Via Political Theory Daily Review, a review of Robert Conquest’s new book, The Dragons of Expectation which apparently makes some rather outrageous claims in the course of a general attack on leftist academics and internationalists. I haven’t read the book yet (I’m trying to get my hands on a copy), but if the reviewer is quoting him accurately, Conquest argues that a fair portion of the blame for September 11 can be laid at the feet of left-leaning professors. The reviewer quotes from Conquest’s introduction:
“And we are told that a number of members of the Middle Eastern terror groups had originally been in the local communist movements … The members of [the Real IRA and the Shining Path], as with those in Italy or, for example, the Naxalites in India, were almost entirely recruited from student elements who had accepted the abstractions of fashionable academics. And the September 11 bombers were almost all comfortably off young men, some having been to Western universities and there adopted the extremely anti-Western mind-set.”
According to the reviewer, Conquest doesn’t bother even to try to provide any evidence in support of this accusation.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition between this and the disgusting efforts of Glenn Reynolds and others to use Ward Churchill’s comments as a means to smear the left. On the one hand, Conquest’s language and claims are less inflammatory and offensive than Churchill’s. On the other, Conquest is one of the right’s most senior and respected figures, a fellow of the Hoover Institute, and a key player in the Anglo-American right’s intellectual network. Churchill, in comparison, is a relative nobody who represents no-one except himself. I’ve always had a fondness for Conquest; he was dead right on Stalinism, and he comes across as a very human figure (and a first rate composer of limericks and light verse) in his letters to Kingsley Amis. But if he’s seriously trying to claim, on the basis of no apparent evidence, that leftwing professors in Western universities shoulder some of the blame for September 11, he should be deeply ashamed of himself. It’s a vicious, disgraceful slur, and it’s every bit as unacceptable as the claim that the West and the US had September 11 coming to them. Still, I don’t think that Reynolds or any of his cronies will be following their advice to the left and disassociating themselves from Conquest (indeed, judging by Reynolds’ dishonest and hate-filled post, I wouldn’t be surprised if he agrees with Conquest’s claims).
Update: to be quite clear (there’s already one rather bizarre misinterpretation out there in the blogosphere), Conquest isn’t referring in this passage to Western ideas percolating through into radical Islam in some indirect fashion. First, he draws a link between “the abstractions of fashionable academics” and the propensity of the students accepting those abstractions to then become terrorists. Then, in the very next sentence, he asserts a direct connection between the fact that some of the 9/11 terrorists attended Western universities, and the fact that they absorbed an anti-Western mindset. In the absence of any evidence of a connection between what the 9/11 terrorists were taught in Western universities, and what they then did, this is a slur, clear and simple.
Update 2: “Armed Liberal” replies (or, more precisely, purports to reply) to my post.
fn1. If, when I get the book, I find that the reviewer has seriously misrepresented Conquest, I’ll very happily apologize – however, given the unambiguous slur in the quote above, I don’t expect that I’ll be in a position where I need to.