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David Horowitz’s 1989 essay “Carl Bernstein’s Communist Problem & Mine,” which was reprinted at Front Page recently, not only makes points about the true nature of the Communist faith that are vital to remember. The essay also, by extension, underscores important truths about the nature of all totalitarian faiths – including Islam.
In the essay, Horowitz wrote about his upbringing in “a colony of Jewish Communists” in an otherwise ordinary Queens neighborhood. These Communists, he explained, “lived two lives.” They postured as law-abiding middle-class liberals, but were really secret agents taking orders from Moscow. What brought meaning to their lives was the hope and belief that someday they would be called upon by the Party to “go underground” and “take the lead in the revolutionary struggle” to overthrow American democracy.
Horowitz knows about this colony because he grew up in it. But you could’ve lived amidst these families for decades and not known. You could’ve thought of them as your best friends.
For a decade or so after World War II, there was a general awareness that some Americans did indeed have covert totalitarian loyalties. To most Americans, such a thing did not then seem inconceivable. The war was fresh in their memories. GIs had fought millions of people who were true believers in totalitarian ideology. Most Americans had no illusions about what Stalin and his followers stood for. The media weren’t hesitant to use phrases like “Free World” and “Iron Curtain.” If anyone did doubt the existence of Communist networks in the U.S., the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee provided proof.
HUAC had its critics, of course. One of them was Arthur Miller, whose 1952 play The Crucible introduced the idea that the HUAC hearings were a “witch hunt,” rooted in irrational hysteria, of the sort that had taken place in colonial Salem. Miller’s play would become a staple of high-school curricula – and the premise that postwar concern about American Communism had, at root, been irrational and hysterical, would become the received wisdom of post-Sixties America. Even after it became established that Miller himself, at the very least, had strong Communist ties and sympathies, the post-Sixties cultural elite held him up, perversely, as a champion of liberal values.
When it came to American Communists, the Sixties revolution turned everything upside down. Beginning in the 1970s, a spate of movies, documentaries, books, and other works depicted McCarthy and his ilk as the very personification of evil and made heroes of the men and women who’d been blacklisted in Hollywood. All of the Hollywood Ten, it turned out, had indeed been Stalinists, but that didn’t matter. It was almost as if Stalinism were a race, and the Hollywood Ten had been the victims of something akin to racism.
The main topic of Horowitz’s essay is Carl Bernstein’s 1989 book Loyalties, a paean to Bernstein’s dad, who, it turned out, had been a Stalinist agent just like the ones Horowitz grew up around. The old man, in fact, had used his connections to get Carl his first newspaper job. Bernstein and his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward were, of course, two of the major cultural heroes of post-Sixties America; the received wisdom was that they’d saved American democracy by bringing down Nixon. Bernstein’s declaration of loyalty to – and profound admiration for – his Communist dad didn’t shake his reputation one bit. On the contrary, the national climate, when it came to these matters, had transformed so dramatically by 1989 that the major newspaper book reviews, as Horowitz notes, chided Bernstein “for not justifying his parents’ Communist politics enough” (my emphasis). The plain fact that American Stalinists were enemies of freedom and agents of a murderous totalitarian regime had been dropped down the memory hole. The reigning idea now was that they were basically liberals, only more so – idealists who were driven, essentially, by a heightened dedication to democratic values.
All this has living relevance for us today, as we deal with Islam in the West. After 9/11, it seemed for a brief moment as if that atrocity might inaugurate a long-overdue process of education about the true totalitarian nature of Islamic ideology – that Americans might finally be clued into the fact that the terrorists’ actions were entirely in line with the dictates of their faith. Instead, just as the post-Sixties leftist establishment had whitewashed Stalinism, so, in the wake of 9/11, people in power – the mainstream media, political leaders, even military and police officials – did their best to whitewash Islam.
Never mind the centrality to Islam of the doctrine of jihad, which underlies all acts of Islamic terrorism, and which explains why the much touted “silent majority” of staunchly pro-freedom, anti-terrorist Muslims has never materialized. No, Americans were told over and over that Islam is a religion of peace, that the overwhelming majority of American imams preach brotherhood and tolerance, that Muslim terrorists are traitors to their faith, and that fervent Muslim belief is not inconsistent in any way with a love of freedom.
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