The Middle East Affairs Journal is published by the United Association for Studies and Research, an Islamist think-tank outside of Washington. This came about when Daniel Pipes interviewed Steven Emerson in the June 1997 issue of the Middle East Quarterly. In response, Ahmad Yusuf, head of the UASR, wrote an open letter to Daniel Pipes complaining about this interview. Mr. Pipes replied and - indicating the openness of the Quarterly to various viewpoints, invited Mr. Yusuf to be interviewed in its pages. Mr. Yusuf accepted and the transcript appeared in the March 1998 issue (see http://www.meforum.org/meq/march98/yusuf.shtml). In turn, Mr. Yusuf invited Mr. Pipes to be interviewed in the journal he edits, Middle East Affairs Journal. The following is the result. It consists of two parts: the first section was published and the second section consists of questions and answers left on the cutting-room floor.
At the SOREF Symposium in May, 1996, you said that concessions in the Middle East peace process can be one-sided in favor of Israel, because, "we - the United States, the West - won the Cold War and the Gulf War, and the Israelis, our partners in the Middle East, also won a whole set of wars." Are you suggesting that might makes right, or is there some higher source of legitimacy in distinguishing right from wrong?
The United States of America has been the greatest force for good in the twentieth century, saving the world from two hideous world wars, helping to dismantle the European empires, and causing the Soviet bloc to break up. It has taught the world democracy and free markets, reshaped such countries as Germany and Japan, and served as a refuge and inspiration for peoples around the world. All this strikes me as a suitable basis for dictating some terms, and not having to listen to the Syrian government-the topic of my remarks that you quote-lecture us on morality.
Do you see Islam and Islamism as the source of all evil in the Middle East and the Muslim world?
First, I do not see Islam as an evil. Second, while I do see Islamism as an evil ideology, it is far from the only problem besetting the Middle East and Muslim world. Saddam Husayn, vast income disparities, and the plight of women can hardly all be blamed on Islamism.
Do you recognize any positive contribution of Islam to world civilization?
I recognize many such positive contributions. For example, I did my first work on the history of medieval Muslim science, which early on exposed me to the achievements of Muslim peoples.
Many prominent conservatives and classical liberals in the United States-individuals as Patrick J. Buchanan, Leonard Liggio, Ralph Laico, Joseph Sobran, and Anthony Sullivan-emphatically disagree with you on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Arab-Israeli world. Have you ever attempted to enter into a dialogue with them to sort out what appears to be a major disagreement?
I disagree with your description of these thinkers as "conservatives and classical liberals"; several of them (most notably Patrick Buchanan) are beyond the pale of respectable conservatism, much less any kind of liberalism. To reply to your question, I have engaged in debate with Joseph Sobran and Anthony Sullivan, and did not find these particularly fruitful encounters.
If a genie were to grant you three wishes for Islam, what would you ask for?
A Muslim willingness to deal realistically with the imperatives of modernity-three times over.
Jewish Power and American Politics
How would you characterize the current Christian right/Israeli relationship in the United States?
Warm and getting more productive.
Is Jewish influence disproportionate to the number of Jews in the United States?
Jews have excelled in many fields-scholarship, the arts, politics, business-and are particularly concerned with public affairs. Naturally, this combination gives them a large voice - as it would to anyone who follows a similar path.
Is it undemocratic for a minority to influence the government through campaign contributions?
No. It is legal and democratic, just as it is legal and democratic for a minority to influence the political process through the donation of labor or other forms of involvement.
Do you think that such matters as Israeli financial dependence on the United States will lead to a reaction by the American public against what they perceive to be Israel as an American liability?
No. As you undoubtedly know, aid to Israel is the only foreign aid that has any support among the American public or in Congress; without it, the whole aid package might fail. That said, I am against the continuation of this aid and have repeatedly called for its winding down and termination.
Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christianity all have religious elements of hostility to Jews. Do you think that Judeo-Christian relations in their present form are permanent or might anti-Semitism make a comeback with a religious fervor and a religious punch?
Anti-Semitism could make a comeback, but the profound improvement in Christian-Jewish relations that began in the aftermath of World War II will likely continue.
