Daniel Pipes in conversation
ABC Radio (Australia): The Religion Report
Stephen Crittenden: The opening bars of Beethoven's Ode to Joy: "Friends, not these tones, but rather let us sing more pleasantly and more joyfully". Not the voice of bass-baritone Kofi Annan singing in the UN Security Council earlier today; its true significance will be revealed later in the program.
We've had lots of calls and emails about last week's September 11 interview with John Carroll, and almost as many calls about the short grab we played at the end of the program from our interview with Middle East specialist Daniel Pipes, asking us to play that Pipes interview in full.
Daniel Pipes is the Director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum. He's a columnist for The New York Post and The Jerusalem Post, and the author of many books about militant Islam. I spoke to him when he was in Australia a few weeks back; it was really a preparatory interview for the anniversary of September 11. He was here at the invitation of the conservative think-tank The Centre for Independent Studies, and we spoke about militant Islam, secularism, reform and modernity a year after September 11.
Daniel Pipes, can we reflect over this last year, September 11 was perhaps the high point in a resurgence of militant, anti-western, Islamism which had been gathering strength since at least the revolution in Iran. Where is that militant, Islamist strand in the world after these 12 months, has it had the wind knocked out of it? Is it still on the march? Is it actually growing in power and strength? What do you think?
Daniel Pipes: I agree with the premise of your question. I take it somewhat further back to the 1920s, and say that militant Islam as we now know it, as a modern, totalitarian ideology, got its start in the 1920s – which was the era of totalitarian enthusiasm, Euro-Fascism, and of Leninism, and of militant Islam. It came to power for the first time with the Ayatollah Khomeini, and as you suggest, reached its apogee on September 11th a year ago.
Since then, I see two main threats: one is the powerful blow that militant Islam got from the military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is unquestionably a body blow, a difficulty, something that has not been overcome. On the other hand, I see going back to the 1920s, and specifically to 1979, a still-growing appeal of militant Islam. It is, overall, despite this body blow of a year ago, or nearly a year ago, is still on the ascent.
Stephen Crittenden: And Osama bin Laden is indeed a hero right across the Islamic world.
Daniel Pipes: Well, he is part of the Taliban collapse, he has suffered from that. No, I don't think he is nearly as great a hero as he was in the aftermath of September 11th. But more broadly, militant Islam is growing in appeal, aside from bin Laden specifically.
Stephen Crittenden: Should General Musharraf be our Man of the Year, as somebody who at the time of the attack on the World Trade Centre, clearly had a very, very poor hand of cards, and who has played them in this past 12 months, very, very cleverly?
Daniel Pipes: He did well in his decision in September to join the side of civilisation against the side of totalitarianism. He gave a spectacular speech on January 12th. I've been somewhat disappointed with the follow-up. Whether he does not control his government enough, or whether he is playing a double game, I think there is a certain degree of inconsistency that would make me reluctant in particular to dub him Man of the Year.
Stephen Crittenden: Isn't Pakistan, in a sense, the great test case? Isn't it such a tinderbox? Aren't the forces of really militant Islam so close to the government, that just to avert disaster has been success enough?
Daniel Pipes: I agree. The institutions that are sympathetic to militant Islam – including intelligence services, elements in the military, the educational system, large segments of the media – are a formidable group for the Prime Minister to tackle. He has done a pretty good job of it; I just say not quite the spectacular job that would warrant the medal that you're suggesting for him. It could have been a lot worse. I think we have to keep the pressure up on him, and on Pakistan in general, to stick to the right side of this particular war.
Stephen Crittenden: I want to read you something you wrote just last November in the New York Post: "thanks to American muscle, Afghans now look at militant Islam as a losing proposition. Nor are they alone. Muslims around the world sense the same shift".
In another article, you quote a Kuwaiti politician who suggests that secularists in some Islamic States have been given a new burst of confidence. Is there any real sign that those fledgling liberal Islamic movements have taken heart, are building strength, are having their voices heard in the Islamic world?
Daniel Pipes: I can point to wisps of evidence, but no, overall I can't say that there has been a strengthening. Indeed, my understanding of the current war is that it's not a war on terror, it's a war on militant Islam – or to be more precise: it is not a war on terror, it is not a war on Islam, it is a war on a terroristic interpretation of Islam. I see our war goals as having two stages: the first one is to marginalise and weaken militant Islam, such as happened in destroying the Taliban regime. The second step is encouraging, empowering the moderates such as we did in Afghanistan by inviting in the Northern Alliance. I think the second stage –
Stephen Crittenden: – well my listeners will jump in, I know, right there and say they are no more moderate than the Taliban they replaced.
Daniel Pipes: You're right, there are many extremist elements in there, but it's at least something we can work with. I acknowledge that, but yes. The goal must be first to marginalise the extremists and empower the moderates. We have not done that yet.
Stephen Crittenden: Is there anything in the Islamic world there to build on?
