progress is concerned. But I’m not going to apologize about the past because I was attacked and was defending myself. I didn’t attack first. I just responded.
Campus Progress: What I will say in our defense is that I do think it would be unfair to engage in your argument by calling you a bigot, that’s not something that I would do. I think that your argument deserves more nuance than that and a response. But similarly I think that our argument needs to be modified. We’ve been compared to terrorists, we’ve been told we’re anti-American. I think we simply have different opinions on these things.
Horowitz: I don’t think I’ve been guilty of referring to you as terrorists. What exactly did I say?
Campus Progress: You accused us of “running interference for the terrorists…”
Horowitz: Is that unfair, considering the attacks on Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week? Running interference for the terrorists is different from embracing terrorism. It can be inspired by different motives. One is the opportunistic notion that if the war in Iraq goes well it helps Bush. This is where many Democrats are coming from. Actually, that’s an unsophisticated view of politics. The more Bush succeeds, the more the problem that Americans elected him to solve goes away, and the less reason there is for them to elect him. This is what happened with the crime problem. Republicans won a lot of elections because Democrats had a delusional view of criminals. But when the crime problem began to go away, that ceased to be a factor in elections and the Democrats came back.
Interference can also seem like a respectable strategy if you think that American power presents a bigger danger than the terrorist threat. The New York Times has helped actual traitors—that is, people who violated the espionage laws by leaking national security programs like the NSA surveillance program – to reach the general public and thus destroy the program. That’s aiding and abetting the enemy. Why would the Times do that? Does that mean that the editors of the New York Times are Islamists? Does it mean that they have a pathological hatred for America the way, say, Cindy Sheehan does? It doesn’t mean that. But it does mean that they’re will to break the national security laws of this country to change American policy.
In the early 1970s, I was an editor of the largest magazine on the left, Ramparts. I thought I was pretty sophisticated at the time, although in retrospect I had to recognize that I was pretty naïve. I was critical of the Soviet Union and knew it was a dictatorship, but like other New Leftists I though the Soviet Union could reform and America was the real threat. Somebody passed a manuscript in a manila envelope through our office transom and we opened it. The manuscript had a lot of capitalized words. It was about the National Security Agency, the NSA, which at the time was completely unknown, was not public. The author claimed to have been manning one of the NSA stations in Turkey and to have listened in when the Soviet astronaut burned up in space. He claimed that we had broken the Soviet code and our intelligence agencies knew where every Soviet tank and airplane was when it took off because we could intercept and read their electronic communications. My reaction was that this guy was a nut. But one of our editors had been in the 82nd Airborne in intelligence and he was shaking like a leaf because he recognized words with the capital letters. They were code words, and he said “These are real code words, and just by telling you this I could go to jail. Unfortunately, he was wrong about that.
In any case, we contacted the person who had dropped the manuscript through the transom and interviewed him. He was an American serviceman who had defected from the NSA because of the Vietnam War. We decided to run his story in the magazine. But before we ran it, I wanted to contact a lawyer and know what our liability was. I had four children and was living in Berkley and while sabotaging America’s war effort didn’t bother me, I wanted to know what my risks were. I called up a member of the Daniel Ellsberg defense team, because Ellsberg was on trial for leaking classified documents (for which he too was never punished). The lawyer I talked to was Charles Nesson, a constitutional law professor at Harvard to this day. Nesson advised me on how to commit treason and get away with it. He said, “If you publish this guy’s stuff, you will be violating the Espionage Act.” The espionage act had been written in a peculiar way so that if you first destroy and documents you have and then deny having seen any, you can probably avoid prosecution. He said, even if that doesn’t work, we live in a democracy and that means that the government is going to have to prove, in a court of law, that you damaged national security, which means it’s going to have reveal a lot more about our national security apparatus and measures than it’s going to want to reveal. So the likelihood is you won’t be prosecuted. This, by the way, is why the several instances of treason via document leaks that have been abetted by the New York Times during the Iraq war were not prosecuted. This is why trying terrorists in a court of law is so difficult and why it’s important to have military tribunals.
Recall that when I committed these acts (and of course did so along with the Ramparts staff and to the applause of the left generally), I didn’t do so because I thought that the communists were going to bring heaven to Vietnam. I knew that they were Stalinists. But I said to myself, “This will weaken the United States and if the United States loses in Vietnam that will be good, first because America is the defender of the oppressive imperialist system (the “Great Satan”) and second because even if the Vietnamese screw things up, it’s better for them to do it than for America to do it.”
I was wrong on both counts, but that’s why I did it, that was my motive, which is the primary motive of all the leftists running interference for the terrorists now, and most of the Democrats sabotaging America’s war effort. I was wrong because what the communists did was that they executed 100,000 people, and drove a million into exile, 500,000 of whom perished trying to escape. And, of course, because America pulled out of Indo-China – because the Democrats cut off its support of the regimes there -- two and a half million Cambodians who were also slaughtered. I completely wrong. But, from a progressive perspective, my motives for doing it were well-intentioned. I thought there could be peace in the world if everybody knew what everybody was doing and could know it in advance. What I didn’t factor in—and this was my stupidity at the time—was that if the Soviets knew had broken their code they would change it.