Similarly, if Jews and Muslims in the Middle East can resolve their differences, might the mutual accord and support that marked their relationship for untold centuries reemerge?
The differences between Jews and Muslims are very largely political; take these away and relations could flourish.
Do you consider yourself primarily a scholar or a participant in Middle East politics?
I am a scholar and an analyst of Middle East politics; I involve myself on occasion directly in political issues but am happiest at home, in front of the computer, surrounded by books, writing.
Do you favor any particular Israeli political party over another?
Were I Israeli, I would have a tough time choosing a party for I have basic differences with all of them. That said, I'd be somewhere between Third Way and Likud.
How many times have you visited Arab countries in the past ten years? Israel?
Too many to count. I have travelled to the Arab countries two or three times a year through the past decade. Israel I visit less often, about once every three years. That's because I specialize on Muslim peoples, not Israel - which has more than its share of analysts. Two additional points: most of my Middle East travel took place during my student days, when I lived for three years in the 1970s in Cairo; and I have visited every Arabic-speaking country except Qatar and Oman.
How would you characterize your relationship with the Government of Israel and with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby in the United States?
I know a variety of Israeli government officials - just as I do the officials of nearly every other Middle Eastern country. With AIPAC I have similar ties as with many other public policy and foreign policy lobbying organizations - I read their publications, I know people there, and I get invited to functions.
What difference is there in the work of the Middle East Forum and the work of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy?
The Washington Institute is a much larger organization that focuses quite specifically on Washington; we focus more on universities. It concentrates specifically on policy; we deal more with background topics. It produces a wide range of publications, from faxed analyses to small books, but no journal; we put out basically just one main product, the Middle East Quarterly. It holds nearly all of its events in Washington; we hold ours in Philadelphia and have plans for doing so also in New York City.
What are the sources of funding for the Middle East Forum?
Nearly all our funding comes from private individuals or family foundations. The remainder comes from the sale of the Middle East Quarterly and private foundations. I'd like to use this opportunity to note that while several publications (like The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs) have stated that the Forum receives funds from the Government of Israel, so far the total receipt of those funds amounts to the price of two subscriptions -- $75 a year.
What is your relationship to Steve Emerson and to Khalid Durán? What do you think of their positions on Islamism?
Steven Emerson is a friend going back to 1981; Khalid Durán I have been in communication since 1979 and met in person in 1987, when he and I also became friends. in addition to our warm personal relations, the three of us share a general attitude toward Islamism.
Muslims in America
Are there any moderate Muslims? Whom would you consider to be a moderate Muslim?
If by "moderate Muslims," you mean non- or anti-Islamists, yes, there are many. Most prominently, the governments of Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey are headed by moderate Muslims.
In a recent article, you claim that all Muslim groups in the United States, except perhaps Warith ad Deen Muhammad's followers, are anti-Semitic, and that Muslim anti-Semitism has replaced the old Christian anti-Semitism. Would you elaborate on this?
Here's a quote from that article: "Antisemitism, historically a Christian phenomenon, is now primarily a Muslim phenomenon - and not just in the Middle East, but right here in the United States. Muslims today are the most vibrant and explicit antisemites, and it is they who contribute most to Jew-hatred here. Muslims speak in terms of overt antisemitism hardly found elsewhere in the West." ("The New Anti-Semitism." Jewish Exponent, 16 October 1997.)
Why are many Americans finding Islam so attractive that they convert to the faith?
Americans convert to Islam for several distinct reasons. The largest group is attracted by Islam as the "other," as a means to express their alienation from the United States. A second group is mystically inclined and finds fulfillment in Sufism. A third is attracted toward the traditional quality of Muslim life. and a fourth dwells specifically on the theology, finding in the simplicity of Islam an antidote to the complexities of Christianity.
At the same time, the United States is a country of religious ferment, and conversions are by no means only one way; many Muslims have also abandoned their faith. First, the early settlers (those who arrived before 1925) did so in substantial numbers. Second, the United States these days attracts immigrant Muslims eager to shed their faith, and a good number of them do so soon after reaching this country. Third, Muslim women who marry Christian men tend to leave Islam.
