Dr. Pipes' views on Islamic Terrorism and Turkey
Voice of Atatürk
Translations of this item:
Dr. Pipes presented an excellent analysis of the threat of violence against the modern world. He did not agree with the Administration's identification as terrorism. He clearly and accurately identified the enemy as an ideological militant Islam.
"In general, I think the US government and many other institutions have made a profound mistake in declaring this to be a war on terrorism. In part, it is nonsensical if you think about it. You cannot have a war on terrorism. Terrorism is a form of violence. It is not the enemy. It would be like having war on trenches or war on battle ships, or war on surprise attacks perhaps in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. Terrorism or battleships is the means or a fact of war. It is not the enemy. But the US government has a reason in doing this. It is being euphemistic, it is being cautious. It avoids making new enemies; it is avoiding the problem of having bias internally against Muslims. Although there are virtues in this careful description of the enemy as violence; it is not a good idea."
"If the government is unwilling to state what its goal is or who its enemy is in a war you cannot effectively deal with it. I mean who are we looking for, who are our allies, what are the methods to be pursued? Why are American troops not, for example, in Sri Lanka or Peru, where the major terrorist movements are? Why are they in Uzbekistan, Philippines and Yemen? I think we need to state that the strategic enemy of the US and of many countries, Muslim and non-Muslim, is the militant Islam. When we put it this way we are saying accurately what the problem is. It is not terrorism; it is an ideology, a very compelling body of ideas that causes individuals to devote their lives, sometimes to give up their lives for this dream of how society can be ordered. My view is that our war is not a war on terror, but it is a war on militant Islam, or more specifically a war on Jihad. I think militant Islam is an Islamic version of the radical utopian movements that took roots and became strong in the West about a century ago in the 1920s. This was the movement of totalitarian enthusiasm when in such diverse places as Italy, Germany, Japan, Soviet Union, China and Viet Nam one found a wide spread belief that the solution to one's problems lay in all encompassing body of ideas that would rule every aspect of one's life. The totalitarian movements were fascism and communism in particular. These movements aspire to take control of governments. They regulate everything within the country that they deem important. They are brutal towards those who disagree with them, and they aspire to grow and eventually become globally powerful. Militant Islam, or Islamism, political Islam, fundamentalist Islam is another such movement, and it also has its origins in the 1920s. It is likely seen as an Islamic version of these totalitarian movements. It was not strong enough to take over a government until fifty years later in Iran in 1979."
"At the heart of it lies the law of Islam, Sheriat. The idea that if you live by the law of the Sheriat in its exactness and if you apply it to all aspects of life you will then become rich and strong. My guess is that 10-15 % of Muslim populations around the world support militant Islam. The recent Turkish example would seem to confirm that. Though small in number they are very active, very devoted. The bad news is that 10-15% of a billion people is 100-150 million people. The good news is that it is still a relatively small minority. It is a global force, in addition to it, it has taken over several governments like mentioned. It is a central opposition force in such countries like Nigeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan. Perhaps most dismaying has been how only in the last five years or so it has become a very significant force in such huge and distant countries from the Middle East as Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Between them they have more than 1/3 of Muslim world population and have become radicalized in recent years."
"It is, of course, also present in the West. For West is attractive for the Islamists. They live around people affluent, law abiding, have respect for religion, who do not really understand militant Islam. So what one has seen throughout the West is the militant Islamic institutions that dominate. Who does the media turn to? Who does the White House invite? It is the representatives of militant Islam. The same takes place in Canada, Western Europe and to a certain extent in Latin America. They dominate the discussion of Islam. They also engage in fund rising and to some extent in controlling terrorist movements in the Middle East. I believe the internal threat of militant Islam is as great to us as Americans as the external threat. Hostile relations with the West have been there from the beginning. They only became important in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. At that point militant Islam in effect declared war on us. They see themselves as surrounded by the West, as defending themselves from the West, and they have been attacking us, in particular Americans. I count before Sept. 11, 8oo fatalities in the course of militant Islamic attacks on Americans."
