Dinesh D’Souza told a largely conservative crowd of 100 people in Girvetz Theater on Wednesday night to listen to the Islamic world’s criticisms of America.

“There is a fascination, particularly on the part of young people, with America and what it represents. At the same time … the idea of America is extremely controversial, that there are many people who loathe America,” D’Souza said. “What is it about America that is simultaneously so appealing and so disgusting?”

He also criticized America’s inability to answer the charges raised against it by terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

“I have actually seen nothing from our leaders that suggest we have confronted the most intelligent of the Islamic critics of America, let alone that we have begun to answer them.”

D’Souza’s lecture was sponsored by UCSB’s College Republicans and was mainly derived from his recent book What’s So Great About America.

D’Souza, who emigrated from India over 20 years ago and graduated from Dartmouth in 1983, was a senior domestic policy analyst for the Reagan administration from 1987 to 1988. He is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institute, a conservative think-tank at Stanford University. He said he speaks at similar college events about 30 times a year and charges about $5,000 per engagement, depending on how far he has to travel from his home in San Diego.

The College Republicans organized D’Souza’s lecture through the Young America’s Foundation, which partially funded the event. The foundation also runs the conservative National Journalism Center and operates the Reagan Ranch. Previous YAF speakers at UCSB include Ward Connerly, Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and Oliver North.

D’Souza’s speech did not attract the crowds of hecklers and critics that were present for both North and Connerly. College Republicans President Jeff Farrah said the group was looking for a speaker who wouldn’t be such an object of controversy and would be listened to by the audience.

“It was kind of an experiment to bring someone that’s not so controversial,” Farrah said. “I thought it was a great event.”

D’Souza was not interrupted during his speech, in which he brought up what he said were the Islamic criticisms of the United States and attempted to answer them.

D’Souza said intellectual Islamic critics of America say it is flawed because it places a higher social value on freedom than on virtue. Virtue is, D’Souza said, a more important value than liberty.

What Islamic critics miss, D’Souza said, is that virtue can only exist if there is liberty, that virtue is only virtue if it is freely chosen. He said that the ability to choose was what attracted him to America. D’Souza said he wished the president made arguments like this more clearly.

“Bush I think is doing fairly well on the military side of the war against terrorism,” D’Souza said, “but not well enough on the intellectual side.”

During the question-and-answer session at the end of his speech, D’Souza became engaged in an argument with senior global studies major Emil Marmol, who took issue with a remark he had made about slavery throughout history not being a uniquely Western institution.

“I just want to say you’re a very powerful and eloquent speaker, but at the same time the fact that your arguments appeal to the crowd is very shameful,” Marmol told D’Souza. “The slavery that we had in this country was based on racial superiority, on killing, on murder and on the complete subjugation of black people. To an extent, and everyone in this room should agree with me on this point, it continues today.”

D’Souza said such arguments are false and that the descendents of African-American slaves are better off than the descendents of Africans.

“It’s not a defense of slavery,” D’Souza said. “It is an acknowledgment that bad institutions sometimes produce good results.”

D’Souza also said that university professors are distorting history. The generation of academics produced by the social upheaval of the 1960s, he said, have retarded open debate.

“They’re perfectly satisfied to sacrifice the principle of free speech when one of their values is threatened,” D’Souza said.

Both liberals and conservatives, however, are important for America to function as a democracy, D’Souza said.

“What are the liberal values? Emphasize peace and try to solve problems through negotiations, social justice, don’t leave people behind, compassion; in social policy, autonomy, allow people to live as they wish,” D’Souza said. “What are conservative values? Patriotism, security, prosperity, civic virtue.

“A society needs both.”