Muslim Fundamentalism and Terrorism
What do you believe was the role, if any, of Shaykh Umar Abdul Rahman in the World Trade Center bombing?
I believe Sheik Abdul Rahman ordered the World Trade Center bombing. While there is no direct proof (such as tape recorded statements) to support that conclusion, the circumstantial evidence is powerful. in other words, I accept the verdict of the jury that sentenced him in October 1995 to life imprisonment for his role in the bombing.
Do you accept Laurie Mylroie's accusation that Iraq is responsible for that bombing?
No. Ms. Mylroie too often assumes an Iraqi involvement in terrorist incidents.
How do you define terrorism?
I like best that proposed by Alex P. Schmid in Western Responses to Terrorism, a volume edited by him and Ronald D. Crelinsten (London: Frank Cass, 1993), p. 12. Noting that "Terrorists have elevated practices which are excesses of war to the level of routine tactics," he defines terrorism as "peacetime equivalents of war crimes."
How do you distinguish between terrorism and legitimate armed political resistance?
The first involves war crimes, the second does not.
Is attacking foreign soldiers on the territory of your own country terrorism, for example, Hizbullah's attacks against the Israeli occupation soldiers in the south of Lebanon?
Terrorism has to do with the form of violence, not its geography. It can take place on one's own territory or not. That said, I don't consider Hizbullah's attacks on Israeli combatants to be terrorism; it is warfare.
Jewish Fundamentalism and Terrorism
Do you have any connection to the Chay movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane?
None at all.
Islamists and Anti-Islamists
In your article in The National Interest, Fall 1995, you write that there are no moderate fundamentalist Muslims. Are all Islamists fundamentalists?
Yes. Or, to use my terminology, all Islamists seek to apply a radical utopian order. I like a quote from Saïd Sadi, the Algeria leader: "A moderate Islamist is someone who does not have the means of acting ruthlessly to seize power immediately." (Le Point [(Paris]), 6 August 1994.)
Is fundamentalism the opposite of secularism? If so, your statement that all Islamists are fundamentalists implies the same would be true of all devout Christians and Jews.
No. You have implicitly equated Islamists with devout Muslims. I see the two as very different. The former are ideologues, the latter are pious individuals.
What role do you think religion should have in society?
Faith serves as a source of moral strength and personal satisfaction to innumerable human beings. It should, however, be restricted to the private sphere as much as possible, and so kept from disrupting the public square.
You emphasize that a distinguishing characteristic of all Islamists is their hostility to Western civilization, yet you also state that most Islamist leaders are steeped in Western thought and want all that they can get from Western technology, science, and management. Is this a contradiction? Or are Islamists pro-Western when the West's achievements promote well being and happiness, and anti-Western when its dissolute and immoral aspects result in much unhappiness?
It is a paradox but not a contradiction. Islamists are not remote farmers but urbanites, often engineers, intimately familiar with modernity. While they reject much that is modern, they cannot completely escape it, being so steeped in modern ways themselves.
Is there a clash of civilizations?
No, I disagree with Samuel Huntington on this point. The defining issue remains one's views, not one's religion or culture. One neat example: The Nation dated March 23, 1998, contains a review by Andrew Rubin in which he pans Fouad Ajami for Arab-bashing.
Is it possible to build a world-wide ecumenical civilization based on the higher truths that all the world's major religions share?
Perhaps. We are tending, slowly and with much backsliding, in that direction.
What can Israel do to enhance its relations with the Islamic world? With political Islam?
I would advise it to show magnamity in victory towards Muslims - and maintain military superiority so long as powerful forces wish to destroy it. As for what you call political Islam, there is nothing Israel can do: the very existence of a Jewish state is such an offense to Islamists that Israel cannot do anything to win their acceptance, at least not for many, many years.
Were political Islam to become the dominant force in the Middle East in the next century, what would be the role of Islam in world politics?
Were Islamism to reign supreme in the Middle East - something I consider possible but not likely - the region would sink into violence, economic depression, and cultural backwardness, much as Sudan has today. Islam would become a widely feared and disliked religion, even among its own faithful. We already see ominous signs of just this alienation in Iran.
Do you associate Islamic movements only with politics and terrorism?