Fortuntely, in those days, the New York Times wanted us to win the wars we were fighting, so they ran a frontpage story discounting our claims. Today, the story itself would be leaked by the Times and they would be running interference for the enemy rather than us.
Campus Progress: Who are some of your favorite liberals at the moment?
Horowitz: Joe Lieberman. Among intellectuals, Randall Kennedy, who is a law professor at Harvard. Orlando Patterson, who is a sociologist at the W.E.B. Dubois institute at Harvard. Stanley Fish has written excellent articles on academic freedom, and is writing a book that I’m looking forward to. I like several of Phillip Roth’s novels. Sabbath’s Theater is a work of demented genius and American Pastoral is the best book about the ’60s that anybody has written, including me. Wonderful book.
Campus Progress: I like The Human Stain a lot.
Horowitz: I liked the Human Stain. I thought the Vietnam vet was cliché which spoiled it for me.
Campus Progress: Thanks for your time. This is probably an audience you don’t reach often, so is there anything else you want to say?
Horowitz: I would like to see much more conversation, left and right, conservative/liberal, whatever you want to call it, much less name-calling. I have, one or two occasions, subjected individuals to attacks that were unfounded and afterwards regretted it and said so. I wish there was some of that from the left. I don’t know of anyone on the other side who has attempted to make such amends. I think it’d be better if all of us if we toned the rhetoric down and attempted to be more generous about those aspects of our opponents’ thought that was valuable. I have tried to do this in regard to antagonists of mine such a Paul Berman, Michael Walzer, Todd Gitlin and even Michael Berube. My efforts, gestures if you will, have not been reciprocated. I try make responses in kind and not to initiate polemical attacks, though sometimes I’m sure I have done that. On the other hand, none of my antagonists just mentioned have been given the kind of shabby treatment they have reserved for conservatives like me.
I would look forward to the possibility of doing some kind of joint conference with Campus Progress to discuss these issues. I’m happy to open my websites to a discussion. I’ve already offered you that opportunity to do that in regard to academic freedom and in particular the AAUP’s shocking new defense of indoctrination, which betrays its own historic positions. If I can find common ground with Stanley Fish, who as you know is an academic leftist, I certainly should be able to find common ground with some people at Campus Progress.
For the moment, I’m going to regard you as a kind of unique in your open-mindedness. I may be wrong about that. You’ve already proved me wrong in stepping forward yourself, and I’m happy to be proven wrong that way. I will look at your organizational statements again. I’m suspicious of your sponsors and origins, as a creation of the Center for American Progress, which I regard as a Soros-Clinton operation.
Campus Progress: I think we’re less shadowy than you think. And maybe you’re less shadowy than we think.
Horowitz: In my view, that is generally the rule in politics. It’s the way the game is played on all sides. May I close with an anecdote illuminating this? It concerns my own light bulb moment.
Campus Progress: Sure.
Horowitz: I host a discussion group in Los Angeles called The Wednesday Morning Club. One of the members of my steering committee, a lawyer for DreamWorks and Stephen Spielberg, asked me to invite Leon Panetta to speak. Our audiences tended to be conservative, but I was trying to create a more hospitable atmosphere in the entertainment industry and was eager to seize the ecumenical opportunity. Panetta had been an important congressman and then was Clinton’s chief of staff during the Monica Lewinsky episode and the impeachment business. Now he has an institute for statesmanship in Monterey.
Panetta came and gave a talk on civic virtues, the kind of things we all love to hear about -- civic responsibility, bringing the community together, etc. He was critical of the Republicans and he was critical of Clinton and Gore and our conservative audience loved it. I went up to him afterwards said: “Mr. Panetta, when I used to see you on television I wanted to throw my shoe at the tube, but what you said just now was marvelous. What happened?” And he said, “Oh, that was just the partisan thing.” Suddenly I saw a whole new reality behind the political surfaces that we are used to. In the political arena, you always have to be protecting your flanks because if you show the slightest bit of openness the opposition will jump down your throat and kill you. And nobody escapes this.
I have reached the point where I can hardly watch the talking heads, I don’t care if they’re Republicans or Democrats. They’re all political operatives, they spin everything. It’s never a real conversation. That Panetta moment was so refreshing. It’s why I think the introduction of politics into campus life which came with the Sixties is so destructive to the conversation that should be taking place there. It’s what I would like to see happen on campuses again. It’s tragic that our campuses have been so politicized. When I was in college during the 1950s, I never heard a professor one time in one class express a political point of view. As a Marxist, wholly out of step with the temper of those anti-Communist times, I would have been hyper-sensitive to such an intrusion. My professors, whatever their politics, were about teaching. It was never about trying to persuade their students to adopt their political prejudices. There was very little political activity on campus, which was something we on the left complained about. But we were wrong. The introduction of political agendas is an obstacle to serious reflection. If you’re always fighting political battles you don’t have room to think.