Dealing With Fundamentalist Islam
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Fundamentalist Islam is increasingly drawing the attention and concern of the West – and no wonder. In addition to a harsh anti-Western rhetoric, this ideology has inspired such incidents as the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the hijacking of an Air France jet in Algiers. These and other events clearly illustrate the need for Americans and other Westerners to address the issue of fundamentalist Islam, and for Washington to adopt a far more forceful approach to this radical utopian threat.
There is a sharp distinction between traditional Islam and fundamentalist Islam. Islam as a religion does not threaten the West, and is in fact tolerant, appealing, and deeply persuasive. Adherents to fundamentalist Islam, in contrast, are self-declared enemies of the West.
Why so fundamentalists hate the West? Because they believe the West bears some (if not all) of the responsibility for the decline of Muslims in the world through the past two centuries, luring Muslims away from the precepts and requirements of the Qur'an (the sacred text of Islam). To return to their medieval strength and wealth, fundamentalists hold that Muslims must return to the Qur'an. And to do that, they must reject the seductive, even depraved ways of the West. Fundamentalists even contend that artists such as Madonna and Michael Jackson are part of an American conspiracy to corrupt Islam.
By its very nature, fundamentalist Islam is radical and anti-Western. There is no such thing as a "moderate" fundamentalist. Through some work within the existing system, all fundamentalists seek to transform society in accordance with their vision. All of them reject everyday life in favor of something more sublime. In brief, they seek to establish a totalitarian order.
This radicalism means that the U.S. government must stand up to fundamentalists with strength and clarity. Co-option cannot work; containment must be the strategy. Internationally, this means supporting states that are actively combating fundamentalism, such as Algeria, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey. It means supporting moderate Muslims – a brave and embattled minority – with funds and honors. It means unfailingly opposing states that support fundamentalism, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and the Sudan.
On the matter of democracy, Washington must not promote democratic elections as an end in themselves. Elections ought not be viewed as the start of the democratic process but as its capstone, the happy consequence that follows the creation of a civil society (rule of law, freedom of speech, property rights, and so forth).
Within the United States itself, the federal government must take steps to control its borders so that fundamentalists cannot enter the country as freely as they have in the past. Also, law enforcement agencies must be allowed to collect information on fundamentalist Muslims already in the country, a vital task that under present law they are unable to perform.
In sum, Islam is not the enemy, but fundamentalist Islam is. It has targeted Americans and they must be prepared to reply.
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