No, I also associate Islamism with poverty, cultural retrogression, female suffering, and a host of other unpleasantries.
How do you define a rogue state? Which Middle Eastern states do you so define?
Rogue states are aggressive towards neighbors, repressive toward their citizens, and aggressively disrespectful toward the rule of law; terrorism is their signature activity. in the Middle East, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran fit this description. Interestingly, they constitute a large majority of rogue states worldwide (the others being North Korea and, diminishingly, Cuba).
Take Libya as an example. Is Libya's determination to exercise its rights as an independent nation state not the real reason that it is considered a rogue state?
No. Libya's "rights as an independent nation state" are uncontested. The trouble is the endless acts of terror worldwide, the invasions of all the neighboring countries, and the dismal predicament of Libyan citizens.
By the way, I find the assumption behind your question strange and wonder why someone like yourself, presumably concerned with the welfare of Muslims, in effect apologizes for the abomination that is the government of Libya. I hope you will join me in renouncing it and promoting instead the interests of the long-suffering Libyan people.
Are there a universal and objective definition of a rogue state independent of U.S. policy?
Yes. As I mentioned, the definition bears on external and internal policy as well as the rule of law. None of those has anything directly to do with the United States.
Is Israel a democracy?
Of course. All citizens participate in choosing the government. A full civil society exists, with freedoms of speech, assembly, and travel; minority rights; and independent judiciary; property rights; and so forth.
Why did you advocate lifting the travel ban on Lebanon when you did?
I testified before the House of Representatives in June 1997 as follows: the travel ban "made sense a decade ago, when Americans were frequently abducted in Lebanon. But it now serves no purpose. If it's meant to protect Americans from trouble, the need is passed. If it's meant to signal disapproval of the Syrian occupation, there are many more effective ways to do so." Americans should have the right to travel anywhere they want, with their passports, unless there is some overriding reason to deny that right.
What do you think is the future role of Syria in Lebanon?
I wrote in 1987 ("Damascus and the Claim to Lebanon." Orbis, 30 (1986-87): 681), that "Short of very major change in Damascus-such as a civil war breaking out after Hafiz al-Asad's death-there appears to be nothing to stop the Syrian government from fulfilling its long-term goal of hegemony in Lebanon." Eleven years later, I still see things this way.
How do you see the future relationship between Israel and Lebanon?
Until Syrian forces leave Lebanon, it will be effectively identical to the relationship between Israel and Syria.
Does your institute maintain ties with any of the Christian exile factions from Lebanon? If so with which ones?
A number of Christian Lebanese serve on our boards and have written for the journal. We interviewed Michel Aoun in the December 1995 issue of the Middle East Quarterly.
Which state do you see as Israel's greatest enemy? Why?
If "greatest" means "most dangerous," it's either Syria, Iraq, or Iran. Syria borders on it; Iraq is the most avidly building weapons of mass destruction; Iran is the most ideologically motivated. I'd be hard pressed to choose which one of the three is "greatest."
How do you view the election of Khatami in terms of bringing about changes in Iranian foreign policy?
It raises the possibility of a change. Some pleasant words have been uttered. But changes in action are what count, and those so far have been in short supply.
With the new Israeli-Turkish relationship growing, is it not a grand mistake for Israel to raise the profile of their ties?
Not at all. It's an excellent deterrent against potential enemies.
The Peace Process
What does Israel want vis-à-vis the Palestinians?
To be accepted as a permanent part of the Middle East and to be left alone and in peace.
Do you see a peaceful ending to the Israeli occupation of the territories since 1967?
Only if the Palestinians show they are deeply and permanently committed to living in peace with Israel.
Are Israel's policies compatible with the territorial integrity of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem?
Less and less over time. Had the Palestinians and Arab states accepted Israel in 1967, they would have had a quick and nearly full return of the lost lands. That likelihood decreases with each year. The longer Arabs indulge their fantasies about destroying Israel, the larger Israel will be.
Will a majority of the Israeli people accept a bi-national state solution, whereby Palestinians and Israelis live together under one national democratic government? Would this bring about a comprehensive and long-lasting peace?
