David Horowitz is the conservative polemicist liberals love to hate. His fierce attacks on political cant and ideological certainties have provoked howls of outrage on campuses across the United States and inspired sometimes angry and occasionally stimulating debates about such issues as reparations for slavery, political indoctrination by college faculty and professorial antipathy for American foreign policies.
Precisely because he gives no quarter, Horowitz is a formidable presence and debater. He understands the history of the American Left, how it has been able to use its stated concern for the underdog and underprivileged and its idealistic rhetoric to cover up and camouflage support for and advocacy of uglier policies, goals and repressive regimes.
Growing up in a Communist family, Horowitz was one of the early intellectual eminences of the New Left, before co-authoring a series of best-selling books with Peter Collier on American dynastic families. Horowitz and Collier caused an uproar among their radical friends in the 1980s by loudly endorsing Ronald Reagan for president and organizing a conference at which a number of 1960s radicals owned up to “second thoughts” about their intellectual legacy. Excoriated as traitors and turncoats, they remained on the intellectual offensive. Horowitz, in particular, relishes his role as an intellectual provocateur. His latest book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, will no doubt be dismissed or routinely disparaged, particularly in the academy, as another angry screed by a right-wing hit man. It should not be.
Unholy Alliance offers a very serious and disturbing account of the intellectual corruption of an important segment of the American Left. Even those of us who do not identify with the Left should be worried about the kind of rationalizations for Islamic terror and terrorists that have established a foothold in its ranks. The willingness of some mainstream liberals to form alliances with apologists for and defenders of terrorism in the name of defeating President Bush or sabotaging the war in Iraq represents an ominous development in American political life. Just like the battle for the soul of liberalism in the 1940s and 1950s, during which liberal anti-communists confronted and eventually defeated popular front pro-communists, the struggle within liberalism about Islamic fundamentalism in this decade may well have a defining effect on America’s future.
Horowitz makes a very strong case that significant segments of the Left have formed alliances of convenience with Islamist radicals. He notes that immediately after 9/11, a number of prominent leftists opposed any American response and blamed American policies for the tragedy. With thousands of Americans dead, Noam Chomsky was so consumed by hatred of his own country and conviction that it was the fount of evil in the world that he traveled to Pakistan to inform Muslim audiences that America was planning to commit genocide in Afghanistan before it invaded to overthrow the Taliban. Other prominent writers denounced America for its reactions more vociferously than they condemned Al Qaeda for its murderous actions.
Horowitz is careful to note that he is not conflating all opposition to America’s policies in the Middle East with anti-Americanism nor is he suggesting that everyone on the left buys in to the excuses and rationalizations for terrorism offered by some of its acolytes. He accepts that some, perhaps many, of those who opposed an American invasion of Iraq did so for practical or tactical or patriotic reasons. His book could have been strengthened had he spelled out these differences in more detail. Horowitz also probably underestimates the extent to which normal partisanship has shaped the willingness of some Democrats to excoriate the President for policies they would have supported had a Democratic administration implemented them. But he is absolutely on target to note that by their unwillingness to repudiate their own extremists, Democratic Party leaders have ensured that they will be less capable of forcefully dealing with Islamic terrorism for fear of alienating their anti-war and pacifistic base. And, they have severely comprised elementary standards of democratic morality. Just as it was incumbent on Republicans to repudiate and isolate outright racists like David Duke and Jew-baiters like Pat Buchanan, Democrats need to refuse alliances with Marxist-Leninists and supporters of terrorism.
What is sure to make Horowitz’s argument controversial is his insistence that there is a clear connection between the old anti-Americanism of the communist left and today’s radical anti-American left. But, in clear, blunt prose, Horowitz lays out the connections. Eric Foner, scion of an old Communist family, Dewitt Clinton Professor at Columbia University, defender of the innocence of the Rosenbergs, praises the “patriotism” of Paul Robeson, himself a loyal Stalinist and declares that he doesn’t know whether to be more afraid of terrorists crashing airplanes into buildings or the “rhetoric” emanating from the White House. The first large anti-war coalition, ANSWER, a creature of the Stalinist Workers World Party, began its activities immediately after 9/11 and explicitly defended Saddam Hussein. Leslie Cagan, head of the “mainstream” Coalition United for Peace and Justice, has long had ties to the old Communist Party, as does Medea Benjamin, head of Global Citizen, another group active in anti-war organizing on the left.
