Pipes Helps U.S. Identify the Enemy
by Paula R. Kaufman
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Daniel Pipes has the distinction of being the very first person quoted in Insight. When the magazine's first issue appeared on Sept. 23, 1985, the cover story on Hafez al-Assad included in its second paragraph a description of Pipes as a leading American student of Syrian affairs. He was quoted on the Syrian regime's purposeful use of brutality against its own population.
During the last 17 years, Pipes has proved time and again just how well he understands Syria and the Middle East in general. He stood as a minority of one - not a single other person joined him - in publicly predicting in early 2000 that al-Assad would not sign an anticipated agreement with Israel. Pipes stuck to his guns, despite widespread skepticism, and in June 2000 the Syrian leader died without having signed such an agreement.
Pipes also was one of the few American scholars to alert an unaware and unsuspecting global public to the perils of militant Islam. In 1995, unnoticed by most Westerners, he wrote that militant Islam unilaterally had declared war on Europe and the United States. But it was not until after the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, that Pipes fully came into his own, explaining to a confused and deeply concerned country just who its enemy is and why.
After Sept. 11, Pipes' Website (www.danielpipes.org) saw an exponential rise in hits. In his new book, Militant Islam Reaches America, Pipes probes the militant Islamic challenge to the United State and calls on Americans to take this threat very seriously.
Insight: In America's war against terrorism, which often has been described as a new kind of war, who is the enemy?
Daniel Pipes: After Sept. 11, we all know the answer. There is no debate. The strategic, No. 1 enemy of the United States is militant Islam.
Insight: What kind of threat does militant Islam present to America and the West? What is the challenge we face?
DP: Militant Islam is a radical utopian ideology along the lines of fascism and Marxism-Leninism. Although the details differ, as with those ideologies, militant Islam seeks to use totalitarian means to overthrow governments, transform human beings and dominate the world. It is a formula that is all too familiar. If one knows anything about the barbarism of fascism or communism, one readily recognizes the same general threat from militant Islam.
Insight: Zaid Shaker, formerly a Muslim chaplain at Yale University, stated that the existing American order is against the orders and ordainment of Allah. How seriously are U.S. authorities taking this charge?
DP: The government is not taking it seriously. It slowly has awakened to the violent threat but is still nearly oblivious to the political one. While some steps have been taken in the war on terrorism - notably against the Taliban in Afghanistan - we have yet to see the will to confront militant Islam within our own borders.
Insight: Why do you describe the government's response as slow to awaken?
DP: Because Sept. 11 was far from the first attack on America. The assault by militant Islam began in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran shouting "Death to America!" Since then the U.S. has suffered hundreds of deaths at the hands of militant Islam. I estimate that there were about 600 murders before Sept. 11.
Insight: Are our government authorities sufficiently protecting the American people from the dangers presented by militant Islam?
DP: Not enough, because they are unwilling to proclaim militant Islam the strategic enemy. Instead, they content themselves with statements declaring true Islam to be a religion of peace. We need to take militant Islam more seriously.
Insight: Seriously in what sense?
DP: Airline security offers a clear example. Being serious means enhanced scrutiny of those who are more likely to commit terrorism - something that is illegal at this time. Instead, the government permits only random searches. Security staff must be allowed to focus on behavior, names, appearances and the like.
Profiling is unfortunate because it goes against our sensibilities. I acknowledge that. But we have a real choice: Give priority to sensibilities or to security.
If we don't make security our highest priority, I predict more hits by militant Islam, perhaps on a much larger scale than 9/11. I dearly wish we would get serious without the spur of more catastrophes.
Insight: Is multiculturalism behind this problem?
DP: It is part of the problem. It obstructs a sense of right and wrong.
Insight: You have flagged nonviolent efforts under way by Islamists to transform the United States into an Islamic state. What are they?
DP: These are efforts, at base, to replace the Constitution with the Koran. We now are witnessing an ideological thrust by Islamists in the West, who carry with them an ideology requiring that our society be changed into an Islamic one through legal means, meaning immigration, conversion and natural reproduction.