Zionism means self-rule by Jews, so no, a bi-national state is likely to remain unacceptable to most Israelis. Nor does it make much sense. Muslim Arabs have almost two dozen states; why do they need to share power in the unique Jewish state?
Is there anything for the Israeli government to learn from the failure of Apartheid in South Africa?
No. The two have nothing in common. I might ask you back: "Is there anything for the Palestinians to learn from the collapse of the Soviet Union?"
Should Christians and Muslims in Israel have the same rights as Jews?
Yes, as they in almost all significant ways do.
Do you recognize the Palestinian people as a nation?
No, but they are becoming one with time. Unless they become a lot more realistic about accepting Israel and living in peace with it, they may well be doomed to a stateless existence, like the Kurds or Berbers.
Will peace ever be possible between Israel and the Palestinians?
Yes, if the Palestinians show they are deeply and permanently committed to living in peace with Israel.
Do you see Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza as that of an occupying power?
No. I see it as the victor in a war of survival.
Do you advocate a U.S. dialogue with Hamas?
No. That would signal acceptance of a movement that the U.S. government should do its best to dismantle.
What is your opinion on the outcome of the Musa Abu Marzouk case, in which he was arrested in the United States at the behest of the Peres government and released according to the wishes of the Netanyahu government?
I was appalled that the Netanyahu government proved too scared to request Abu Marzouk's extradition.
Do you agree with Dr. Abu Marzouk that Hamas' detractors may be unwittingly and needlessly antagonizing Muslim sensibilities of justice and legitimate Palestinian national aspirations?
No, Muslims are the first victims of Islamism.
Will you concede that Hamas has some redeeming qualities? If so, please elaborate on some of them.
The Nazis built highways, the Soviets spread literacy, and the Castro improved medical care; the odd redeeming quality is not the key issue, particularly as in each case, it was used to further an evil design. Whatever social and educational achievements Hamas has attained are subject to the same caveat.
Additional replies, January 31, 1999
Is justice an aspect of morality?
Yes, it is the application of objective judgment to the moral evaluation of human beings and their actions.
Would you explain the difference between moral policies and just policies?
Whether there is a difference, and what that difference is, depends on one's moral philosophy. For me, they are roughly equivalent.
What do you perceive to be the "plight" of women in Islam?
Together, the Shari`a and custom have created an environment in which men have a vast preponderance of power. This has created untold misery for women.
Is Zionism one of the imperatives of modernity?
If nationalism is part of modernity, then Jewish nationalism is integral to the modern experience.
To what do you attribute the warmth between fundamentalist Christians and the Israeli right in the United States?
It owes much to the fundamentalist Christian notion that the Second Coming of Jesus will only take place after a sequence of events that involve the Jewish people and Israel.
Do Jews have a disproportionate influence over American foreign affairs?
No, it is proportionate to their involvement.
Will you explain the difference for us between a republic and a democracy?
A republic is a state in which government has a purpose beyond the mere wishes of the citizenry (for example, the case of America's Founders, it is individual liberty); a democracy is a state in which the leader is chosen through elections. The challenge for republicans is always to prevent the republic from becoming a mere democracy.
Do you believe that American foreign aid to Israel will be terminated?
Yes, and for two main reasons. First, Israel has a booming economy, so it makes less and less sense to give it some $3 billion a year. Second, the aid does little good and perhaps even does harm, both politically and economically.
How do you envision this termination being managed?
I foresee it being managed in a constructive, mutual manner.
What do you see as the political differences between Muslims and Jews and how would you suggest that these issues be resolved?
I am not sure one can ascribe political characteristics to members of religion. That said, the major problems between these groups concern Middle Eastern issues; the main opportunities concern religious practice.
Will you explain the ideologies of the Likud and the Third Way for our readers?
The Likud approach developed in reaction to the Labor approach; whereas Labor is more willing to forego land in favor of political achievements, Likud is more intent on keeping control of land. The Third Way developed in reaction to a specific issue, the prospect of turning the Golan Heights over to Syria, and does not have a defined position on other issues. Likud is virtually a way of life, Third Way responded to a precise problem. One will last, the other is transient.
Many of the governments that you have mentioned are considered even by moderates to be puppet governments, not representative governments. Please comment.
