President Bush and the nation's Islamic leaders have repeatedly cautioned U.S. citizens not to blame the Islamic religion for the militant rhetoric of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Locally and nationally, clerics have described Islam as a peaceful religion, theologically opposed to the slaughter of innocent civilians and to suicide.
But one authority in Philadelphia - Daniel Pipes, a former State Department aide who now runs the Middle East Forum, a local think tank - says the religion has spawned a threatening, totalitarian ideology. Pipes calls it "Islamism."
"It politicizes the religion," Pipes wrote Sept. 14 in a column for the London Telegraph.
"Its program resembles those of fascism and Marxism-Leninism. . .Islamists constitute a small, but significant, minority of all Muslims, perhaps 10 to 15 percent of the population.
"Many of them are peaceable in appearance, but they all must be considered potential killers."
Pipes, 52, has undergraduate and doctoral degrees in history from Harvard.
He's the author of 10 books and numerous magazine and newspaper articles. He spoke last week with the Daily News.
QUESTION: What's the distinction between Islam and what you call Islamism?
ANSWER:"Islam is a faith of something like a billion people, around for 14 centuries, comparable to Christianity and Judaism in the sense of being a faith.
"Islamism is a 20th century outgrowth, a radical movement, utopian and totalitarian in its outlook, like Marxism-Leninism or Nazism.. . .Its great successes have been in Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan."
QUESTION: Is there anything about the Islamic religion itself that facilitates this transformation?
ANSWER: "Islam is the most political of religions, the one most oriented toward power. This is a modern evolution of something that was always in Islam but takes it to an ideological extreme. . .The basic idea is that the state will create a just society, and the individual is sacrificed to that end."
QUESTION: What is the appeal of this Islamist view? How common is it. Why does it thrive?
ANSWER: "My estimate is 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population is attracted to this. That's based on a variety of polls and elections and hunches - it's soft.. . .The great problem is, Muslims have been rather powerless the last two centuries. Economic difficulties are part of it, but not all of it. It's a great challenge to explain and rectify that.. . .The solution most popular of late, the one with the most velocity, has been this form of militant Islam."
QUESTION: Is there anything the United States and other Western countries can or should be doing to deal with it?
ANSWER: "Containment. This is roughly comparable to the threats that other totalitarian ideologies have posed to us. . .We have to make it clear to them that they can't attack us.
"They've been attacking us for over 20 years. We have to show them that that's not acceptable, show them that anything they do to us will harm them more than they harm us. . .But that's a very demanding policy."
QUESTION: What is your view of the likelihood of more terrorist violence in the United States?
ANSWER: "I think it's considerable. As we have seen recently, there are vast networks of people, uncounted 'sleepers.' It's just very large..
"Nearly a thousand people have been rounded up internationally in the last several weeks. So far as I know, it's unique."
QUESTION: What steps would you recommend to enhance public safety here?
ANSWER: "Two things are needed. One is an understanding among the public that war has been declared on us, and we have declared war in turn. Second, there has to be a resultant willingness to make changes, to accept the difficulties, the expense, the inconvenience and the possible diminishment in civil liberties that comes from being at war.
"We have gotten used to some very good times. Now, we have to adjust . . .in terms of allowing the police or law enforcement more leeway, in terms of having profiling, which is absolutely critical on airlines and in other aspects of life, in terms of immigration and freedom of speech. . .
"When you're in a condition of war, there needs to be a control over the public debate in a way there doesn't need to be in times of peace. People need to be aware of that, have a greater sense of responsibility."
QUESTION: What would be your top recommendations for U.S. policy abroad? Does the Bush administration appear to be proceeding appropriately?
ANSWER: "First, we need to understand what the threat is. I believe he made a mistake in identifying the threat as terrorism. Terrorism is a means of fighting. The enemy is militant Islam. For whatever reason, the president avoided saying that.
"We also must make clear that the enemy is not restricted to Osama bin Laden, the Taliban or Afghanistan.
"It's an international ideology, and the enemy is within our country as well as outside.
"There are militant Islamic groups in this country that need to be rooted out."