Mark Tapson recently interviewed me for FrontPage Magazine. FrontPage posted an edited version of our interview. The full transcript, without edits, is below.
Mark Tapson: Professor Goska, you wrote that you decided to leave the left when you decided that, instead of hating, you "wanted to spend time with people building, cultivating, and establishing, something that they loved." Can you elaborate on that?
Danusha Goska: At the risk of appearing petty I want to answer this big, philosophical question with a personal account about a drink of cold water and … well … vomit. It is through the concrete, intimate details of our day-to-day real lives that we best understand abstract truths.
When I was a grad student, I was stricken with a crippling illness, a vestibular disorder, for which there is little proven treatment. I spent whole days functionally paralyzed and unable to stop vomiting.
My social world then was utterly left-wing: former Peace Corps volunteers, university students and professors, artists and writers.
A subset of my left-wing friends repeatedly hammered into me how much they hated America on my behalf. "Oh, I hate America because we don't have socialized medicine. Oh, I hate America because there's so much capitalist pollution and that's probably why you are sick."
I can't tell you how freakishly weird these interactions were. I used to want to shout at people: "Why do you think that telling me how much you hate America is helping me? It's not helping me. Please do something positive. I have an illness that makes me vomit and paralyzes me and I can't go to the grocery store. I could use some seltzer water. Am I asking too much?"
And they could not do that small thing – bring a friend who can't stop puking some seltzer water. But they could rage against the Catholic Church for – what – not selling Vatican artwork and funding my surgery.
I am still friends with some of these folks. They are still banging the same drum: how imperialistic America is. How hypocritical Christianity is. How life-destroying capitalism is. They never talk about doing anything positive for anyone because I don't think they ever do. Their entire political and ethical stance consists of loudly denigrating capitalism, Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Islamic gender apartheid, systematic abortion of female fetuses in China, India's caste system that reduces over a hundred million human beings to the status of pariah dogs: none of these ever receive a peep of criticism.
I'm not saying that no left-wingers helped me; many did. I'm saying that you don't know whom you can rely on in a foxhole. The people who were helpful to me included some right-wingers who talked hard-ass talk about self-reliance and not wanting to fund bloated and corrupt government programs. The people who abandoned me included many left-wingers who displayed publicly bleeding hearts and broadcast lots of mushy rhetoric about helping the poor and unfortunate.
It is my unscientific impression that devout Christians and Jews, including secular Jews, are the people most likely to be consciously and regularly doing something concrete, however small, to make the world a better place.
I stumbled across a Facebook meme about a 99-year-old Iowa seamstress who creates one dress every day for children in Africa. I immediately thought, "She's got to be a Christian." I googled the story and discovered that she sews for a Christian charity.
"If not me, who? If not now, when?" are words that many of my Jewish acquaintances live by, whether they know Rabbi Hillel or not. This includes secular Jews, who, in my own unscientific, subjective experience, are disproportionately represented among those who do concrete things, however small, to make the world a better place.
On October 6, 2014, the Washington Post, citing a report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, pointed out that relatively high charitable giving is correlated with a relatively large population of churchgoers. Jews also donate more than comparable, non-Jewish demographics.
MT: What has been the reaction among your university colleagues to your conservative conversion and your support of Israel? Has there been any reaction from your students?
DG: I'm unemployable. I work as an adjunct, which means part time, no security, no benefits, and low pay.
MT: You mentioned to me that, as a teacher, you see what your former comrades on the left have done to young minds. What have they done?
DG: Before class begins, I try to warm up the class, and my own voice, by chatting with students in a casual way. Usually I'll talk about the latest film or celebrity gossip.
Two years ago, during one of these sessions, one of my students said, "I wish we had been taught to feel proud of something. To feel part of something. To love our country and to feel that we were part of some big thing, like they did back during World War Two. I guess that kind of patriotism, of being part of something, is just not popular anymore."
Mind: I did not steer the conversation this way at all. This yearning was voiced, spontaneously, by my student. And there's more: this student is a Muslim. This young, Muslim American student was hungering to be encouraged to esteem her own country, and American teachers denied her that.
