Saturday, May 29, 2004

Militant Islam Reaches America by Daniel Pipes

For this book Pipes collected a number of essays he wrote or cowrote over the past decade. The first set are on the subject of Islamism and militant Islam, and the second on the subject of Islam in the US. The topics range from Elijah Muhammad to Hizbullah in North Carolina to why the US government is a patron of Islam. Naturally in such a collection you'll find many thesis, and perhaps even some evolution of his thought. And therefore my description will be somewhat scattershot :-(

In "Is Islam a Threat?" he introduces the idea that Islamism "turns the traditional religion of Islam into a twentieth-century ideology," more interested in political power than theology. I'll certainly accept the claim that Islamism owes a great debt to the Western totalitarian ideologies ( Berman's book goes into this in detail), but I think he draws too great a distinction between religion and state affairs in Khomeini's letter to Gorbachev. From Khomeini's point of view, accepting Islam as a political ideology automatically brings with it accepting Islam as a religion, since that is part of the implementation of Islamic laws. I suspect that some Muslims focus on getting the ritual and personal aspects of their religion down, and hope the social and political will follow naturally. Some clearly focus on getting the political and legal/social structure in place first, and worry about personal aspects later.

Interestingly, at some points in the book he points out that many Islamists are quite familiar with the West, and in fact this familiarity is part of what drives their anger. From what I've heard of some of the case histories this seems to be at least partly true. And yet in other parts of the book he insists that Islamists do not understand what distinctives of Western culture have given it its power. "Innocent of any deeper understanding of how the two countries differed, the Islamists vaguely thought they could repeat their Soviet success in America." Perhaps this is merely a contradiction. I think it may also reflect both our failure to educate even ourselves about our own culture, and a hollow in the heart of that culture. Aside from a few buzz-words about democracy and freedom, most of our youth seem to have no idea what the West was about; and a culture of solipsistic hedonism cuts the heart out of our ideals.

As Pipes points out, the Islamist's closest targets are other Moslems (as in Algeria); and they are often roundly hated in return. He claims that the Islamists have rolled their own version of Islam without reference to the traditions. I'm not sure this is true. He says classical Islam left minorities to rule their own affairs--which isn't exactly true, as Bat Ye'or showed. In regions (note that this is territorial, contrary to his formulation) of Dar Al Islam, the dhimmis were still controlled, albeit through their chosen representatives, and sometimes attacked despite the treaty. In any event, Islamists hate Jews and Christians even more than they hate apostates.

In several chapters Pipes points out what should be perfectly obvious to everybody by now--that in many places in Europe and the US some of the Muslim immigrants form a belligerent and unassimilated group with a hate-filled agenda. That most Muslims should want to establish a caliphate in place of the existing governments is hardly unexpected, given the nature of the religion. That they should often carefully nurture their hates is not forgivable, especially if we're the targets.

Pipes demonstrates that in the urge to keep from offending Muslim our government and most media have essentially propagandized in favor of Islam. Even Paul Harvey caved in quickly when Muslims complained about his reporting. Given that blaspheming the prophet is often a capital offense, I don't doubt that a lot of the phone calls and letters included threats. Still, we seem to be spectacularly invertebrate when it comes to judging and reporting on the obvious demerits of some Muslims and their practice of Islam. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Muslim Islamic World is a politically correct screed for Islam--never a negative; all joy and light.

Pakistan modified its code to make the (rather vaguely defined) crime of blaspheming Muhammad a capital offense. I have not yet found any reference to a punishment for blaspheming God, but I'm still looking.

Pipe's description of the Islamist is of a well-educated man exposed to the West and hating it. Aside from the obvious fact that most Islamists will be followers and not leaders, and thus probably less well-off, this thumbnail description seems to reflect a cult rather than a sect: more of a new religion than a breakaway group. I'm not sure if this distinction applies as well with Islam, but . . .

A large fraction of the Muslims in the US are from the Nation of Islam, a bizarre group led into to popularity by Elijah Muhammad. Pipes summarizes a book describing his life and the rise of the organization, which I'd not seen anywhere before. A "squeaky little man teaching hate" changed the face of religion in the US as he spread a creed mixed of science fiction and hatred.

Did slaves bring Islam with them from Africa? Pipe reviews a book claiming yes, though some of the details he reports are unconvincing. That may be due to omissions by Pipes, or the book may be stretching too far.

Pipes offers suggestions for American policy on Islam and Islamism in "Do Moderate Islamists Exist?" (short answer: no).

  • Formulate and justify a policy toward militant Islam. Distinguish this from Islam, show its political dimension, and say we're against it.
  • Prove that we're willing to resist.
  • Ally with appropriate governments; mostly left leaning, as right leaning are often allied with Islamists.
  • Do not engage in official or political dialogue with the Islamists.
  • Do not appease the Islamists.
  • Do not help the Islamists do anything at all. (tough to do when we have to ally with Pakistan to get at Afghanistan)
  • Pressure militant Islamic states to reduce aggressiveness
  • Support those confronting militant Islam
  • Urge gradual democratization. Too rapid means populist Islamist parties are apt to do "One man, one vote, one time" games. Work on creating a civil society first, with democracy as the capstone.

In "Who is the Enemy?" Pipes estimates that the Islamist supporters number about 10-15% of all Muslims, and half of all Muslims hate the US. Moderate Muslims are politically weak and don't have a lot of economic power either, and are often intimidated by the Islamists. The great battle is going to have to be between Islamists and the rest of the Muslims, because they're the biggest targets and us infidels don't have standing to change religious interpretations. One policy won't fit all countries, but our goal is to weaken the Islamist side and help the "moderate" side in each region. We have to diligently exclude and expel radical Islamists in the US (and yes, this is constitutional; the relevant law was upheld). Actually keep track of who is fomenting hatred, and jail them if possible. Use some thought about our propaganda campaigns overseas--we've been looking like dunces.

Read it.

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