Daniel Pipes: Yes, yes there is. The bad news is that the moderates are somewhat intimidated, not well organised, defensive, not much heard, and many people are asking "where are they?" And it's a valid question. But they are there, there are many, many people who reject, many Muslims, who reject the strictures, the militants, because a lot of them don't want to live under a totalitarian system. Once we weaken the totalitarian impulse movement, then they have a chance to come out. So I think it is absolutely crucial, in terms of the Western war effort, to help them, to bring them out.
Stephen Crittenden: Is the Taliban being seen as a failed experiment, an attempt to live like the Prophet and his immediate followers in the 7th century that has failed?
Daniel Pipes: It's striking to see how little impact the fall of the Taliban has had. This is a regime that was always a sport, always a different sort of place. Militant Islam in general is a modernising movement, where if you look at the leaders and look at the followers, these are people who are contending with the challenges of constraints of modern life, living in cities and dealing with the routine problems of modern life, and turning to militant Islam as a solution. The Taliban could not have been more different. They came out of the villages of Afghanistan, nothing modern about them at all, and attempted to revert to a kind of ancient village life. So they didn't touch people, they didn't appeal to people, they didn't have a core, in the way that, say, Iran does have. And so their rise and fall has not been of much moment in the militant Islamic movement as a whole.
Iran, in contrast, were the Iranian regime to collapse, this would have major repercussions, both political and psychological – and I think that's just a matter of time, by the way. I think Iran has reached a kind of Brezhnevite status, where not even the rulers really believe in their proclaimed ideology, much less the masses, and I think it's just a matter of time till they give up the ghost.
Stephen Crittenden: One of the things that's been reverberating in my head over the last 12 months is the kind of approach, I think a very tough-minded approach, of someone like V.S. Naipaul, who in his famous books and his travels through the Middle East, was constantly suggesting that there was something about Islam itself that caused these people to be living backward lives. Just recently, we've seen a UN report on development in the Arab world, which shows that despite the wealth of some of the Gulf States, for example, the level of education, the level of literacy, the level of health and all sorts of stuff, is way, way, way below what you might expect. The question keeps arising: is there something about Islam itself which is linked to this backwardness?
Daniel Pipes: No, there's something about the history of the Muslim peoples. It's different. It's not Islam as a religion, it is the history of Muslims. And to put it in a nutshell, Islam was a religion of success, Muslims 1,000 years ago were at the top. Whatever you looked at – military power, literacy, cultural achievement – Islam was doing very, very well. The Muslim peoples then endured a very long and dramatic decline, so let's say by 1800, they were far behind Europe in whatever index you would look at, and remain so 200 years later. And the great trauma of modern Muslim life has been to explain what went wrong, and to find explanations for it. So this has been an enormously difficult period to come to terms with, this decline in status, and in particular the European ascent, the Western ascent, which is particularly problematic, given the history of Christian-Muslim difficulties. But there's nothing inherent to Islam. I mean, Islam was 1,000 years ago ascendant, and today is in trouble, and indeed at no time in the history of Islam have Muslim people been more in trouble than they are at this very moment. There's nothing inherent to prevent democracy, economic development and so forth. What it requires is a coming to terms with two things: modernity, that is to say a looking again at the Qu'ran, and the concepts there, at the entire sacred scriptures of Islam and re-interpreting them in a modern way; and second is coming to terms with the supremacy of the West.
Stephen Crittenden: Well, you've raised the issue of modernity and Westernisation. Islam has been on a collision course with the West for its entire history even before there was such a thing as modernisation; are you with someone like Samuel Huntingdon, who thinks that you can be modern without being Western, or are you with me? Do you think that modernity is a product of Westernisation?
Daniel Pipes: I'm with you completely. I note that the two really successful imposed efforts to modernise a country, namely Meiji Japan and Ataturk – Turkey – both did not stint on the Westernising. I recall, for example, reading about the 1880s how the Prime Minister of Japan at that point insisted that his Ministers and other big shots, engage in ballroom dancing.
Stephen Crittenden: Ataturk built a Conservatorium, because you had to have one.
Daniel Pipes: Music is a wonderful example of this. Music is utterly useless in its own right, but it is a symptom. If you're willing to learn Beethoven and learn Western music and really get good at it, it means that you're willing to do all that's necessary to modernise. And where you're not, where you say "no, I mean we'll take the engineering, we'll take the medical research, we'll take the military aspects, but no thank you to the music", it doesn't work. Music is a very nice indication. People's attitudes towards Western music are a good signal of how they're going to fare in much more practical areas of life. And Japan, not surprisingly, has world-class symphony orchestras playing. And it's not just the quality of the music, but they have, for example, adopted Beethoven's Ninth into a Christmas-New Year kind of oration. It's not something that the West does, it's something that the Japanese, on their own, developed and made into a tradition of their own. I see that as very significant.
Stephen Crittenden: Has the West – let's go back to Turkey – has the West actually paid too little attention to supporting those fledgling, secularist movements when they do appear?
Daniel Pipes: Oh yes, I'd agree with that. And for example –
Stephen Crittenden: Turkey, for example, I mean if you're a Turk, wouldn't you have every reason to be really angry, after banging your head against the wall to get into Europe, all of this time wondering "what do we have to do?"