Students are taught about America's failures. That's a good thing. I'm glad I teach my students about Jim Crow. Context is everything. Two months after graduating from college, my first job was teaching in a remote village in Africa. I discovered that Arabs have an ongoing slave trade in Africa. This one fact rocked my world. I had been lead to believe that the Atlantic Slave Trade was the alpha and omega of slavery, and that if only we could wrest control from these inherently oppressive white males we'd be one step closer to Utopia.
"Where there is no vision the people perish." There is a hole in young people that can be filled only by transcendent ideals. Those ideals should be formed in response to neutral facts, not ideological indoctrination. Vulnerable young minds should be cherished, not exploited as recruits.
I am a teacher, not a minister or counselor. I don't try to sell students on any one point of view. I do try to introduce them to the tools and methods of inquiry: peer review scholarship, the formation of research questions, the testing of hypotheses, investigating alternative points of view.
There are too many professors who don't do that. There are too many professors who use the power they have – the power of grades, yes, but also the power of funding, humiliation, intimidation, flattery and inclusion into the in-crowd – to pressure students to adopt a given point of view as the route to success. That point of view is all too often a nihilistic, scorched earth cynicism that, as mentioned above, tears down but builds nothing to replace the targets of its destruction, and that encourages academic elites to assume an unearned status as above the common man.
MT: Elsewhere you've written that we must overcome the stultifying effects of political correctness, and that "free speech is the best friend Muslims have." Can you describe what you mean by that?
DG: First, thank you for asking me this. This matter is very urgent and close to my heart. I grew up, and currently live, in Passaic County, New Jersey, which is said to have the second largest Muslim population in the US. (I don't know if this is true; I have just read this factoid online.) I grew up with Arabs and with Muslims. I have had Muslim friends, boyfriends, bosses, coworkers, and students. I love many Muslims. I feel for them the kind of love you feel for any close friend. When I was a girl, one day, a Muslim friend turned to me and said, "When the time for jihad comes, if you don't accept Islam, I will have to kill you."
The simple truth is that Islam is different from the other world belief systems: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. None of these includes anything like the call to jihad. Islam does. No, most Muslims are not active jihadis, but a critical mass are, and we cannot predict which Muslim will become an active jihadi. We need free speech about jihad in order to solve the dilemma we all face: peaceful integration of existing Muslim populations into American life, a rational foreign policy, and our own security.
We need this free speech from professionals for whom speech is their sharpest tool: journalists, political, military and religious leaders, academics, and creative artists.
Right now we are not hearing free speech. Rather, we hear dogma fashioned to forfend free speech. This dogma is so predictable we could all chant its creed in unison: "Islam means peace. Not all Muslims are terrorists. The Bible contains shocking verses. Christians do bad things."
We recently heard Ben Affleck and Nick Kristof mouthing these Orwellian bromides on the October 3 episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher."
In the absence of the free flow of ideas, the average Joe, who is not as stupid or as docile as the Ben Afflecks and Nick Kristofs of the world thinks he is, is becoming fearful and concluding that our culture is not addressing jihad. Many average Joes are deciding that they are free agents, and must go it alone. You can see it in internet discussions. People – nice people – average people – are talking about what kind of ammunition they are stockpiling.
What is better for Muslims in the US? A frank conversation about our best response to jihad, or our cultural leaders mouthing bromides that demonize free inquiry, while millions of average people plan to be vigilantes? Can we please have the conversation we need to have about, say radical mosques and how petro-dependency steers public policy before we start shooting innocent people?
If Americans felt that they could openly express their fears about jihad and receive honest and informed replies, if they felt that their leaders had their best interests at heart and were addressing radical mosques, petro-dependency and the threat of free agent jihadis, I don't think as many people would be talking about stockpiling ammo.
I think of one Muslim man I know. He is a mechanic. He interacts with Americans all day long. He is liked and respected by his customers. He's an older guy who has lived in this country most of his life. He sacrificed much to leave his Muslim-majority homeland and come here to enjoy the fruits of democracy. I think the chances of his ever hurting anyone are near zero. He has expressed to me his hatred and rejection of terrorism. I think this man would be totally open to America having a frank conversation about addressing extremism in our country. But we are afraid to have that conversation. I think my Muslim friend believes more in American ideals like free speech than someone like Ben Affleck. I think the Ben Afflecks of the world fail my Muslim friends.
