When Conservatives Argue about Islam
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Allies in the Cold War trenches generally, but not always, still work together against radical Islam.
Take the key question of which Muslims are on the enemy's side and which on ours. With exceptions, the Right shuns non-violent Islamists, while the Left welcomes them as friends. Conservatives accept as moderates only those Muslims who actively oppose the Islamist goal of imposing the Shari‘a (Islamic law) worldwide; just because Muslim organizations or individuals denounce terrorism or work through the system does not make them, in their view, either moderate or mainstream, nor a suitable partner for government, media, or the academy.
In contrast, liberals usually distinguish between violent Islamists, which they fight, and political ones, which they accept. The U.S. government has, since Edward Djerejian's Meridian House speech fifteen years ago, adopted the leftist viewpoint and works with non-violent Islamists.
Some examples of the Right/Left divide: New York mayor Rudy Giuliani spurned a check from Saudi businessman Al-Waleed bin Talal while London mayor Ken Livingstone literally hugged Islamist thinker Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Republican Fred Thompson condemns the Council on American-Islamic Relations for often seeming "to be more aligned with our enemies than us," while Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi congenially met with the group.
I am active on the conservative side in this debate and have even drafted a list of questions to help distinguish moderates from extremists. I compare non-violent Islamists to French Communists, who worked through the democratic system to achieve Stalin's totalitarian goals.
Nor am I shy about criticizing taxpayer-funded institutions that mistake lawful Islamists for moderates. While sitting on the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, for example, I blasted its Republican leadership for co-sponsoring an event with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). Likewise, I have (unhappily, for he has done excellent work in other arenas) condemned Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, for "wrong-headedly insist[ing] on consorting with the enemy" when he funds the CSID.
The CSID particularly nettles me, as it appears to be an Islamist institution uniquely dependent on U.S. government patronage; in 2004, investigative reporter Joel Mowbray found that a whopping 90 percent of CSID funding came from the American taxpayer.
Last month, Joshua Muravchik called my criticism of Gershman "off-base" in an analysis on the website of Commentary magazine titled "Pipes v. Gershman." I hardly find this surprising, for the two share much by way of background – both come from a Shachtmanite background, each served as president of the Young People's Socialist League, both fought the cold war with distinction – and both are amateurs when it comes to Islamism.
Muravchik's assessment of CSID draws on his observations at a conference he attended in 2006, which he found "an interesting mix" because it included liberals, Islamist-sympathizers, and Islamists. He explains:
Muravchik received the answer to this question from truly moderate Muslim intellectual leaders associated with the Center on Islamic Pluralism, in the form of a joint statement, "On Daniel Pipes and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy." Its seven signatories include Kemal Silay of Indiana University, Stephen Suleyman Schwartz of the CIP, Salim Mansur of the University of Western Ontario, and Khaleel Mohammed of the University of California, San Diego – Muslim specialists on Islam.
They point out that Gershman and others like him "have no expertise as interpreters of Islam. They are disoriented and lost in dealing with Muslims." In his ignorance, they say, Gershman has created at NED "a value system that rewards radical Muslims when they do not commit continuous acts of violence and especially if they embrace electoral processes." The problem with NED is that it defines modernity simply as voting; doing so obscures "the essential religious issues that serve as pretexts for Islamist radicalism."
As for Muravchik, like Gershman, he "overlooks many aspects of the ongoing transformation of the Islamic world, in which the confrontation with radicalism is the central contemporary issue."
Their joint statement terms CSID "a front for some of the most obnoxious members of the ‘Wahhabi lobby' in America," including Jamal Barzinji, Antony T. Sullivan, Louay Safi, and Abdulwahab Alkebsi. The seven note that "Some of us have participated in CSID events, but ceased to do so when it became apparent their goal was merely to camouflage radicals as moderates."
Regarding my criticism of CSID, the CIP group writes:
CIP reiterates my key point:
Their conclusion rings out:
Carl Gershman, Joshua Muravchik, and I are allies in the larger struggle, but we differ on the question of lawful Islamism. In contrast, Kemal Silay, Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, Salim Mansur, Khaleel Mohammed, et al. – specialists on Islam as well as allies – concur with me.
When it comes to Islamism, should not Gershman and Muravchik be a tad less confident of their judgment and assertive in their verdicts? Perhaps they – and the other conservatives soft on Islamists – should slow down and learn from those who have studied, taught, and written about this subject over the decades?
Feb. 1, 2008 update: Muravchik replies to the above, with co-author Charles P. Szrom, in the February 2008 issue of Commentary, in an article titled "In Search of Moderate Muslims."
Also of note: The Center for Islamic Pluralism has published at "The CIP-Muravchik File, 2007" the surprising letters that Muravchik wrote to 4 of the 7 signatories of the CIP statement supporting me.
May 1, 2008 update: I wrote a letter to the edtior that can be found at "Responding to Joshua Muravchik about 'Moderate Islamists'."
Reader comments (86) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes