"Moslem States Represent a Potential Threat to World Peace"
by Daniel Pipes
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How did the U.S. government perceive Islam as a political force in the old days? For an answer, I propose a look at a "confidential" 76-page study (declassified in 1979) published sixty years ago tomorrow by the Military Intelligence Service of the U.S. War Department.
The 1946 report, which I have posted online in pdf format (warning: it is a large document that may be slow to load), is the inaugural issue of a series of weekly reports titled simply Intelligence Review. This series presents "current intelligence reflecting the outstanding developments of military interest in the fields of politics, economics, sociology, the technical sciences, and, of course, military affairs." Chapter headings in this first issue include: "Transition of Major Powers to Peacetime Military Systems," "Manchuria: Soviet or Chinese Sphere?" and "Wheat: Key to the World's Food Supply."
Of particular interest is an 11-page chapter that deals with "Islam: A Threat to World Stability." It opens with some bleak observations:
The report then explains these two urges and rightly begins by focusing on the long shadow of the premodern period.
Looking at Muslims in psychological terms is characteristic of that era, when social scientists frequently viewed politics through the prism of individual behavior. (For a famous example of such an analysis, see Ruth Benedict's 1946 study, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, which argued that the Japanese national character is formed in part by stringent toilet training techniques.)
The introduction concludes with a justification for the present analysis: "An understanding of the Moslem world and of the stresses and forces operative within it is thus an essential part of the basic intelligence framework."
The chapter proceeds with a one-page sketch of Muslim history that includes this observation: "At the present time there are no strong Moslem states. The leadership of the Moslem world remains in the Middle East, particularly in Arabia." Given the backwardness of Arabia in 1946, this statement was either very ill-informed or very prescient.
The bulk of the chapter looks at forces that weaken or strengthen Muslim unity. The former include a lack of a common language, religious schisms, geographical separation, economic disparities, political rivalries, and what the report indelicately calls a "prostitution of leadership." This last is not so much an excoriation of Muslim kings, presidents, and emirs, but a review of how several non-Muslim powers, ending with the Soviet Union, have claimed to be the Protectors of Islam. The analysis includes the notable observation that "Moslems are properly suspicious of their leaders."
Forces that strengthen Muslim unity make up a second, shorter list: the pilgrimage to Mecca, classical Arabic, modern communications, and the Arab League. A mention of the hajj leads to one dramatically wrong prediction: "The scarcity of shipping during the war reduced the usual horde to about 20,000-30,000 per year. While the numbers will probably increase now, they are not likely to reach their former proportions." (In fact, the pilgrimage breaks new attendance records practically every year and now numbers three million pilgrims, many times more than ever was the case before 1946.)
The chapter on Islam concludes with an eye to the U.S. rivalry with the Soviet Union. Far from viewing Islam as a "bulwark against Communism," as later was the case, the Military Intelligence Service sees Muslims as easy prey for Moscow. It finds Muslim states "weak and torn by internal stresses" and deems their peoples "insufficiently educated to appraise propaganda or to understand the motives of those who promise a new Heaven and a new Earth." The analysis ends on a sober note:
This voice from the past prompts three observations. First, its blunt expression is remote from today's carefully worded government analyses (even classified ones) intended to offend no one. Second, the perception that the Muslim world (then making up one-seventh of the world's population, now about one-sixth) could impede world stability is deep and remarkable. Third, many of the themes wracking today's world could be discerned two generations ago – the frustration of Muslims, the sense of longing for an earlier era, the political volatility, the susceptibility to extremist ideologies, and the threat to world peace. This confirms, again, that 9/11 and attendant aggressions should not have been the shock they were.
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