Recently we spent an enjoyable afternoon visiting the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem. There we saw an incredible exhibit of undersea life thousands of feet below the surface. In truth, the myriad species resembled aliens from outer space more than anything that we are accustomed to on the surface. After a meal at the unique Mamilla pedestrian mall, adjacent to the Old City's Jaffa Gate, we attended an event featuring Daniel Pipes, sponsored by the Hadar-Israel Council for Civic Action. The event was held in the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The moderator for this "conversation" was Ruthie Blum Leibowitz, the American- Israeli journalist, columnist and former features editor of the Jerusalem Post.
Daniel Pipes is a well-known American academic, writer, and political blogger who founded and directs the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank. He was also founder of Campus Watch, an organization that critiques Middle East scholarship at American universities. Educated at Harvard University, where his father was a professor, he later taught at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the Naval War College. Not comfortable with the highfalutin intellectual atmosphere of academia, he left that arena in 1986 and founded the Middle East Forum four years later. Its purpose: to define and promote American interests in the Middle East. Pipes is widely known for his motto that radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the answer.
Pipes quickly let the audience in on one of his convincing themes:
Islamism isn't connected to Judaism and Christianity, because those two religions don't impose themselves on others. In contrast, Islamism is a worthy successor to fascism and communism. It is the international threat which violently rejects Western influences and transforms zealotry into murderous ideology.
Turning to current events, Pipes noted that Turkey and Iran are now the most important Islamic states. Turkey appears to be increasingly successful, balanced as it is between East and West. It's a member of NATO and it wants to regain its former exalted status (during the Ottoman Empire period: 1517-1917) as the leading power in the Middle East. Iran, Pipes believes, is slowly collapsing due to economic pressure from without and popular discontent from within. Nowhere except in Iran is Islamism in decline. Democracy may emerge in Iran, but it is a very slow and difficult change to implement. Regarding Iraq, Pipes feels that America has stayed too long and wasted men in the futile effort to build Iraq into an ally that could stymie Iran.
Turning to the Palestinians, Pipes explained that President Abbas is propped up by the Israel Defense Forces, similar to the way leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan are dependent on American support. While he feels that there is no chance of resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, signing a deal is a possibility, which would provide American assurances, perhaps vis-a-vis Iran, or some other type of payback to Israel, for its concessions. On the other hand, Pipes feels that the Palestinians are not ready for democracy, which is a learned activity, not something intuitive. Pipes said the same is true for Iraqis, West Bankers or Gazans: it's better to start with a vote for the position of dogcatcher than for the leader of the country.
According to Pipes, Islam is not irreconcilable with democracy. Islam's sacred books are malleable and subject to modern interpretation, such as we see in Christianity or Judaism, where the emphasis on war and killing is definitely downplayed. Pipes says that fascism and communism were defeated, so why not Islamism? He advocates using everything at the West's disposal, as was done against communism in the Cold War, which could eventually cause Islamism to implode.
Pipes told us that during the period 1800-1930 there was reform in Islam, i.e. Turkey's secular revolutionary, Ataturk, who overthrew the Ottoman rulers. However, Muslim reformers were eventually replaced by Islamists. He criticized Westerners who are ready to work with Islamists "if they're not violent." This policy, which already has adherents in European political circles, undercuts Western social mores and Islamic moderates. Europeans are bending over backwards towards Muslims because Europe hopes Muslim workers will pay taxes to support Europe's expensive social benefits. Pipes says this isn't working.
Pipes describes the European default position as "everybody will get along." But many Europeans are starting to react, fearing that Muslims could, for example, take over Notre Dame for use as a mosque. (Laws are being passed in Europe outlawing headscarves, hijabs, and minarets on mosques.) There are real problems ahead for Europeans and no one knows how they will be resolved. Pipes cites the lack of a sensible European immigration policy as a failure of European governments to take action.
In a recent article on the "Rushdie Rules," Pipes wrote that Shariah (Muslim law) denigrates the sanctities of other religions, a tradition manifested in recent years in Muslim-majority countries, where Islam enjoys immunity and other religions are disparaged and their holy sites destroyed. In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini abruptly extended this double standard to the West when he decreed that British novelist Salman Rushdie be executed on account of the blasphemies in his book, "The Satanic Verses." With this, Khomeini established the Rushdie Rules, which still remain in place. They hold that, whoever opposes "Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran" may be put to death; that anyone connected to the blasphemer must also be executed; and that all Muslims should participate in an informal intelligence network to carry out this threat. Pipes noted that there has been an insufficient response by Western governments to the Rushdie Rules.
At present, the brouhaha about the "ground zero mosque" is bringing out unprecedented opposition to Islam in America. The Left there has allied itself with the imam of the proposed mosque, based on the right of freedom of religion in America, which is beside the point. For Pipes, this dispute shows how, "The Obama administration has now joined this ignominious list [of advocates backing the location of the mosque]. Obama's pressure on Mr. Jones [the church leader who advocated burning the Koran] further eroded freedom of speech about Islam and implicitly established Islam's privileged status in the United States, whereby Muslims may insult others but not be insulted. This moved the country toward dhimmitude, a condition whereby non- Muslims acknowledge the superiority of Islam. Finally, Mr. Obama in effect enforced Islamic law, a precedent that could lead to other forms of compulsory Shariah compliance."
Dr. Pipes concluded his comments by noting that all Germans weren't the enemy during WWII and that Germany didn't have to be dismembered after the war. He stated that it's the same principle with Islamism: Islam doesn't have to be, and can't be, dismantled. The "ground zero mosque" may have put radical Islam into retreat in America. But it's only the beginning of a long battle to defeat Islamism, which has shown itself to be very strong throughout the world.