Letters to the editor: Radical Islam
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
The following consist of letters from readers and a reply from Daniel Pipes.
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes states that some 100 to 150 million people worldwide embrace radical Islam, and that some 500 million other Muslims "concur with its rank anti-Americanism," sympathizing more with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban than with the United States ["Who Is the Enemy?" Commentary, January, 2002, available at http://www.danielpipes.org/103/who-is-the-enemy].
But having answered the question posed by his article's title, Mr. Pipes fails to ask its obvious corollary: what have we done to invite this enmity? He thus misses the most important thing we can do for moderate Muslims in their attempt to combat anti-Americanism: taking responsibility for the wrongs we have committed (and continue to commit) against Muslim and other third-world countries. For too long, we have seen them as pawns to be used in any way we see fit, without regard for their own well-being. After all, it was the U.S., in its struggle against the Soviet Union, that armed the fighters who would become the Taliban.
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes argues that the conflict in which America is now engaged is not—to use Samuel P. Huntington's term—a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West. Mr. Pipes takes a more optimistic view, seeing the conflict primarily as an internecine affair between radical and moderate Muslims. As he points out, Islamists are no less vicious in eradicating dissent among their coreligionists than in their enmity toward the West. Islamism, he suggests, is just another ideology, like Soviet Communism. Given adequate time, commitment, and resources, it too can be contained until its eventual demise.
But Huntington's thesis is hardly disproved by the existence of internal dissent in the Islamic world. If anything, the zeal with which Islamic fundamentalists seek to stifle the expression of pluralism and individual liberty by other Muslims shows the chasm between their civilization and our own.
Moreover, Islamism—unlike Communism in the countries where it was imposed—is a home-grown, grassroots phenomenon. Perhaps moderate Muslims are "weak, divided, intimidated, and generally ineffectual," as Mr. Pipes writes, precisely because radical Islam more closely reflects the national aspirations and religious passions of the most energetic segment of Muslim society.
Radical Islam may be a consequence of greater contact between the Muslim world and the West over the past half-century. But the values and ideas that sustain it are centuries old, and run deeper than mere ideology. The containment of a civilization could make fighting the cold war look simple by comparison.
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes's claim that Islam itself is not the enemy is unsubstantiated and dubious. It disregards the fact that there is no serious opposition to attacks upon America from within the Muslim community. To him, the real clash is between Islamists and "moderate Muslims." Apparently, we simply got in the way.
Mr. Pipes disputes the notion that our enemy is Islam by pointing out that there is "Islamist enmity toward Muslims." But this makes no sense. Did the Nazis' persecution of some of their fellow Germans or the Soviets' oppression of some of their fellow Russians make those regimes any less our enemies?
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes writes: "If roughly half the population across the Islamic world hates America, the other half does not."
But even moderate Muslims are not moderate on the question of Zionism; their hatred for Israel is close to universal. They do not dissent from expressions of genocidal sentiment like those, cited by Mr. Pipes, of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the extremist sheikh who declared on al-Jazeera television, "On the hour of judgment, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them."
Anti-Semitism and its child, anti-Zionism, are powerful in a way that defies comprehension. Ethnic and religious hostilities are often destructive, yet anti-Semitism stands out as especially dangerous. If moderate Islam is to become a political force, it must separate itself from the radical anti-Zionism in the face of which it has been silent and impotent.
DANIEL PIPES writes:
"What have we done to invite" the enmity of militant Islam? asks Max Rivers. That is the wrong question, I reply. Islamists hate America for what it is, not for the policies it pursues. In this, as in much else, Islamists replicate the pattern established by their fascist and Communist precursors. Would Mr. Rivers ask what the United States did to incur Pearl Harbor or the wrath of Hitler and Stalin? I doubt it. To all totalitarians, including the Islamist variant, America represents an ineluctable challenge that they must fight.
Greg Lumelsky and Allen Weingarten both chide me for what Mr. Lumelsky calls an "unsubstantiated and dubious" distinction between Islam the religion and militant Islam the ideology. Again, I return to the analogy of earlier totalitarians. In World War II, the aim of the U.S. war effort was to change the way Germany, Italy, and Japan were ruled, ousting the fascist leaders and bringing in leaders with whom America could coexist. In the cold war, the goal was once again to oust the Soviet leadership and pave the way for Russians with whom we could coexist. The same applies today with militant Islam: the ultimate goal is to weaken or even destroy this movement and bring in decent leaders, as has already been done in Afghanistan. The Nazis and Communists were the enemy, not the German or the Russian peoples; likewise, the enemy today is militant Islam, not the whole Muslim world.
It is a curious fact, by the way, that Messrs. Lumelsky and Weingarten concur with the Islamists on the key point that militant Islam equals Islam, dismissing other approaches to the religion as inauthentic, insignificant, or otherwise irrelevant. I disagree, on the simple grounds that most Muslims reject militant Islam.George Jochnowitz makes the valid observation that nearly all Muslims subscribe to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and that true moderation requires that these be tamed, if not eliminated. I agree and note that, as so often in the past, attitudes toward Jews serve as a vital touchstone of moderation and decency. In this respect, moderate Muslims have nearly as far to travel as do their Islamist coreligionists.
Reader comments (1) on this item
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