Cagan, Benjamin and their allies have successfully incorporated many of the old Communist themes into contemporary anti-war protests with scarcely a murmur of dissent from the notables who endorse and participate in them. There is the emphasis on American imperialism as responsible for the ills of Third World countries and a distinct hostility to both capitalism and corporations. At the large and disruptive Seattle anti-globalization protests of 1999 Gerald McEntee, head of a large public service union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers and a Gore advisor, denounced “corporate capitalism.” There is the demonization of America and the West as a fount of racism, sexism and discrimination, a theme repeated by dozens of American Non-Governmental Organizations at the infamous United Nations Durban Conference in 2001.
And, above all, there is the hatred of Israel that permeated Durban and has increasingly infected larger segments of the radical left. Denunciations of Israel as a colonial settler state, long confined to the fever swamps of American political life, now are a regular part of anti-war demonstrations. So are explicit comparisons of Israel and Nazi Germany and praise and excuses for suicide bombers. The Presbyterian Church urges disinvestment from companies doing business in Israel. More than occasionally, the anti-Israeli animus seamlessly morphs into classical anti-Semitism. Conspiracy theorists on the left mutter about the inordinate influence of Jewish, neo-conservative cabals sacrificing American national interests to serve Israel. In the war between a democratic Israel that, whatever its faults, grants civil rights to minorities, empowers women and is tolerant of gays and lesbians, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad which seek to impose sharia and preach intolerance and repression, significant segments of the left condemn Israel and fault it for protecting its citizens. And while most Democratic politicians would never utter such comments, they associate with and accept support from those who do.
The most arresting portion of Unholy Alliance is Hurwitz’s account of the left-wing embrace of radical Islamists in America. In the late 1980s Abdullah Azzam, Osama Bin Laden’s mentor, criss-crossed the United States recruiting jihadists, raising money and setting up support networks for purchasing weapons, forging passports and destroying liberal, secular societies. After his assassination, the Blind Sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman, took control of his organization and planned the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. His attorney, Lynn Stewart, now on trial for providing material support to terrorism, a long-time radical, defended Islamic terrorists as “basically forces of national liberation” and advocated “directed violence” against the American capitalist system.
Sami Al-Arian, one of the co-founders of Palestine Islamic Jihad and a former professor at Florida Atlantic University, was running a Hamas front at the university for years. Among the allegations in his pending criminal indictment are the funneling of payments to the families of suicide bombers and requests to sources in Saudi Arabia for help in locating bomb-making chemicals. When his activities were first exposed years ago, the reaction of some on the left was not to express horror at the idea of a professor engaging in support for terrorism but to denounce his accusers for “McCarthyism” and engaging in “political repression.”
In the late 1940s the Democratic Party faced a stark choice between those who argued that the United States needed to accommodate itself to communism and those who insisted that it was a pernicious doctrine whose advocates had no place in a democratic political system. Henry Wallace called for an alliance between liberals and communists, asserting that they shared a commitment to the poor and disadvantaged and that American foreign policy should build bridges to the communist states in pursuit of a more peaceful world. Hubert Humphrey fought the first battle in that war in Minnesota and Harry Truman won the war in 1948 by insisting that communists and Democrats were not allies but enemies. By driving the communists and their allies out of the Democratic Party, Truman and Humphrey salvaged the honor of liberalism.
Horowitz notes that several leftists, notably Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens, have pleaded with their compatriots to avoid forming alliances with Islamists or deluding themselves into thinking that radical Islam is a progressive force. But they have had little influence. And more mainstream liberals like former President Carter continue to give credence and respectability to conspiracy theorists, extremists and anti-Israel activists like Michael Moore. Although conservatives are the most likely readers of this book, it contains important lessons for liberals. Despite his persona as a conservative ideologue, I would guess that David Horowitz would be pleased to see liberals regain their moral footing and once again refuse to compromise or cooperate with enemies of democracy. That would be beneficial to both liberalism and conservatism. Until that happens, books like Unholy Alliance are a valuable reminder to liberals that the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend and to conservatives that old enemies are very resilient.
Harvey Klehr, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at Emory University and co-author of In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage.
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