Although these are perfectly legitimate means, the rest of us have to ask ourselves: Do we want an Islamist order? Do we want to live under something along the lines of Afghanistan or Iran? Personally, I would say no. All of us have to contend with such questions, however. They raise issues that we never had to think about in the past.
Insight: What is the likelihood that al-Qaeda possesses nuclear weapons?
DP: I have no special knowledge of that. I can only tell you that it has been trying to get nuclear capabilities and its members are technically competent, tremendously ambitious and extremely dedicated to their cause, so I would not put it past them.
Insight: Do you think there is a relationship between Middle Eastern scholarship as it has been conducted in the universities in the United States and Europe and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11?
DP: Yes, indirectly. Scholars have been apologizing for militant Islam and dismissing its terrorist activities. They proclaimed militant Islam a source of democratization and civil society. Before 9/11, academics routinely dismissed such a catastrophic scenario as the one that happened as ridiculously far-fetched. Regarding militant Islam, we find that the scholars in Middle East studies have shown a conspicuous lack of judgment.
Insight: Have the universities been altering their approach in Middle Eastern scholarship since the events of Sept. 11? Can we now expect more realistic assessments of militant Islam and the threats it poses?
DP: I do not see improvements. There have been no mea culpas or other indications of recognition that errors were made. Instead there is an overwhelming sense of denial by Middle East academics. Worse, they tend to blame U.S. policy as the cause of the atrocities of Sept. 11 rather than fault militant Islam.
Insight: How important is consultation between academe and government in understanding the Middle East?
DP: Very important, for scholars have much to offer the government. Unfortunately, however, academics are loath to assist the government in security-related matters, feeling that this would taint them.
As a rule, academics want U.S. government money only if the studies they do are of no use to the government! And note this: Taking U.S. government money is at times very controversial in the universities, but not taking money from the Libyan or Saudi governments.
Insight: Where, then, does government go for information on the Middle East and its regimes?
DP: To the much smaller number of analysts in government, think tanks and other non-university institutions. These few are doing the heavy lifting, providing Washington with accurate information, speaking to the public and providing useful analysis in a timely fashion. They are, in effect, doing what the academics are not. As a result, this small cluster of Middle East scholars is way overworked.
Insight: You have been clear and consistent in your firm support for moderate Muslim regimes. Does militant Islamism pose a danger to these moderate societies, just as it does to ours?
DP: Yes. There exists a deep difference between nations who support militant Islam and those who oppose it. The first victims of militant Islam are Muslims themselves, be they famous individuals like [novelists] Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, or the obscure masses, such as the more than 100,000 victims of Algerian civil strife.
Moderate Muslims are the first to suffer from militant Islam. They are natural allies in the American war on terrorism.
Insight: Is there now a movement afoot to reform Islam from within? What kind of soul-searching is going on in the Muslim world at this time about the nature of Islamic society and its future in the modern world?
DP: There is some, but not a lot. Some enlightened Muslim leaders acknowledge that a serious problem exists. They understand the need to stop blaming others [for their problems]. They understand the need to get their house in order, to conduct thoughtful dialogue and analyze their history.
I am inclined to believe that moderate Islam is likely to be formulated by Muslims living in the West and not those living in the traditional Muslim world. Free speech serves as a stimulus, and we [in the West] have the luxury to test contradictory or alternative thoughts and ideas. Sadly, the Muslim world had centuries to work on this problem but has failed to come up with answers.
Insight: Let's turn to what's happening in Israel. Do you see an end to the Palestinian violence?
DP: Yes, I do. Probably [during] this calendar year the Palestinians will realize they are getting nowhere and just stop.
Insight: Could you elaborate on that prediction?
DP: There is a war going on and one must understand it in context of war. Each side is trying to defeat the other. Each is trying to impose its will. In the end, one side will acknowledge defeat and give up on its goals.