Ardent democrat that I am, I do recognize that authoritarian rulers sometimes do a good job. I am also aware that the profound lack of democracy throughout nearly all of the Muslim world has made Muslim electorates volatile. They need to experience democracy in its fullness-including the rule of law, minority rights, freedom of speech, religion, and assembly-before they can develop into mature electorates.
Do you believe that Muslims are inherently anti-Semitic?
No, Muslims need not be anti-Semitic. But the experience of the past two centuries (especially the absorption of anti-Semitic ideas from Europe and the fight against Zionism) have made anti-Semitism enormously attractive among Muslims.
Is it possible you are confusing anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism?
Hardly. The former attacks Jews as a people; the latter merely disagrees with them on a political issue. The Muslim world has spawned a vast anti-Semitic literature in recent decades; let's all work to make sure it soon disappears.
How does anti-Semitism differ from racism?
It is a specific case of racism. Racism is the general term for prejudice based on membership in a perceived group, regardless of individual characteristics. Anti-Semitism is the variant of racism applied to Jews.
Why do you think Muslim women who marry Christian men leave Islam?
Several reasons account for this, the most important of which is the intense hostility of their families that follows on their conversion, which in turn pushes these women completely out of Islam.
Do you know that it is forbidden for Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men?
Of course; that is the reason why the families respond with such hostility.
Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark said, in comments at the American Muslim Council conference in mid-1998, that Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman is a political prisoner, his crime being that he promotes an undesirable interpretation of Islam. Please comment.
Secularism - keeping the government out of religious affairs-is a basic principle of the United States. While not adhered to perfectly, it has been a powerful guide and has made the United States a home for persecuted peoples of all religions, including Islam. Anyone who thinks the U.S. government would trump up charges of terrorism because it dislikes a particular sheikh's views has either read too many thrillers or comes from the Middle East (where such things do happen).
You reject Ms. Mylroie's theory regarding Iraq and the World Trade Center Bombing, saying that she "too often assumes Iraqi involvement in terrorists incidents." Why not say that Steven Emerson too often assumes an "Islamic" involvement in terrorists incidents?
Ms Mylroie assumes; Mr. Emerson has evidence.
Will you define "war crimes" for us?
Governments have established guidelines for the conduct of war, strange as that sounds. War crimes are actions that break those norms.
Is the Israeli assassination attempt against Khalid Mish'al an example of state-sponsored terrorism?
No, because terrorism creates terror by targetting hapless civilians - children in school, civilians on a bus or in a café. Mish'al is himself part of a terrorist apparatus and therefore not a civilian. By the way, I do not consider the targetting of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia terrorism either, for they are engaged in war.
Will you give us some examples that demonstrate when religion is "disrupting."
When it prompts adherents to make war or assault those it finds reprehensible. Nearly all religions are tempted in this direction; secularism helps restrain them.
Is it your opinion that Islam is resistant to modernity?
No, there is nothing inherently un-modern about Islam. It is the Muslim historical experience-for example the long and difficult relationship with Christian Europe-that seems to make modernity so difficult for Muslims.
Your description of "rogue" states ironically suits the description of Israel in many ways. What don't you consider Israel a rogue state?
Israel is not aggressive towards neighbors, does not repress its citizens, and does not disrespect the rule of law; nor does it engage in terrorism. On a more profound level; whereas I see Israel as basically defensive, you see it as basically offensive. So long as we differ on this issue, our interpretations of Israel will differ on nearly every detail.
You say that all citizens of Israel participate in selecting the Israeli government; do Israeli Arabs enjoy this right?
They most certainly do! Are you unaware that Israeli Arabs vote in the parliamentary elections? in 1996, for example, they voted so overwhelmingly for Shimon Peres that they came within 30,000 votes of electing him, despite the fact that Jewish Israelis voted 56-44 against him.
There are many, Christians, Jews and Muslims, who believe that a worldwide spiritual revolution, the same one that defeated Communism will defeat the other secular ideologies, including Zionism. Please comment.
This is news to me. Assuming you are right, though, and such a coalition of the faithful does exist, it might indeed prevail over the secular ideologies. I have great respect for faith, but I think this would be a terrible step backward.