Interview with Daniel Pipes
by Cyrill Vatomsky
Cyrill Vatomsky: Thank you for coming on. Thank you for planning your trip to Santa Cruz to educate our population here.
Daniel Pipes: My pleasure; I look forward to it.
CV: Several questions. I loved the article that was published on your website danielpipes.org, "Radical Islam vs. Civilisation," where you said, "I am generally invited [to speak] when people want some gloom and doom. True to form, I will provide some gloom for you." You said this in London, debating Mr. Livingstone there. Now I would like to, being an optimistic person myself, very much so. although I'm a Russian and that is probably a conundrum. But is there a future. I'll just jump into this right away. Do you see a possibility for some sort of realignment between the West and the Islam? I'm not talking radical Islam. Islam in general?
DP: Yes I am optimistic as well. I think such a possibility exists. The difficult part is getting there; that will be hard work and it will be long work. But I think that the Muslim world need not be in the extreme and terrible shape that it is in today. We are in a particularly bad moment for the Muslim world. It wasn't this bad when I began my studies of it in the late 1960's and it need not be so in the future. Like in Germany, it need not always be as it was in the 1930s and '40s.
CV: What preconditions would you see as a scholar of that culture, of that area, of the economy? What preconditions would you see for Islam to shed this cancerous malignant fanaticism?
DP: What you call that malignant fanaticism has taken decades to grow up into the force that it is today and I imagine that it will take decades for any alternatives to likewise become so strong. So, it requires moderates, it requires Muslims who are opposed to the Islamist movement to organize, to find money, to get their basic ideas in order, and then to develop a network and a force comparable to what the Islamists have.
CV: Right now Islam, or this fanatical radical Islam, is at least in a large part financed by the oil profits and the situation where the West is somewhat dependent on the oil riches of areas that happen to be governed by Muslim countries. Now suppose the West finds a way for a different type of fuel, nuclear, whatever, and oil becomes not as important in the world. Would that hurt or would that help Muslim countries?
DP: It would be a great help in the reduction of radical Islam. Radical Islam emerged before oil did. It is not dependent on oil, but certainly the wealth that countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran have acquired from oil production and sales has been immensely helpful in getting the message out. The Saudis as early as 1962 developed an international arm and began spreading their ideas. That's 45 years ago. Had they lacked the funds to do so they would never have created the kind of structures they have today. So, money has certainly helped them. It's not the most important thing, but it has helped them and the lack of money will hinder them.
CV: I'm talking to Daniel Pipes one of the most renowned scholars, as least as far as I'm concerned, in the area of Islam and Middle East. His website is danielpipes.org. And it is one of the biggest and the most visited compendium of documents and information on the subject. Now let me ask you more specific questions.
First let's deal with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, there is a lot of talk about Saudi Arabia bad, bad, it's bad. They did have elections, last year or the year before that. Limited as they were, limited as it is, is that something that we should cherish or continue to pursue with them?
DP: By and large I am skeptical of the speed and intensity with which the U.S. government has been forwarding elections in the Middle East, because these have lead to the increased power and legitimacy of the Islamists, for example, in Iraq and in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. I actually approve of the election as approached in Saudi Arabia two years ago. Because, instead of voting for prime minister, these were municipal elections, and that is the place to start. One begins very low, with municipal councils. One does not begin with executive power. And although they didn't come out very well, from my point of view, in that Islamists did well there too, it was low level enough that it didn't really matter that much. It was a way of getting people involved. So yes, the Saudi approach two years ago was, I think, the best that one has seen in the area.
Let me just add a word. My website, thank you for the kind words about it, has just my own writings and writings about me and so forth . It doesn't have documents on the Middle East.
CV: Well I consider your writings and your opinions documents.
DP: Well thank you.
CV: Switching a little bit to Iran. Now the situation in Iran, some people think it is very dire, with the nuclear development, with the nuclear program. Although myself personally, I am a little bit skeptical about the capability of achieving that much just because the number of centrifuges that they will have to install and they still have only 300. Now on the other hand, the recent elections in Iran suggested that Ahmadinejad is not doing all that well in terms of popularity among the Iranian people. Now how monolithic is Iran politically?
DP: Iran is not monolithic. It is not like Iraq. It is not Stalinist, it is not one man deciding for the whole country. There are contending powers in the country. And yes, Ahmadinejad's popularity has gone down, for two main reasons, it appears. One is that he has not delivered on what he promised, which is largely economic. Secondly, that this project of the nuclear weapon is a dangerous one. It has hurt Iran economically and it could hurt it militarily. So there is skepticism about it.There is pride, but there is also skepticism.
CV: You said, and I happen to totally agree with you, that Iran is not a monolith. And actually no feudal state is monolithic. Even Stalinist Russia wasn't really that monolithic. But could you outline to my audience here what you think are the major factions in Iran, so that the people have a better way of understanding who wants what?
DP: Well, the most important figure is not Ahmadinejad. It the rahbar, the spiritual leader, who is Ali Khamene'i, and he has shown some skepticism about this project. The parliament and the military and the religious leadership and the bazaaris, the merchants, the economic leaders, the students, intellectuals, the journalists, all of these have some say.
CV: What about Rafsanjani?
DP: Rafsanjani is a significant religious and political leader.
CV: But isn't he also an economic power? An economic powerhouse? When Ahmadinejad, and correct me if I'm wrong, and it could be definitely a dilettante's approach to this, but when Ahmadinejad was elected, I thought that something actually might happen to him, because his politics were not very much profitable for people like Rafsanjani in the mullah-controlled economy. At least what I remember reading from a Paul Klebnikov article a long time ago in Forbes, about Iran's economy, that it was controlled by mullah foundations. Rafsanjani being one of the richest people there would not be really keen to see inflation inside Iran eating up his wealth, nor confrontation with the West and seeing his assets frozen.
DP: Right, there are several economic interests in Iran, including mullahs like Rafsanjani who are skeptical, who seem to think this is a bit wild, a bit dangerous, and would like to pull back.
CV: What would you think the American policy should be vis-à-vis Iran?
DP: I think our policy should be to try and do our best to get the Iranians to stop this move towards nuclear weaponry - to do what we can to encourage them to put a halt to it, so that no outside intervention is necessary. So that the Iranians do not get the nuclear weapons.
CV: So you would not approve of military action or would you?
DP: I would, if that failed.
CV: If everything else fails you would approve? As a last resort?
DP: Not really the last resort. As an alternative to the Iranians themselves not stopping. I hope they do. But if they don't then I think we should.
CV: I consider the actions of the United States in terms of propaganda were extremely important in the destruction of my former homeland, the Soviet Union. Do you think that the United States does enough in terms of broadcasting, in terms of propaganda, for lack of a better word, towards Iran on a similar level that it did for the Warsaw Pact?
DP: No, I do not think it was a good as it was there. It could use real improvement.
CV: Mr. Pipes thank you very much for joining us. And danielpipes.org is the website. Thank you very much . I will see you tomorrow at the Stevenson Center.
DP: Thank you . Goodbye.
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