The Sept. 11 attacks on America focused the country's attention on a force that has been growing in power and influence for decades: militant Islam. Americans still struggle to understand the enemy's nature and motives. What is the connection between Islam and terror? How does one distinguish between Islam and militant Islam?San Francisco, Calif.: What should Americans and the U.S. government do to protect themselves from the dangers of militant Islam?
Daniel Pipes was online Wednesday, Sept. 11 at Noon ET, to discuss these questions and his book, "Militant Islam Reaches America."
Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum and a columnist for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post. He has written 10 books on Islam, Syria and other topics, and he serves on the Defense Department's Special Task Force on Terrorism and Technology.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Daniel Pipes: The full answer is long and complex. The short answer is, we must learn about this phenomenon and be willing to deal with it in a forthright and honest manner. It is not just a war on terrorism, it is a war on radical utopian ideology that wishes to destroy us.
Alexandria, Va.: Have Saudi Arabians been funding al Qaeda in exchange for al Qaeda not attacking Saudi Arabia?
Daniel Pipes: There are reports to this effect, and they seem plausible to me, but the evidence is not yes established. More broadly, the connection between Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda is a strong one, consisting of personal links, ideological compatibilities and financial ties.
Arlington, Va.: Mr. Pipes, Based on the events of the past year, do you think al Qaeda's remaining leadership believes it made a mistake in launching last year's attacks? Was killing 3,000 people worth the price of what they have lost (an Islamic state in Afghanistan, relative security, bad press for Islam, increased American support for Israel, etc.) as a result?
Daniel Pipes: My speculation is that al Qaeda's leadership does in fact rue the attacks of one year ago for the reasons you cite. It is important to note that before 9/11 the forces of militant Islam had killed some 800 persons in the course of their attacks on Americans -- but because each episode was relatively small scale the American reaction was very mild. In other words, large scale attack of a year ago prompted a much tougher American response, and that probably is something al Qaeda wishes it had not done.
Denver, Colo.: Do you feel that the Islamic clerics in this country have been outspoken enough against the terrorism of Osama bin Laden?
Daniel Pipes: Not at all: There has indeed been a readiness to condemn the acts of terrorism, but not the terrorists themselves. This distinction is crucial, and it points to the Muslim leadership's reticence to disassociate itself from the terrorist groups.
Reno, Nev.: Do you think the Bush administration's heavy handed politics and the decision to attack Iraq will increase terrorism against Americans? Will this increase the role and recruitment of Islamic militants in the Arab States?
Why do you think that the Bush administration would undergo risking the International coalition against terrorsim to attack Iraq without inconclusive hard evidence?
Daniel Pipes: I believe the opposite of your presumption, namely that a U.S. willingness to confront and defeat its enemies, whether militant Islamic or Iraqi, will have the salutory effect of diminishing the willingness of other enemies to engage in violence against us. I believe the historical record -- such as the victory in Afghanistan last fall -- confirm this observation.
The Bush administration's apparent readiness to confront Iraq even without allies points to two realities: the relative insignificance of those allies and the urgency of preventing Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Bowie, Md.: How important is Islam to Iraq and its foreign policy? The discussion about that country sounds a lot more like the threats associated with the old Soviet Union (weapons, expansionism) than what we associate with other Islamic countries (terrorism and backwards education).
Daniel Pipes: Exactly, Saddam Hussein is comparable to Stalin not to Khomeini. He does not represent the ideology of militant Islam, or for that matter any other ideology. He represents only his own megalomania.
Laurel, Md: Do you have an idea why some Muslims feel the Koran tells them to kill? There are conflicting views, even among Muslims, whether it does or not.
Daniel Pipes: There are many ways to interpret the Koran. What we see today is a militant Islamic reading of and calls for much killing.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think that the media in this country coddle American Muslims and protect them against reasonable scrutiny regarding their religion? If so, why, and is this a security threat for us?
Daniel Pipes: The media coverage has been twofold. On the one hand actively pursuing the story of terrorism and radicalism, and on the other hand trying to reassure Americans that this is a completely fringe phenomenon. The result, in my eyes, has been unconvincing.
Washington, D.C.: Is Islam a religion or an ideology or both?
Daniel Pipes: Islam is a religion, militant Islam is an ideology. They are obviously connected and that is what makes the subject so difficult and so delicate.
Catalina Island, Calif.: Israel is the only democratic governance in the Middle East. Is there something in military Islam preventing the acceptance of democratic political values? How has shared governance with the public failed to gain strength throughout much of the Middle East?
