Is there anyone better able to dissect the contemporary U.S. Left than David Horowitz? After all, it takes one-at least who used to be one-to know one. And like a whole slew of former Leftists over the last 30 years (Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Ronald Radosh, Sidney Hook, and Horowitzs sometimes writing mate, Peter Collier, among others), when these folks critique the Left, they know of what they speak because theyve been there. They know the ideological code words, frames of thought, and rhetoric.
But more than others, Horowitz has made something of a career of his intellectual odyssey from Left to Right, from serving as one of the foremost exponents of New Left radicalism in the 1960s as an editor of Ramparts magazine and in his close association with the revolutionary Black Panther movement, to acting as a Ronald Reagan backer in the 1980s and continuing as conservative ideologue (as publisher of the online magazine FrontPage) and as a crusader against politically correct university speech codes and affirmative action programs. He was once described as the most hated ex-radical of his generation.
This journey has been chronicled in books like Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the 60s (with Collier), a critique of the New Left, and Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, a biographical journey from Red Diaper Baby in a Communist household to modern-day conservative and human rights activist. (Those who dont follow the ideological wars may know him for co-authoring such landmark books as The Rockefellers and The Kennedys.)
Its no wonder Horowitz is a prime Left target. For one thing, the Left never forgives those who abandon it. And could it be otherwise, since in book after book over the past decade (The Politics of Bad Faith, Left Illusions, and The Hate America Left, among others) he has unceasingly attacked the Lefts ideological underpinnings and practices, from its collaboration with totalitarian Communist regimes like North Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Cuba, to its opposition to liberal-democratic governments like those of the United States and other western powers that are seemingly more representative of the Lefts values in upholding human rights and equality.
Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left continues his hammering of the Left. But it is of the post- 9/11 Left, and that makes it particularly significant in a world remade politically after the events of September 11, when the West was awakened to confront the new and ruthless enemy of radical Islam.
In one sense, Unholy Alliances critique is in the vein of the authors earlier works: he makes wide-canvas accusations that the Left has had a lot to answer for-for its official alignments with, and sympathetic support for, unsavoury totalitarian regimes and movements abroad, whether of the former Soviet Union or Pol Pot; on the domestic front he accuses the Left of siding with radical gay activists who lobbied to thwart tough public health measures such as the closing of gay bathhouses in the 1980s that likely would have slowed the spread of AIDS.
In the post-9/11 world the threat may be new (specifically, radical Islam and its desire to impose an imperial caliphate in place of Cold War Communisms worldwide imperial classless ambitions), but for the Left, according to Horowitz, its the same old story. As implied by the books title, the Left today, again contradicting its lip service about equality and human rights, has generally been non-critical-if not directly supportive-of anti-democratic regimes and movements, from Palestinian terror groups to the former government of Saddam Hussein itself, and against liberal democracies like the United States, Great Britain, and Israel.
Indeed, Horowitzs argument in this book is clear and cogent. For example, whatever possessed the Left, within days of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings, to rally opposition to any U.S. retaliation against the perpetrators? Between September 11 and 30, before a shot was fired in response, Horowitz says, there were 247 anti-war demonstrations in the United States and overseas, and approximately 150 peace vigils and teach-in protests across the country. If the Left denounced the attacks at all, the criticism was often muted and qualified by rationalisations that America should look at the root causes such as the countrys supposed imperial activities abroad. Perhaps most notorious among all those who took this position was author and intellectual Susan Sontag, who said of the 9/11 hijackers, whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesdays slaughter, they were not cowards.
Once America did respond with the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. Government, in many Left circles, was immediately denounced for its imperialism and for waging a racist war. Horowitz writes, Within weeks of the most heinous attack on America in its history, radicals had turned their own country into the villain. Criticism of the invasion aside, where, Horowitz asks, was the Left in at least condemning a totalitarian Islamic regime (the Taliban which harboured Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda) that oppressed women, homosexuals and non-Muslims and that consequently should have been repellent to (the Lefts) own values. Horowitz says that, from both angles, this was a defining moment for the U.S. Left, analogous to its response to the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, when the Left of that era opposed the militarist policies of Britain and the U.S against Nazi Germany.
But it wasnt until the U.S. started contemplating the invasion of Iraq that the wellspring of opposition truly gained force. Horowitz, for his part, takes the same position on Iraq as on Afghanistan-in other words that both invasions were justified-and condemns Left opposition equally. As in Afghanistan, the United States was undertaking a regime change in Iraq that the Left might be expected to support, he argues. After all Saddams Baath Party was modelled after the Nazi Party, Saddam was a mass murderer who had invaded two countries, had used poison gas against his own people (the Kurds and Shiites), had harboured notorious terrorists like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal, and had actively financed the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Six months before the invasion the demonstrations, numbering in the hundreds of thousands around the world, were larger than in the first six years of protest against the Vietnam War.
Moreover, Horowitz points out, the anti-war protests were notable for their one-sidedness. Only America was denounced as a rogue or terrorist state and for desiring blood for oil with slogans comparing it to Nazi Germany. By contrast, Al Qaeda and radical Islam were not at all targets of the demonstrators ire. Horowitz concludes, The international left had become frontier guards for Saddam and the Islamic jihad.
But Unholy Alliance is more than a simple critique of the anti-war and anti-U.S. Left. It harks back to Horowitzs previous book, The Politics of Bad Faith, which depicts the Left as a Gnostic religious movement whose idealism is rooted in the quest for a world vastly superior to the capitalist liberal democracies extant in the United States. For this reason, the Left sides with victims of capitalism and opposition regimes, no matter how tyrannical, in order to overthrow Western regimes and impose an egalitarian communist order.
Horowitz maintains that the contemporary anti-war Left has largely been propelled by these same Marxist goals. But, he asks, what does it say about these ideological secessionists from traditional American values, who side with an enemy, radical Islam, that has condemned every American-regardless of race, gender, age or creed-to death? It reveals, he answers, a loathing-which is really a self-loathing-for their country and its citizens.
One problem I have with the book is that Horowitz doesnt really distinguish among those people broadly against the war-who might actually number close to half the U.S. population-and many of the organizers of the anti-war demonstrations. Many of the Americans who opposed the war are hardly leftist zealots. They simply werent convinced there was enough evidence to invade Iraq, and are shamed because the military action has sullied what they consider their countrys traditional role as a defender and not aggressor nation. They differ markedly from the protest leaders, including anti-war organizations such as Act Now to Stop War and Racism (ANSWER) and Not In Our Name (NION), whose main components included such groups as the North Korean-aligned Workers World Party and Communist Chinese aligned Revolutionary Communist Party.
I have other quibbles, such as Horowitzs brushing over an issue like the U.S. Governments questionable rights violations of hundreds of people detained without trial in the aftermath of the terror attacks, and the sanctioning under the U.S. Patriot Act, which he otherwise does a good job defending, of allowing secret evidence in court.
Broadly speaking, Horowitz is correct in his condemnation of the post-9/11 anti-war Left-for its overwhelming biases against the West, and for forsaking its own values by not condemning the practices of Islamic regimes. Even if there were legitimate arguments against the Iraq invasion (e.g. no direct links between Al-Qaeda and Saddam, and the enormous death toll that resulted from the invasion), the Left with its conspiratorial hyperbole of no war for oil and charges of Bush simply seeking revenge for an assassination attempt on his father, is in need of a fundamental re-evaluation of where it stands on questions of democracy and human rights and indeed the War on Terror itself. But, as Horowitz has said in this and other books, the Left seems incapable of revaluating its agenda, blinded by its own messianic blinkers.
Ron Stang (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada