You Are What You Think

The cover description of Markos (the “Daily Kos”) Moulitsas’ book American Taliban says it all: “America’s main international enemy—Islamic radicalism—favors theocracy, curtails civil liberties, embraces torture, represses women, reviles homosexuality, subverts science and education, and reveres force over diplomacy. Markos Moulitsas shows how the American right shares those very same traits. He argues that our domestic jihadists are a greater threat to American democracy than any Islamic terrorist.”

Right on. What else needs to be said? Logically, this review could conclude here, but then I’d miss the opportunity to quote some of the more disturbing passages from Moulitsas’ book. So instead let me begin with the controversy the book has aroused. An article on the “Atlantic Wire” titled “Many Liberals Reject Markos Moulitsas’ Anti-Conservative Book,” asserts that Moulitsas has simply employed the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. So what? Some Democrats are now arguing that the tax cuts should be extended for the wealthy—for everyone—but that certainly doesn’t make them right or make any sense if we are serious about cutting the deficit.

Then there’s the issue of the thirty-seven (as I write this) reviews of American Taliban on Amazon’s listing of the book, with a 3.5 ranking out of five possible stars for the work. More than half are five stars. Many others at the bottom are more revealing because the reviews that praise the book are well-written and those that condemn it are not. Here’s the opening of a negative review, posted by a reviewer who identifies himself as “Gen. JC Christian, patriot”: “I don’t read books written by demonic pipe-smoking communists with well-trimmed beards. I don’t read books by homosexualist [sic] intellectuals with button-down collars who fill my head with vile carnality every second of the day. And, I don’t read books written by subversive eyeglass-chain-wearing foreigner-praising English teachers–why don’t they dump Shakespeare; he never wrote a play about the real Americans of the Heartland. Indeed, I take pride in the fact that I never read anything written by libislamunistofascists [sick]. The problem is syllables. There are too many syllables in their books. It all seems a little too Muslimy to me. It also gives me headaches.” Incredible as it may seem, that’s a direct quotation. I did not make it up.

Logically, I should end my own commentary of the book here, since Gen. JC Christian is the perfect example of what Moulitsas demonstrates on every page of his hard-hitting analysis: American ignorance, currently at an all-time high. Moulitsas states, “Ignorance, and its cousin, fear, are the elements that make Islamic totalitarianism successful. They are also what the American Taliban count on to advance their own anti-democratic agenda.” Or, to add to his argument, consider this concluding passage, “As David Horowitz’s crusade against academics and pluralism shows, it is about delegitimizing critical thought and multiple viewpoints. It is, in the end, about undermining the very values upon which the country was founded: freedom of thought and expression.”

There are six chapters in American Taliban with the following titles: “Power,” “War,” “Sex,” “Women,” “Culture,” and “Truth.” Wisely, Moulitsas lets all of our country’s sharp-shooters—Bill O’Reilly, Pat Robinson, Sean Hannity, Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Rick Santorum, and so on—speak for themselves. Quoting them so profusely is probably the most damning thing that anyone can do. Their combined profundity is the scariest thing about this book. Only in America would such words and statements be given endless media attention, and result in so many book contracts and in so much damage. Even as I write this review, the newest American Taliban has captured the country’s attention: Terry Jones, self-ordained pastor of a tiny Evengelical church in Gainesville, Florida. Sadly, what his stardom tells us is that Moulitsas’ book is going to have to be updated every few months, every few days. American stupidity is boundless, unlimited, infinite—but don’t tell that to Conservatives or they will try to package it and sell it abroad.

Still, here are a number of random quotable passages from the several hundred quotable passages in the book:

“Christian evangelism always surges during troubled times.”

“[For Republicans,] tax cuts are the answer to every problem, even budget deficits…”

“In their world [i.e., the American Taliban], everything is nuance-free, all black or white, good or evil, us versus them.”

Re: the secessionists: “I’m partial to ceding a portion of the Texas Panhandle to these wackos, naming it Dumbfuckistan, taking it off the federal dole, building a wall around it, and arresting anyone trying to enter America illegally. I can always dream.”

Re: The Conservative’s celebration of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy: “Would the reaction have been the same if one of Obama’s daughters (assuming she was 16 or over) had ended up as a teen mother and the baby’s father was a high school dropout? Imagine the vile, disgusting, even racist things they would’ve said about a pregnant African American teen and her parents. Imagine the whole lot of these bloviated blowhards—Beck, Limbaugh, Dobson, Perkins, O’Reilly, etc.—ranting about the topic ad infinitum, lamenting the poor character and loose morals of the Obamas. It would’ve been ugly.”

And, as a concluding observation, regarding the American Taliban in general, “If you can’t get a handle on current culture, and modernity is messing with the meticulously ordered world inside your head, what do you do? You create a parallel world, complete with an alternative history [the world is only six thousand years old], make-believe science [Intelligent Design], and an animatronics fantasy [the Creation Museum in Kentucky] that allows you to pretend that your fables about the beginning of the universe, and how it currently works, are true.”

I have one cynical anecdote to mention before I conclude this rant. Thirty-five years ago when I was dining at a rather expensive French restaurant in Washington, D.C., with my wife and my uncle, we encountered James J. Kilpatrick, the celebrated syndicated Conservative columnist seated at the table next to us. Kilpatrick was at the peek of his career, in his mid-fifties, dining with a much younger woman—obviously not his wife. My uncle—as liberal as they come—couldn’t resist engaging Kilpatrick in a conversation. My wife and I spoke to his date for the evening, who couldn’t stop singing his praises, including her statement that Kilpatrick didn’t believe a word he wrote.

So all this crap spewed forth from Conservative pundits goes back to money. Say anything, and stupid Americans will buy your books, listen to your TV and radio commentary, and get so confused that they will believe whatever you say. The American Taliban, aka American Conservatives, aka American Republicans, will distort anything for money. Sell the country, destroy the country, start another war, shout loud enough so that no one else can be heard–all to line their pockets, to hell with anyone else. And like James Kilpatrick, these blowhards must be laughing all the way to the bank.

It’s not a pretty picture.

American Taliban may be our last hope that a few people will finally see the light and realize what a bumper-sticker proclaimed during Bush’s era: “If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention.”

Give a copy of American Taliban to every Conservative you know. Put duck tape over their mouths when you read it aloud.

American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right
By Markos Moulitsas
PoliPointPress, 258 pp., $15.95

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

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Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

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