(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)
Once a prominent member of the New Left who recounted his ideological conversion in Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey , David Horowitz has since established himself as one of the right’s most outspoken advocates. Through numerous books, speeches, and TV and radio appearances, he has campaigned against what he sees as the liberal domination of college campuses, the conspiratorial nature of today’s liberals, and the connection between the left and radical Islam.
Horowitz is founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center , which publishes FrontPage Magazine . This fall, he helped organize and run “ Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week ,” a controversial national effort to mobilize college students in support of the war on terror.
Historically, Campus Progress hasn’t had the best of relationships with Horowitz. He has bashed Campus Progress as part of the “ gutter left “ and once referred to the organization as the “ baby farm “ of the Center for American Progress. We are also, he claims, part of a “ coalition between Islamo-Fascists and American liberals “ that is “running interference for the terrorists.”
We recently called up Horowitz for a phone interview. The full, unedited transcript can be viewed here.
One of the more common critiques of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” is that it sweeps a huge number of groups into one category. 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”?
Well, first, let me say this has not been the attack or the complaint about “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” This is an intelligent question. It’s at the level of actually dealing with the issue, and I wish that the attacks had been like that. The attacks made against us 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 racist and bigots. It’s 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 that you mentioned are part of a movement within Islam. First of all, they all either come out of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is really the founding organization of this movement in Islam, or are closely related. Even though Hezbollah is a Shia organization and Hamas is a Sunni organization, they work hand in glove in the attacks on Israel. The utility in calling this Islamo-Fascism and not just saying we have a war on terror is that you have to look at a total movement and a religious movement like this, which is also political. The big problem here is that it’s a political religion. It’s a totalitarian force and it wants to control every aspect of life, religion, and concerns about individual morality.
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?
I think that’s a reasonable question. Politically, there is no way to find a term that is not going to upset some people, unless you’re not doing anything that makes a difference. If you’re going to make a difference in life, there’s going to be conflict. I had an encounter at Columbia [University] where the vice president of the Muslim Students Association went in to this long thing about how jihad is a spiritual struggle and not a holy war, although I had not even referred to jihad in my speech. So I asked her, “Well, will you condemn Hamas, which is a terrorist organization and has sworn to eliminate the Jewish state?” She dodged that three different ways and 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 seen them. I don’t regard this person or Columbia’s Muslim Student Association as moderate. It’s a reasonable question, but there are also reasonable ways to approach it. You have to understand, when we announced this, we said we were defending Muslims—Muslim women and others. It would have been perfectly possible for any of these campuses to propose a panel on the subject. And I instructed all the students who were organizing to welcome panels with diverse views on these issues. Our contention was to stimulate a dialog, not to ram a conclusion down people’s throats.
Do you think Islam is an inherently violent religion?
There are a billion and a half people in Islam and many, many divisions. As you know, the Quran, just like the Bible, has plenty of contradictory statements. My experience is 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 going to war. But many moderate Germans didn’t make a difference in the end, unfortunately. So, I think Islam has a certain problem associated with it that Christianity and Judaism don’t have, because of their histories. And the biggest one is the separation of church and state.
There is material on your Web site that suggests an inherent difference between Islam and other religions. Your Web site 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’…”
Yeah, that’s Greg Davis’s film. I haven’t actually seen this film. I’ve read parts of his book.
Right, but that is on your site, to be fair.
Well, I think that it’s a point of view. I’m not excluding from my site points of view that think that Islam is the problem. I would not have somebody on my site who took this out on individual Muslims and I have a lot of Muslims who write for my site. We always have to keep in mind that Islam is a political religion, or where it’s a political religion it’s problematic. That’s what that book and film are about. And I haven’t seen the actual film.
Robert Spencer has a book that is called Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity is and Islam Isn’t and he is one of the major FrontPage contributors.
Well I’ve read the book, it’s a good book. Read the book.
Do you disagree with the assertion in the title?
Well, I don’t disagree with any of the particulars. I have had my disputes with Spencer over this issue. It’s a huge and very 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 hate storm it was greeted by. “Is Islam a peaceful religion?” is a good question. You know, when a Danish paper published some cartoons, they killed people, burned embassies. They killed some nuns in the Middle East. I didn’t see a lot of outrage coming from the Muslim community against that.
One of your major causes has been state-level Academic Bills of Rights. These initiatives have been rejected in most states. Why do you think this is?
I’ve explained this many times. I never, ever intended or attempted to legislate what teachers should say in the classroom or to legislate curriculum. I actually was associated with only about two or three bills: I think Georgia, Ohio, and Colorado. None of these were actual, binding bills. They were all “sense of the legislature” resolutions asking universities to support intellectual diversity. To me, all that means is 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’s a controversy, then they should be provided materials that would allow them to decide which side of the controversy they want to be on for themselves. I really have never found anybody who disagrees with that when I state it that way.
I went to legislatures because the universities themselves wouldn’t take action. I realized that the problem was with leftist teacher unions. They consist of aggressive activists who are not primarily scholars, but primarily political ideologues, and they’re a minority on any faculty. I estimate in my book, The Professors, that they’re 10 percent. They dominate all political instrumentalities of the university. They’re the leaders of the faculty senate, they’re the leaders of the AAUP, they’re the leaders of the American Federation of Trade Unions because they like politics, while scholars try to avoid politics. And so I realized that the administrators don’t really run the universities anymore. Their business is fundraising and this and that. But as far as the curriculum is concerned, the faculty and the faculty left rule. When I saw that, I realized that I can go to 100 administrators and I might get sympathy, but nothing would happen and nobody would ever hear of it. I realized I had to get some leverage, even if it was just perceptual, which it was. That is, when I went to the legislatures, the left got hysterical. When the left gets hysterical, the media pays attention. If a leftist came out with the Academic Bill of Rights, The New York Times would have published it and it would have a lot of support.