"There is an ignorance of the ideological dimension that terrorism is the problem, not militant Islam. Militant Islam is deep, big, powerful, attractive. Officially we do not deal with that. We deal with Islamists. Yet beyond the violence lies ideas, to make people respond. Unless we deal with these ideas we cannot win. Also the policies have only somewhat changed. For example, while there are new regulations for immigration and that law enforcement can go into mosques, at the same time there is great hesitance for enforcing them. If one looks at something like airline security it is not a serious undertaking. Because it does not look for terrorists, does not look for militant Islamist. It looks for things, for guns, knives. This is not serious. I think if you ask the President what the goal of the war is, he will tell you and I will quote you " we will continue until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." I do not think that is a war goal. The war goal must be to defeat militant Islam. Here I draw an analogy to WWII and to Cold War. In 1945 we destroyed the Nazi rule, in 1991 Soviet rule imploded, it did not need to be destroyed. It destroyed itself. In the aftermath of 1945 and 1991 the fascist and the communist ideologies became weak and marginal. We must make as our goal something similar in the case of militant Islam. We must defeat it. Whether with military means as in 1945, or political and economic means as in 1991 or some mix of both, I do not know. But the goal must be the defeat of militant Islam. So that it no longer is the powerful force that it is today. So that it is marginalized like fascism and communism. The third totalitarian movement has to be defeated like the prior two."
He suggests that moderate Islam would be the right counter force to militant Islam.
"Moderate Islam is the solution. Militant Islam is the problem. It is important for the US to develop policies to encourage a different kind of Islam, a moderate and modern Islam, just as in Germany. We did not destroy Germany, we destroyed the nazi system. We found a good German attitude, and created a modern and moderate Germany. And similarly today we are helping Russia. So the goal in this case must be the development of a modern Islam."
He is of the opinion that brushing aside Islamism in favor of modernism is not the solution. Turkish organizations in the US, like the Ataturk Society of America, must engage the Islamists.
"If I understand your perspective correctly it is to replace Islam with something more rational. I do not think that is going to work. I am sympathetic to it personally, but I do not think there lies the solution.
Let me turn for a second to Ataturk's legacy. To start with I am a great admirer. I think the transformation of Turkey between 1923 and 1938 was extraordinary. There is only one other case of that in the world, which is Meiji Japan in 1860s and 70s. Remarkably successful experiment I think. I admire modern Turkey as a successful country in many regards. So that is my general appreciation, but let me be critical, because that is what is useful. I think that three aspects of Ataturkism are inadequate. First, it is exclusively Turkic and Turkish in orientation. The eyes are on Europe, unconcerned with any Muslim peoples other than those who speak Turkish. We saw that interestingly enough about a decade ago, when the Turkic republics of the Soviet Union became independent. There was a significant Turkish interest in those Turkic republics, unlike any other areas. There was a notable lack of interest say in Syria and Iraq, except for commercial interests. The message is the Turkish message, not a wider Muslim message. I think that is a shame. It is a problem because Ataturk's message can be refined, can be made accessible to Muslims who do not speak Turkish. There is something of value there. It is the only state sponsored secular message in the Muslim world. For me it is frustrating to see that no one knows about it except for people who speak Turkish. Syrians and Iraqis, not to speak of more distant Muslims, are unaware. They were aware of it in the 1920s and 30s. They were scared of it. But it did not go beyond Turkey; they lost interest. It is now an exclusively Turkish phenomenon. So this is point one: No interest in the rest of the Muslim world. I understand why the interest is in Europe in modernizing Turkey. But I think now 80 years later it turns out to be a problem."
"Second, Ataturk's legacy is intellectually moribund, it is intellectually dead. There is repetition of statements from the 1920s and 30s without anything happening. And I contrast that with militant Islamic developments, where books being published, exciting new ideas being offered, major debates taking place. There is nothing taking place so far as I know on the secular side, on the Ataturk side. Just a repetition of old statements. Nothing that is keeping up with the time; nothing that is applying to rather different circumstances of today. In Turkey alone there are very different circumstances with AKP in power, than it was in 1920.
