War against Radical Islamists
CNNfn: Lou Dobbs Moneyline
DOBBS: As we stated last week, we believe that the "war on terror" expression does little to define the enemy of this country in this battle, And we have asserted the language the "war against radical Islamists" instead. We believe it is clear. We believe it defines our enemies. Most of you-and by far the most of you-agree, but significant numbers do not.
In the cause of seeking even greater clarity in terminology and assessing its importance and the threat posed by radical Islamists, we've asked three of the country's leading experts to join us this morning.
Fawaz Gerges has spent the past two years researching relations between Islamists and the West. Daniel Pipes is the director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum. And Mary Jane Deeb is adjunct professor of international relations at American University in Washington. I thank you all.
And if I may, Professor Deeb, begin with you. What are your views on the use of the terminology "radical Islamists" to describe and define those who would destroy this country and, indeed, much of civilization?
MARY JANE DEEB, PROFESSOR, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think there are Islamists and radical Islamists. Their goal is the same. Basically, a community of Muslims headed by a Caliphate and with a system of law which is called Sharia. Radical Islamists believe that they can achieve this by violence, and other Islamists believe they can achieve this through other means.
DOBBS: And, Daniel Pipes?
DANIEL PIPES, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: First of all, I'd like to congratulate you on your new terminology. I think it's very good. "War on terrorism"-meaningless term. "Terror" is not the enemy. Militant Islam, as you're calling it radical Islamism, is the enemy. It's very clear to all of us, and it's high time that someone like you points it out. I think it's an excellent term.
DOBBS: OK. If I may turn to you, Professor Gerges. Your thoughts?
FAWAZ GERGES, AUTHOR, "AMERICA AND POLITICAL ISLAM": Well, I think there are two sets of differences. Those of matter and doctrine between the mainstream Islamists who represent the majority of Islamists and militant Islamists. I think while mainstream Islamists have made a strategic decision to participate in the political process and play by the rule of the game and have learned the hard way that violence is counterproductive, militant Islamists use mainly force to Islamicize society and politics and remain ambivalent about participating in the secular political process.
DOBBS: Would you all agree that the-part of the foundation here-and let's focus only on Islamists for a moment, not radical Islamists-but the foundation for much of this rises-arises from the fact that these Islamists take a system of personal belief and convert it, in point of fact, to ideology and raise it to a political cause that is the creation of an Islamist state. Is that...
DOBBS: ... a fair statement?
PIPES: It is a transformation of a personal faith into a radical utopian ideology. I would differ with my two colleagues, though. They're both making distinction between Islamists and radical Islamists. I note that some Islamists use violence and some don't.
But I say it's circumstantial. The person who doesn't use violence today will use it tomorrow. They're all gunning for the same totalitarian goals, and which methods they're using at this moment I don't consider very important at all.
DEEB: I think it is critically important. The difference in methods is essential in defining who is a terrorist and who is not. The fact that someone can believe in a Caliphate does not mean by definition that that person is going to use violence, that he is against the United States, or that he is against the values of other countries and civilization, but...
PIPES: Fair enough, but believing in a Caliphate is not the key. The key is believing this totalitarian-is supporting this totalitarian ideology-that's the key. Some Islamists are violent, some are not, but all want to impose a totalitarian ideology.
DEEB: Well, it depends. It depends. It depends if you view the Caliphate or an Islamic state as a totalitarian state. Many Muslims-many Muslims would argue with this.
PIPES: I'm not talking about Caliphate. I'm talking about supporting ideas like those of Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden, which are radical, utopian ideas that want to change the way we live. That's not talking about Caliphate. It's talking about...
DEEB: No. But both-yes, but both have used violence. I mean, bin Laden and Khomeini have used violence, and so I would put those in the radical Islamist group.
DOBBS: Professor Gerges.
GERGES: Well, I think that-I mean, the focus here on the ideological underpinning of Islamic-Islamism is crucial. I think that Islamism is more of an ideological constraint. I think it has more to do with politics and society than religion per se.
I think we should not be deceived by the, I think, flowery rhetoric of Islamists who tend to, I think, wrap the ideological agenda with the moral trapping and, of course, the legitimacy of Islam. I think, at the end of the day, their discourse and their agenda is political.
And I think the distinction here-that we should not confuse Islam, Muslims, and even mainstream Islamists with what I call the fringe radical Jihadi variety of Ayman al-Zawahari and bin Laden.
DOBBS: Excuse me. I'm going to ask, if you would, to stay patient with us, and as-we'll continue this conversation when we return.
We're back with Fawaz Gerges, Daniel Pipes, and Mary Jane Deeb. On the issue of radical Islamists, let me begin with you, Fawaz. How serious the threat, in your judgment, is the ideology of-and the action-of radical Islamists to this country, to civilization itself?
GERGES: Well, Lou, I think most of us really underestimated the power and the strengths and the reach of the jihadi elements. I personally did not really expect in my wildest estimation that Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden would be able to unleash the terror that took place on 9/11.