Will it be the Israelis giving up the Zionist enterprise, or will it be the Arabs giving up their efforts to destroy Israel? Today one sees a contest between Palestinians and Israelis. Although military strength figures highly, ultimately victory is a psychological issue. I would say that eight months ago Israelis were losing and the Palestinians were ambitious and optimistic. Today I see the situation flipped. Yes, Palestinians are killing Israelis on a daily basis, but the former no longer have momentum or a sense of movement. Palestinians soon will realize they cannot sustain this battle and their will at that time will break.
Insight: To what do you contribute this flip and loss of purpose? The election of Ariel Sharon [as Israeli prime minister], a shift in strategy or to some other cause?
DP: To a deeper shift in Israel than Sharon's election reflected. Here is what happened: The Palestinian violence began four months after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. The Palestinians concluded they could accomplish the same thing by driving Israeli forces out of the West Bank and Gaza - or, worse, incite civil strive in Israel.
In fact, the reverse happened. The Palestinian violence has brought Israelis together and enhanced their solidarity. The Palestinians made a major error and have continued it for a year-and-a-half now.
Insight: Did the Oslo Process lead to the current crisis?
DP: It had a major role. It represented a historic mistake on Israel's part. After working for decades to gain a reputation for toughness, Israelis decided to ease up in 1993. No longer would they be the tough guys. Rather, they would make deals with the Palestinians, Syrians and others in the region.
Well, this rapprochement was not interpreted by Arabs as the Israeli government had hoped. Instead, they saw it as a sign that Israel was weak and desperate. The Arabs sensed the time had come to go after the Jews, and they did.
Insight: What is the consequence of Oslo?
DP: The main U.S. concern in this theater is to avert an all-out Arab-Israeli war. But the Oslo disaster has led to far more conflict than existed a decade earlier.
Primarily, I see this as an Israeli mistake with which Washington went along. For several years, Israelis did not show a state's normal concern for its security. Everybody lost, including the Arabs, who now are embroiled in conflict with Israel in a way that prevents them from building their economies, opening their policies and developing culturally. The Palestinians would benefit greatly if they forget about destroying Israel.
Oslo's consequence is Israelis slaughtered in their own streets as Palestinians are twisted by a horrid preoccupation to destroy Israel.
With Arab and American encouragement, the Israelis just threw their carefully nurtured advantage away. And now they, the Arabs and the United States are potentially going to pay a high price. Everybody loses. You can't go running after every plan on the premise that there is nothing to lose. There is plenty to lose.
Insight: Palestinians live cheek-by-jowl with Israelis. They witness democracy on a scale unseen in the Arab world. Do they not wish to match those democratic institutions and economic opportunities?
DP: No, it is not a high priority. The high priority, until now, has been to destroy Israel.
Insight: And that's their goal?
DP: Yes. Until now. The Palestinian goal is to destroy Israel; the Israeli goal is to be accepted by its Arab neighbors. As long ago as 1990, I wrote that I saw no compromise - that there can be either an Israel or a Palestine, but not both. One or the other will prevail.
Insight: Who will prevail?
DP: I believe Israel will prevail.
Paula R. Kaufman is a free-lance writer who prepared this article on assignment for Insight magazine.Personal Bio
Daniel Pipes: The Middle East expert says it's past time for the United States to get serious about militant Islamists.
Currently: Director, Middle East Forum, Philadelphia; weekly columnist for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post.
Born: Sept. 9, 1949, Boston.
Education: Harvard University, B.A., Ph.D.
Career highlights: Harper instructor and research associate, University of Chicago; member, policy-planning staff, special adviser, U.S. State Department; lecturer, history, Harvard; professor, U.S. Naval War College.
Selected books: Slave Soldiers and Islam (1981); In the Path of God (1983); The Long Shadow (1988); The Rushdie Affair, and Friendly Tyrants (1990); Greater Syria (1992); and Militant Islam in America (2002).
Favorite recent book: Efraim and Inari Karsh's Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923.
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