Adam Serwer offers a level-headed critique of my new book, American Taliban:
In their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban. The American Taliban -- whether in their militaristic zeal, their brute faith in masculinity, their disdain for women's rights, their outright hatred of gays, their aversion to science and modernitiy, or their staunch anti-intellectualism -- share a litany of mores, values, and tactics with Islamic extremists.
This thesis is indefensible on the facts. Ross Douthat may oppose same-sex marriage, but he's not an advocate of publicly executing gays and lesbians. Hans von Spakovsky may want to suppress Democratic votes, but he's not going to sever the fingers of Democratic voters or bomb polling places in Democratic precincts. Jim DeMint wants Obama to lose the 2012 presidential election, not beat him bloody and hang him from a lightpost on the Mall as the Taliban did with Mohammed Najibullah. American conservatives are, in fact, quite easy to distinguish from the Taliban.
That's the nut of the left-wing critique of my book: Because Douthat doesn't want to execute gays (at least publicly), he's not like the Taliban!
But look what I wrote, and what Serwer highlights -- the American Taliban and Islamic jihadists share a litany of mores, values, and tactics. The only valid counterargument would be that they don't share that litany of mores, values and tactics.
On the issue of homosexuality, there is undisputedly a shared hostility toward gays and lesbians. HOW they express that hostility is a function of our respective societies. In the Arab world, anti-gay sentiment is more freely expressed. In this country, the American Taliban is constrained by our legal and cultural norms (like the leader of the Montana tea party crowd found out).
But the core value remains -- the belief that homosexuality is a perversion that shouldn't be tolerated by society. It's shared. Both sides have it. So to pretend the American Taliban doesn't share that value, merely because they go to jail when they string up their Matthew Shepperd's, is to wear blinders as to the true motivations and goals of our homegrown extremists. Right-wing reactionaries will always push to the limits created by their respective societies. We certainly know what our right-wing extremists will do when given the chance. We don't even have to go that far back in our history to see it in action:
That atrocities like that aren't commonplace today is a function of our working constitutional and legal framework -- a framework that restricts the worst such abuses. That's why they've spent years trying to erode that framework -- from religious liberty, to habeas corpus, to due process, to the direct election of senators, to subverting the judiciary by screaming about "activist judges". All of that is an effort to erode the credibility and authority of a legal system that has protected the minority from the tyranny of an oftentimes bigoted majority.
The American Taliban also seeks to subvert democracy -- not by cutting off fingers, but by caging and other voter suppression efforts. So what if the method is different? The end goal is the same -- to subvert the democratic will of the people in order to impose their regressive mores on the rest of us.
In his review, Serwer goes on and on about how a "direct comparison" is impossible, even if Serwer himself certainly has made such direct comparisons several times (like here and here). And such a direct comparison was certainly made by his boss in this article titled, ironically, "American Taliban". Indeed, direct comparisons are fairly easy to find. And while Serwer's examples might be hyper-specific (his defense), fact is, there are a lot of people like that in America, and they're fueling the arch-conservative takeover of the Republican Party.
But ultimately, the "direct comparison" argument is a straw man. The issue here is of clear shared values -- hatred for gays, opposition to women equality, the creation of an ideological bubble to keep out facts and science, bizarre sex hangups, and a propensity to resort to violence.
And yes, violence is a key one. There is a massive nationwide shortage of ammunition in the United States, as right-wing fanatics horde ammunition and guns. In fact, the weapons sector may be the healthiest in this current economy. They can't build bullets fast enough to satiate their desire to arm up. A few of these crazies have actually opened fire (detailed in the book), another flew his plane into an IRS building in a suicide mission. You can argue these are isolated incidents, or you can see them for what they are -- worrying signs for an increasingly agitated and militant opposition. When you have Sharron Angle, the GOP nominee for Senate in Nevada, arguing that if the GOP fails to take Congress, they may have to resort to "Second Amendment remedies", then you have to take this stuff seriously.
We can pretend that they are all hat and no cattle, that exterminationist rhetoric means nothing, that the weapons hoarding presents no danger. Yet when the American Taliban fails to get what they want electorally, and resort to violence (as they started to do after Obama was elected in 2008), those same people can't sit around, shrugging, and saying "well, nobody could've predicted."
And that's not even getting into their most overt militancy -- the orchestrating and cheering of unnecessary wars in Iraq and probably Afghanistan.
The point of the book is that it's ridiculous for conservatives to say that liberals want the terrorists to win, since those terrorists and American social conservatives share the same values and goals. HOW they go about accomplishing it? Who cares! They are two different cultures and societies, so the methods of how they accomplish that will differ. In the end, they want the same thing.
That brings me to another point, which is that many of the qualities of the American conservative movement Markos finds reprehensible--the homophobia, obsession with traditional gender roles, fear of sex--are all fairly common to religious sects that consider themselves traditionalist. These qualities aren't unique to the Taliban, but I'm pretty sure while tossing around ideas for the book "American Lubavitcher" never came up as a potential title [...]
Markos' book is at its strongest when it is attacking the arguments and actions of conservatives on their own terms. I would agree, for example, that many conservatives "long for a citizenry that is equal parts frightened, ignorant, militant and dogmatic, a citizenry eager to hand over the reins of power in exchange for the illusion of certainty and security." This doesn't make those conservatives like the Taliban. It makes them American conservatives.
Actually, it makes them like every right-wing extremist movement in our history. This is an issue of human nature. We are a brutish species, and there are always those who'll exploit our inherent bigotries and fears for gain. That's true whether in Afghanistan, or the United States, or Liberia, or Russia, or Germany, or pretty much anywhere else.
The reason conservatives were compared to the Taliban in this book is because the right-wing has spent the last 9 years claiming that we want Islamic Fundamentalists to win and that we want Sharia Law in this country. If the Chabad Lubavitch movement (I admit it, I had to look it up) launched a terrorist campaign against America, and if then American conservatives spent the next nine years claiming that Liberals wanted to Lubavitchs to win, then yeah, "American Lubavitch" might make sense for a title. But believe it or not, that hasn't happened.
It's clear that the American Taliban shares social values with Islamic fundamentalists, just like it's clear they share their militancy. Just read up on the recent Values Voters Summit if you have any lingering doubts. So what's at the root of progressive distaste at the American Taliban monicker? I think Glenn Greenwald nails it here:
I believe what's driving the discomfort with the comparison is that we all know people who cheered for the attack on Iraq, America's torture regime, lawless imprisonment and the like. They're our relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, political allies and sometimes even ourselves. But few of us know supporters of the Taliban. Thus, as is always true with people we don't know, we're perfectly comfortable with extreme, two-dimensional demonization of Taliban sympathizers and other Islamic extremists, while taking offense at the notion that the people we know -- like that funny, kibbitzy guy down the hallway in The Atlantic offices -- could possibly be anything like them, notwithstanding their support for similar, extremist actions.
That's probably it. The issue here isn't that people doubt the shared social values of American conservatives and Islamic fundamentalists. The issue is that the Taliban are monsters, and it's beyond the pale to refer to Americans in those terms.
If that's the core reservation, then I can agree to disagree with those who believe in American exceptionalism. I certainly don't. But if the argument is that American conservatives and Islamic fundamentalists don't share the same goals, then that's just delusion.