My third criticism is the most fundamental. It is that Ataturkist approach is not interested in religion. Replace religion with rationality, but it is not going to work. So as I said I am personally sympathetic to it, but it is not going to work. The fact is that not only in the Muslim world, but specifically in the Muslim world one finds a very deep interest and orientation towards faith and religion. So my view is that that needs to be grappled with, that needs to be discussed. That is in a sense the same as my second point. You need to deal with the issues of the time. Simply to say that this is a bad idea, it is necessary to become a modern person and to move away from it is not going to work. It is leaving a lot of people with no ideas. I am arguing that Islam needs to be modernized what is now a religion in crisis. We Americans need to get engaged and support moderate and modern voices. If the US government were to adopt the Ataturkist approach and say that is generally a bad idea and you should become more secular I do not think we will have much impact. I think what we need to do is to encourage, sponsor, prompt, prod voices of moderate Islam and they are the future. Moderate Islam is the solution, not no Islam. That is not going to happen."
"So to turn to my three points, I think it is important to look beyond Turkey. It is you who have a very creative, powerful set of ideas, which are restricted to Turkey, to Turkish speakers. You should make an effort to offer them, to translate them, to take out those ideas, which are more universal and offer them to non-Turks. Second, it is important to engage with the issues of the day. It is not enough to repeat what Ataturk said in very different circumstances in the 1920s and 30s. Third, it is important, and as a subset of number two, to address the issue of Islam. Simply pushing it aside is not enough in Turkey itself, not to speak of the rest of the world. In Turkey there is a serious support from a substantial part of the electorate for something resembling the militant Islam. I think if the Turkish officer corps were not so clear in its rejection of militant Islam the expression of it would be much more overt. In other words, I think Erdogan is an Islamist who is being careful. But we know what is in his heart. That is a phenomenon that the Ataturkists have not dealt with. I am not aware, correct me if I am wrong, that there is a serious argument with the ideas of Erdogan, Erbakan and the others. They have not been engaged. Itherefore see a surge of Islamist strength and diminishment of Ataturkist strength. I think you have a vital role to play. You are the carriers of an important set of ideas that has had great success in Turkey, that is potentially available to other Muslims, that is potentially part of the lively debate in Turkey and beyond. But I think it requires staying up to date, engaging in the issues of the moment in a way that I just do not see happening. So I hope you understand this friendly criticism. I am a supporter and I am somewhat frustrated by the absence of engagement with militant Islam."
"Let me close by giving you an example. The government, the press in the US need Muslim leaders, spokesmen, whether be commenting on bin Laden or going to have dinner in the White House for Ramazan or helping to direct a Sheriat fund on Wall Street or engaging with churches on interfaith dialogue. There is a need for Muslim leaders as spokesmen. Well guess who is providing them. I think you are aware that it is the Islamists. They dominate. It is extremely frustrating to see that there is no moderate Muslim voice. That is the sort of thing needed. I am engaged in a battle over access to the White House, which Muslims get in, which do not. I need to be able to say here are names, here are leaders of organizations that have a substantial membership that have importance. I do not have it. You can help me. But it means taking Islam seriously. It is not enough just to push it aside. In 1920s it looked like Islam was on the way out. Right ? It looked like religion in general was in decline, specially Islam. Well it is not. It is very much growing. So keeping this idea from the 1920s that you can ignore Islam leaves you without a voice."
"All the Turkish organizations are essentially irrelevant to this. Fine organizations, but irrelevant because they are not dealing with these issues. So I plead with you to pay attention to these issues. Ataturkist legacy needs to be modernized by which I mean it needs to engage with Islam."
He does not see the current Turkish politics as the solution.
"The easy assumption of the 1920s that Islam is in decline and we can go off to be rational and European turned out to be wrong. It is not in decline, it is in ascent. They are in the political leadership of Turkey. They are not Ataturkists who are running Turkey today, who have the 67% of the Parliament. You need to engage with Islam. If you do not you are missing an awfully important opportunity, one in which everybody needs you to do not just in Turkey but I as an American Middle East Forum policy analyst I need you to do that. I need you to take that message back to Turkey and say wake up it is 2003 a lot of very important issues that are not being dealt with."
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