Daniel Pipes: The Muslim world has had a difficult time in the last two centuries coping with modernity, including democracy. There is nothing contrary to democracy in Islam but there is a great deal of historical evolution ahead before the Muslim world becomes democratic.
Alexandria, Va.: What was Saddam's involvement in the first attack on the World Trade Center almost a decade ago?
What was Osama bin Laden's involvement? Were both bin Laden and Saddam involved?
Daniel Pipes: No, the evidence does not support your idea. The WTC bombing of 1993 was carried out by a group of militant Islamic terrorists coming out of Egypt, Sudan and the U.S. primarily.
Iowa City, Iowa: Mr. Pipes several years ago you wrote, "Our current behavior patterns reflect the peculiar American habit of capping victory abroad by rushing home. We did this after the World Wars I and II, then stayed true to form after the Cold War."
Bush is clearly doing the same thing right now in each of the countries he wishes to bomb. It's obvious he's trying to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, and in Iraq it was reported by UPI that "President Bush Monday told world leaders it will be the responsibility of the whole international community, rather than the United States, to determine what kind of regime should replace Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if his government is toppled by U.S. military action, European diplomats told United Press International."
Implying he's not even going to engage even in a whiff of nation building in a post-war Iraq (no doubt making it inevitable that Iran and Turkey will meddle perniciously in Iraq's internal affairs). What do you think of the Bush strategy?
Daniel Pipes: What we see evolving is a division of labor. As one wit, the U.S. cooks dinner, the Europeans do the dishes. It appears that we will concentrate on defeating the enemy forces and our allies will worry about the aftermath.
Washington, D.C.: The issue of "how many Muslims live in America" has come up a lot recently. Islamic groups assert seven million American Muslims, but unaligned surveys show the figure to be more in the range of one to three million. What is your view of the most accurate number, and do you think Nation of Islam members should not be assigned to the total count of American Muslims (given your view that they are "not real Muslims" as you wrote in the Post back in 1983)?
Daniel Pipes: The best number of American Muslims is around three million -- all objective surveys point to this figure. The Nation of Islam numbers around 20 thousand members so it is a minor part of that population; that said, I would include them because I would include in the Muslim population just about anyone who describes himself as Muslim.
Arlington, Va.: Do you think Muslims will ever be a political force in America? If so, is that likely to change our policies towards what we currently view as rogue Arab and Islamic governments?
Daniel Pipes: Yes, there has already been a substantial increase in Muslim influence on American public life in the past decade, and I expect that influence will continue to increase. As it does it will no doubt affect American foreign policy, especially with regard to issues concerning Muslims.
Washington, D.C.: Do you believe that a U.S. military strike against Iraq will cause Arab countries to unite against the U.S?
Daniel Pipes: No, to the contrary, I think they will be less united and less confrontational towards the U.S. That has been the pattern throughout.
Medellin, Colombia: Could al Qaeda strike in Latin America against United States targets?
Daniel Pipes: Definitely, as al Quaeda has an international presence and is constantly probing for soft and symbolic targets such as U.S. embassies and unprepared military installations.
Silver Spring Md. When radicalism arises in most parts of the world, usually there are some voices of moderation in opposition. Yet, in the Islamic world, moderates seem cowed and afraid to stand up to the radicals. Why?
Daniel Pipes: This situation reflects the balance of power as well as the ruthlessness of the Islamists. But do note there are significant voices of moderation such as the Turkish elite.
Piscataway, N.J.: How big of a threat is Hezbollah?
Daniel Pipes: Hezbollah has grown substantially in military power and political influence in the past two years, since the death of Hafez al-Asssad. This represents one of the more worrisome developments in the Middle East.
Indianapolis, Ind.: What role has the Pakistani and the Saudi establishments played in fostering Militant Islam?
Daniel Pipes: The Saudi government has been very active, making use of its control of Mecca and Medina, making use of its oil billions to further the Wahhabi ideology. The Pakistani government has also contributed to this problem but significantly less.
Washington, D.C.: Should the American people be worried about the presence of Muslims here? Are American Muslims likely to become adherents to a radical interpretation of Islam? Should immigration policy address this concern?
Daniel Pipes: Muslims as such are not a problem in American life: Islamists are. Immigration policy should focus very intensely on preventing Islamists from entering the U.S. A very interesting article in yesterday's New York Times suggests that this is being done, though in a clandestine way.
washingtonpost.com That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.