Daniel Pipes: The good news is that Turkey is on the road now to entry into the EU. I draw a distinction between the United States and Europe here, where the United States has been avid about including Turkey in organisations like NATO, and has been pushing the European Union to accept it. I wouldn't make it too strong; there has been a reluctance to accept Turkey as a full-fledged, secular state, a modern state. It is proving by its actions that generally it is moving in that direction, and that should be encouraged, and I think the EU is coming around to that. The more profound point, perhaps, is not the Western response to Turkey, but Turkey's lack of interest in the Muslim world. Turkey is the only Muslim state with a state ideology that is secular, and I think it's awfully important that, for example, they work against the Iranian propaganda, which is Islamist, but they don't. They're not interested, by the very nature –
Stephen Crittenden: – in engaging with it.
Daniel Pipes: Right, by the very nature of their being very Western-oriented, they don't have time for these sorts of subjects, and I think it's a great opportunity lost.
Stephen Crittenden: What do you think about the role of Muslim societies in the West, that is to say immigrant societies in America, Australia, Germany, France – particularly France, I suspect, because of the strong Republican education system and so on – what is their real role in reforming Islam? Is it going to be driven by Western and secularist ideas amongst the populations living in places like Australia?
Daniel Pipes: You're right, in the first place, to point to France as probably the vanguard country in terms both of institutions and numbers. The percentage of Muslims in France is higher than anywhere else in the West. I see two prospects: one short and negative, and the other longer-term and positive. Short and negative is that in every Western country I know about, it is militant Islamic institutions that dominate. There is very little voice for the moderates. They have little access to the corridors of power or to the media, they tend to be ignored, as they are in the Muslim countries as well.
Stephen Crittenden: We're talking about places like Britain.
Daniel Pipes: That would be an extreme example, so-called "Londonistan", yes. But it's everywhere I've seen, and I think we're on a collision course between these organisations and their demands to adjust life in the West to the precepts of militant Islam – which is, I think, going to be roundly rejected, but we're on a collision course, and there's trouble ahead.
On the positive side, looking to the further future, once this sort of issue has been resolved, as I hope it will be, then I think there are some good things in store. Because the Muslims who are growing up in the West, whether children of converts or immigrants, are in two societies at once, two civilisations at once, the Western and the Muslim. I think they are in a position to modernise Islam in a fashion that others have not. There have been 200 years of efforts, as I've suggested, in places like India and Egypt and Iran, to come to terms with modern life. It's failed. Intellectually it hasn't worked, it hasn't been followed. I see the prospect, I'm optimistic, that there's a chance that this kind of reform of Islam will take place in the West.
Stephen Crittenden: I want to go back to Samuel Huntingdon, to the very idea of the clash of civilisations, and the idea that there is something called The West. I've noted a bit in your writing recently, that you're suggesting that Europe's old, Europe's had it; America's out there looking in a way for new allies. Now, this seems to me to be something that flies, cuts right across the Huntingdon thesis, that in fact America is much more inclined suddenly to be fostering its relationships with countries like India, Pakistan, Turkey, indeed any Muslim country that's prepared to be moderate and be on side. Are we actually seeing it suddenly as a result of September 11th, something quite unexpected?
Daniel Pipes: As Robert Kagan puts it: Americans are from Mars, and Europeans are from Venus. It's like sort of male/female, it's really big and it's getting bigger. The presumptions and the operational capabilities of the United States and Europe – which, after all, have a similar population, similar economy – are just becoming ever more different, and I am not all that original in thinking that we should look elsewhere. In Europe, by the way, our growing buddies are the East Europeans, the Poles and the Hungarians and others.
Stephen Crittenden: But what this means, of course, is that September 11 has had the effect, or will possibly have the effect, of problematising "what is the West?" as a question all over again. There may in fact not be one monolithic West, like Huntingdon talks about.
Daniel Pipes: Right. And then you mentioned Turkey, Israel, India. These are robust States that see the world in American terms, as it is. I'm not quite sure where Australia fits.
Stephen Crittenden: Oh, we're with America, very definitely, don't worry.
Daniel Pipes: Well, let's say New Zealand is with Europe, Australia is with the United States, Canada I guess is with the United States, not quite clear. There's a sorting out. In other words, Europeans have decided to spend their money on social welfare, not on arms, have decided that the kinds of methods that were applied to Germany after 1945 to tame it, can be applied internationally, and that discussions and soft methods of influence are sufficient. We live in a different world, and we are ready to use force where necessary, and I think this distinction which was there, has been there for decades, is really becoming deep and significant today.
Stephen Crittenden: Middle East analyst, Daniel Pipes. Interesting that the adoption of Western cultural influences such as music is a profound marker of the modernity, and the success of societies like Turkey and Japan – and yet Europe is old, Europe has had it, the European model of calming everyone down with education, culture and social spending is unrealistic compared with America's preparedness to use force.
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