This campaign should not have been a left-right campaign. I wanted to have 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 you guys are never challenged intellectually. Your assumptions are shared, you can get up in a class and people will agree with you or they’ll support your perspective. If you’re a conservative student and you have the balls to open your mouth 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 adults whereas the leftist kids never are.
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?
Look, let me just say I was appalled though not wholly surprised that College Democrats would get into bed with the forces that attacked us. Before we held the week, if you used the term Islamo-Fascism in a discussion on campus—I don’t care whether it’s in a classroom or in the campus public square—you would be attacked as a religious bigot. So in that situation, before we got on the scene, there was an effective ban or censorship over the term and therefore the idea of Islamo-Fascism.
Our week was designed to have so many people getting out there associating with the term Islamo-Fascism that it would be much harder to discredit individuals and that the discussion then could take place. Now I don’t know if you can use the term Islamo-Fascism yet on college campuses, but that’s my agenda. You guys should have been defending us. Instead you attacked us.
Unfortunately, I have been beat into a corner by the left, which has never engaged my work seriously. I’ve done a lot of intellectual work and a lot of my arguments are really within the left. But I’ve been tarred and feathered at the outset. So it’s created a kind of reflex in me. I’m more than happy to engage in the dialogue over this. But what I wanted to say about politics is this: People go out in the streets and they—you know, if you interviewed the millions of leftists that tried to save Saddam Hussein, they would say “Oh, he’s a monster,” but they oppose the overthrow of a tyrant. You have to have been in the left as long as I have and listened to us say over and over again, “America supports dictators if they’re anti-communist—we want America to stand up for human rights.” Well, that’s what America did in 2003 and the left attacked us.
When you look at the trajectory of the Iraq war, what’s your stance on how it’s going and how it was executed?
First of all, I think it’s been sabotaged from the outset by the Democratic Party leadership, starting with Al Gore and Jimmy Carter. This is the most disgraceful thing that’s ever happened in American politics, which is to turn your back on a war that you support in the beginning of the war. 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. Eric Shinseki, who I was critical of when he said it, but he was absolutely right, he said that 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 just really shortsighted political objectives. I mean, it’s just opportunistic and terrible. It’s embarrassing.
You don’t think that there are people who genuinely think the war is lost. You think it’s political opportunism?
I think that there are always people who think honestly on all sides of issues. This isn’t really about motives. It’s a mix of motives.
It’s about the consequences.
Yeah. That’s why, you know, I’m sure that most of the leftists who marched to save Saddam Hussein thought he was a bad guy but I have to evaluate what they did, not their intentions. Do leftists worry about the intentions of Dick Cheney? Come on! They look at what they think he did and they condemn him for it.
So you think they’re overly consequentialist?
I didn’t say that. I think they have a double standard. They’re consequentialist when it comes to any conservatives. They never allow conservatives to have good intentions. And they’re intentionalists when it comes to themselves—they never allow themselves to have bad motives.
Isn’t everybody guilty of that a little?
It’s kind of a human thing. Who likes to say they’re wrong? Even the day after or the year after or 20 years after it’s very hard to get people to admit they made a mistake. I wrote a book which was very ruthless with the left, but also with myself. I know what it is to say you made a mistake. I know how painful it is. And so I’m really good at judging whether people have actually had second thoughts or changed their minds about something.
You’ve spoken about receiving death threats from people on the left and needing bodyguards. Do you think people on the left in the United States are more irrational or prone to violence than people on the right?
I’ve written a lot about this issue. The left and the right are not parallel formations. It’s not people who look at a problem pragmatically and come to different judgments about it. They’re really different types—the left is a missionary movement, it’s really a religious movement. If you’re on the left you believe in an earthly redemption of some sort or another. You consider yourself a social redeemer. You see the problems of the world, social problems, as a result of bad institutions that can be changed, and you believe that there can be a world with no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, and no Islamophobia. And this is really as close to the kingdom of heaven on earth as you can get. That’s conceptually what it is, it’s an escape from the existential reality that we all face, which is that the world’s full of misery and suffering and always has been and probably always will be. So if you’re on the left you see yourself as an army of the saints and you see your opponents—conservatives—as the party of stigma. So the left is much more intolerant than the right.
Now there are people on the right who are religious fanatics, who have the same mentality as leftists. But conservatives believe that the root cause of social problems is us, individuals. We’re the problem, we’re greedy, we’re deceptive—everybody has all these vices in them. And it is remarkable, when you look at it from the conservative point of view, how 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, they’re the same people causing the problems, except they have a hell of a lot more power. So they’re dangerous, and limited government seems like a really good idea. Not withstanding that, there are all kinds of things where government ought to step in and try to help out.
But if liberals have that tendency to think government can solve everything, isn’t there that same tendency among conservatives with the free market or Christianity? It seems like they’re easy fixes.
I think that people are always longing for an escape from reality. 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. So I try to explain the difference. So yes, there is an impulse in all of us to try to find a solution, to try to end not only human suffering but our own frustrations, and that just isn’t going to happen.
Click here to view the complete transcript.