But let's keep in mind that it's crucial that the United States does not fall into bin Laden's trap and confuse Islam, Muslims and even mainstream Islamism with the fringe Islamist movement. I think the overwhelming number of Islamists are mainstream Islamists who represent basically, while willing to play by the rules of the game, to participate in the political process, who have renounced violence, that the fringe Islamist elements, although they represent a threat to American national security, I think they represent a bigger threat to their own societies.
Let's remember, Lou, that militant Islamists have bled their society dry. The main victims of terrorism have not just been Westerners and Americans. The main victims of terrorism have been Muslims and Arabs.
DOBBS: That's a fascinating point. Daniel Pipes?
PIPES: Professor Gerges makes a distinction between the mainstream Islamists and the fringe ones. I would say that's like making a distinction between mainstream Nazis and fringe Nazis. They're all Nazis, they're all the enemy.
To answer your question directly, Lou, I think what Nazism or fascism was to World War II and Marxist/Leninism was to the Cold War, militant Islam is to this war. It is the ideology that lurks behind the states, the organizations, the individuals. All the people who are fighting us now in this war are devoted to a single set of-broadly speaking, a single set of ideas. These are ideas which are extreme extremely inimical to our own, and they are very aggressive. They want to impose their ideas on us through violent means or peaceful means.
They are our enemy very clearly, and they're a long-term, determined, devoted enemy. I'm surprised that Professor Gerges is surprised by the intensity of their attack on us, because they declared war on us in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran and said "Death to America."
You know what? Hundreds of Americans died as a result of that. It is nothing new. It's been going on now for two decades.
GERGES: May I add a footnote, though?
GERGES: Well, I think the critical questions are the following-is it in our interests to make an enemy of the entire Islamist camp? Is it in our vital interests to lump all Islamists together and ignore the many shades of colors and view between and within Islamists?
Let's remember there are enlightened Islamists and reactionary and fascist Islamists as well. And I think that up until 9/11 American policymakers made a clear distinction between mainstream and moderate Islamists and fringe Islamist movements who use violence and force. I hope that this particular distinction remains in place.
PIPES: It is not particularly in our interest to have them all be our enemy, but they are our enemy whether we-whether you recognize it or not. They're our enemy.
DOBBS: Professor Deeb, let me bring you in, if I may.
DEEB: Yes. Well, my knowledge of the region makes me raise an eyebrow, if I may say so, about the assertions that Islamists are the enemies of the United States.
I would say that basically, Islamists are afraid of the United States. They're afraid of the power, military and cultural power of the U.S. and of the West. And they are reacting out of fear. They're not reacting in order to impose their own ideologies or their own views on the United States.
I don't think anyone in their right mind would believe that the ideas of bin Laden would actually transform the United States or would convert Americans. But Islamists are afraid that American ideas, American ideals of democracy, of openness, of inclusiveness will change the hearts and minds of many in the region.
DOBBS: Is it your judgment that-we're really out of time, but I would like to just as succinctly as you can, whether you agree or disagree with our definition of the enemy as radical Islamists? If I may begin with you, Professor Gerges.
GERGES: Let me put it this way. Let me end on a positive note. I think that militant and radical Islamists have been defeated in almost every single Arab country. I hope they're also defeated in Afghanistan, coupled with the ramification of 9/11, would, I suppose, expedite the process of soul searching on the part of Islamists. And I think this process, the echoes of this particular soul searching appear to emerge, in particular, in Egypt in the last two months.
DOBBS: So you would agree with our characterization, professor?
GERGES: Well, absolutely. As I said before, I think militant Islamists represent a direct threat to their own society and, of course, an indirect threat to some aspects of U.S. national security and American citizens as well.
DOBBS: And Professor Deeb?
GERGES: Radical Islamists are a danger to everyone, to themselves and to Muslims in general. And certainly to the West, but we must remember that they constitute a very small minority of people among the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.
DOBBS: And I think that is clear. As a matter of fact, we've had a number of people, professor-Muslims, who are saying that they appreciate the definition because it is a way in which to segregate those who practice peacefully and righteously the Islamic religion from those who are extremist and violent, that is, the radical Islamists. Daniel Pipes, you have the last word.
PIPES: Thank you. Two points. First, I would say that militant Islam is the problem. Moderate Islam is the solution, not moderate radical Islam, but moderate Islam, really moderate Islam.
Secondly, I would note that Professor Deeb said you had to be crazy to think that Osama bin Laden's ideas would be attractive here. Let me just recall the home videotape when he took pride in all those conversions that were taking place in the United States and Holland, I think he said, as a result of his actions. He does want to impose his idea here. He may be crazy, but he wants to do it.
DOBBS: Fawaz Gerges, Daniel Pipes, Mary Jane Deeb, we thank you very much. We hope you will rejoin us again as we continue this examination of a very important topic to all of us. Thank you.
Reader comments (27) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes