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How Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists to the Radical Right

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For the past nine years, I've been told that I want the terrorists to win.

That's funny. Why would I want the radical jihadists to win? Indeed, on issue after issue, there is no daylight between the views of radical jihadists and the American radical right. Fact is, I loathe jihadists for the exact same reasons I hate the modern conservative movement -- because whether it's their violent outlook, or their views on women and gays, or their hostility to knowledge and science, or their fear of pop culture, they are essentially cut from the same
controlling, ideological cloth.

As obvious as this comparison might be, the accusation that liberals and jihadists share common cause has persisted, which is why I wrote my new book, American Taliban: How Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists to the Radical Right.

Conservatives haven't reacted well to the book. Actually, they haven't reacted well to the title of the book, because none of them have read it. (Not that they've ever let ignorance get in the way of declaring something evil before.) But to the rational among us, the comparison is incontrovertible:

1. Theocracy

Mixing missionary zeal with government is always combustible, threatening freedom of thought, of religion, and of association. Such repression is obvious and deplorable in much of the Islamic world, where centuries-old Buddha statutes get razed by the Taliban because it offends their sensibilities. Yet such intolerance is also a hallmark of the American Taliban, whether it's their opposition to a Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan, or Glenn Beck asking Rep. Keith Ellison, one of just two Muslims in Congress, "I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.'"

2. Violence

Remember Psalm 109? Conservatives would cite the first sentence with mock seriousness: "Let his days be few, and let another take his office." Then they'd snicker at the unspoken follow-up line: "May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow."

Even their "humor" is couched in violence. Indeed, both the American and Islamic Talibans believe they are doing their god's work, thus all means are justified in their mad pursuit of power. President Barack Obama's election in 2008 generated a spurt of violent acts, from xenophobic border-patrolling "Minutemen" in Arizona, to Glenn Beck-listening, gun-toting, cop-killing skinheads in Pittsburgh. Both groups worship their weapons, whether they are AK-47s or AR-15s. Both see violence and war as solutions to their problems.

Meanwhile, responding to a Department of Homeland Security report cautioning against the rise in right-wing violence, conservatives rushed out t-shirts that proudly proclaimed, "I am a right-wing extremist." Rather than distance themselves from the violent cranks on their side of the ideological divide, they embraced them.

3. Sex

There's enough sexual repression here to cover a whole book, with both the American and Islamic Taliban's hang ups over homosexuality, teen sex, premarital sex, extramarital sex, and even birth control (scratch that -- the Islamic fanatics don't much care about that last one).

It's not that the American Taliban aren't having gay sex, or teen sex, or premarital sex, or extramarital sex, mind you -- it's that they think it's important to judge you for doing the same things they are doing. As Newt Gingrich told one of his ex-wives while campaigning on family values while cheating on her, "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."

That's clearly the American Taliban motto, from David Vitter to Larry Craig to George Allen Reker. In fact, the Bible Belt leads the nation in teen pregnancies, divorces, and gay online subscriptions. You know those creepy purity balls were teen girls pledge their virginity to
their fathers? Turns out that 82 percent of them deny ever having made those pledges five years later. Moralizing might make for great sound bytes, but it leaves their audience ill-prepared to deal with our natural sexuality.

4. Women

The American Taliban may not slap burkas on our women, but they sure like to tell them how to dress ... and behave. As Jerry Falwell once said, "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals -- most of them are failures. They've blown it. Some of them have been married, but they married some Caspar Milquetoast who asked permission to go to the bathroom. These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home."

You get the point.

5. Culture

Conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza said out loud what conservatives think: "The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11. I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector and the university are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world ... thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened."

D'Souza is right, of course. If we were just like the American and Islamic Talibans wanted -- repressed, pious, and unrelentingly sexist, blind to science, then we'd all be friends and get along. Thankfully, the American Taliban isn't in power. And thankfully, the culture is progressing much faster than our political system, from gay and women equality, to greater openness on sexual matters, despite the best efforts from the Right to stifle that progress.

6. Truth

What's the difference between Islamic madrasas and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University or Pat Robertson's Regent University? What about the Creation Museum, with its statues of people and dinosaurs, side by side? Both types of ideologues are quick to substitute their rigid theology over scientific fact and inquiry -- a tendency that might be merely quaint if they weren't fighting to impose their will on the broader populace. Thus we have a homegrown movement in the United States that rejects global warming and evolution, for example, out of sheer ideological rigidity. Both Talibans consider learning, universities, and the educated elite as unwelcome challenges to their holy writs.

Ultimately, the regressive American Taliban are little different in their social beliefs from the Islamic fundamentalists they claim to hate. Any differences between them are a matter of degree -- Islamic jihadists are guilty of far worse abuses, but that's only because just one of those Talibans is in power. Thankfully, the other, for now, is not.