I think, too, of some teenage Muslims I recently chatted with in Paterson. They have been in this country for less than a year. They don't speak English well. They are experiencing profound culture shock. Believe me, many Americans would experience culture shock if they suddenly moved to Paterson, NJ.
These innocent, young Muslims are often teased at school, or even menaced. To them America is just a big blur. The overwhelming difference they notice between America and their natal culture is America's apparent lawlessness and lewdness. Given the puritanical rigidity of their own culture, America feels unattractive. I asked these young people who was mentoring them. Were there teachers guiding them? Helping them to see something of value in America, helping them to find their place? Not really, they said. So, lost and confused, they turn to the mosque, the one stable constant in their lives.
Plenty of young American Muslims would like to feel more connected and accepted here, but we have at least to talk to them about why we think the American way of life is worth preserving, and what place we'd like to see them occupy in our culture.
My mother had that when she came to this country. In those days, America said to new immigrants, "You sacrificed much to come here, and here is worth it. You belong here, and we will help you to fit in." The message was coercive, but even a coercive message of informed inclusion is better than setting immigrants adrift and implying that there is something shameful about American identity.
Free speech needs to fill in that space between the Ben Afflecks and the Reza Aslans on one side, and on the other side, the internet posters who talk about stockpiling weapons and who use dehumanizing terms like "Muslime" to talk about Muslims.
MT: Tell us a little about your novel Save, Send, Delete, a debate between a Catholic and an atheist. Was that written before or after your political conversion? Without giving anything away, what's the philosophical thrust of that debate, and why was it important enough to you to write a book about it?
DG: "Save Send Delete" is a true story. My interlocutor is a real atheist spokesman whose identity I disguise in the book. Several years back I was wrestling with the big, hard questions: Is there a God? Why is there suffering? I saw an atheist on TV and I sent him an email. To my great surprise, he wrote back. We corresponded for a year, debating the existence of God, and we fell in love.
My conversion from "eat-the-rich," red-diaper-baby leftist was like making a three-point-turn with a Maersk container ship during a typhoon. There were many herky-jerky swerves, jammed brakes, and men overboard.
"Save Send Delete" isn't a left-wing book or a right-wing book. It's about confronting God and love and trying to dig down as deeply as possible for worthy, livable truth. I "inhale as a believer; exhale as an atheist."
My sister Antoinette, whom I love as much as I've ever loved anyone, has received a dreadful diagnosis. Watching her suffer, my view of God is blocked. Exactly because I have studied the world's great myths – the world's great stories – I know there is no story quite like that of the man on the cross. As close as I get to absolute atheism, I can't walk away from him. He knows what my sister is going through.
But even if I were not a believing Christian, I would shudder at the message of capital A Atheists. Recently Salon made waves by publishing Jeffrey Tayler's criticism of Islam. Here's the thing – Jeffrey Tayler is a proselytizer who exploits discomfort with Islam to peddle capital A Atheist tracts. "If you don't like suicide bombings you should agree with me that all religion is evil," is his main idea. Religion, he says, is like pestilence-spreading rats in the sewer. We must eradicate it. This has long been the thinking of mass murderers from the French Terror to the Khmer Rouge.
Capital A Atheists use their "Flying Spaghetti Monster" concept to sell total relativism. All religions are the same; Mother Teresa is just as bad as Osama bin Laden. We may as well believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster as in anything else.
This extreme relativism is deadly. Our inability to differentiate between cultures is comparable to being unable to differentiate between nourishment and poison. View a world map that charts differences in sex ratio. Western countries influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition have more women. Women and girls die quicker in Muslim countries – even in wealthy Muslim countries. Fewer women than men learn to read – even in wealthy Muslim countries.
The Ancient Greeks gave us geometry, democracy, theater, "man is the measure of all things." Their culture was different. Their culture was better than that of other ancients. "Save Send Delete" makes the case not only for faith, but for civilization, in the face of the absolute relativism, the scorched earth, of the capital A Atheist Flying Spaghetti Monster mentality. In "Save Send Delete" I write about being a teacher who communicates to her students that Western Civilization, for all its flaws, is worth it.