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Do Tyrants Heed Their Minions? A Look at Putin and Saddam

by Daniel Pipes  •  May 23, 2022  •  Washington Times

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Three days before Russia's President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, he assembled his top security staff for a televised charade. At it, he quizzed each in turn if they approved of his plan to recognize two areas of eastern Ukraine as independent states. Squirming and sometimes fumbling, they dutifully all bowed to their supremo's will.

But it need not always be like this when an absolute, brutal dictator meets his advisors to discuss a major issue, especially if the conference takes place in private. In such a case, they might speak their minds and influence his decision.

We know this because a rare, if not unique, recording of such an encounter exists. The event took place in July 1986 in Baghdad under the auspices of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. Amatzia Baram and Ban al-Maliki recount it in a recent Journal of the Middle East and Africa article, "Speaking Truth to Power in a Dictatorship: Secular Ideology versus Islamic Realpolitik - A Fierce Dispute in Saddām's Iraq." No Middle Eastern regime, they note, "left us such a detailed and lively document of a cardinal debate, at the very heart of a ruling regime, over such a crucial topic."

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Take Vladimir Putin's Nuclear Threats Seriously
Letter to the Editor

by Daniel Pipes  •  May 6, 2022  •  Wall Street Journal

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In "Putin Really May Break the Nuclear Taboo" (Declarations, April 30), Peggy Noonan argues persuasively that we need to take Vladimir Putin's threats seriously. Americans' assumptions about the impossibility of deploying nuclear weapons ("That won't happen! It has never happened!") are incorrect.

Ms. Noonan reaches this conclusion by looking at the poor Russian military performance in Ukraine and at Mr. Putin's nihilistic character. May I suggest a third, historical factor? Mr. Putin is a Soviet man; he lived his first 39 years in the Soviet Union, rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the KGB foreign intelligence and publicly rued the U.S.S.R.'s demise. He was shaped by and continues to reflect Soviet doctrines.

One of those doctrines concerns the use of nuclear weapons. Almost exactly 45 years ago, my father, Richard Pipes, revealed this doctrine in a Commentary magazine article, "Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight & Win a Nuclear War."

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The Case for Banning Burqas and Niqabs

by Daniel Pipes  •  April 23, 2022  •  Focus on Western Islamism

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A short new book argues for permitting women to wear tent-like full-body coverings (sometimes but erroneously called veils) in public places. Raphael Cohen-Almagor, a self-described "poet, human rights and peace activist," as well as a professor at the University of Hull, offers sundry reasons for this surprise conclusion, including:

The ban on the burqa and the niqab is wrong in principle, is counter-productive and illiberal. It fails to respect freedom of religion which is a basic human right. It undermines the agency of women it claims to emancipate. ... and it offends the dignity of women who voluntarily opt to wear this garment for religious reasons. ... It undermines the agency of women it claims to emancipate. ...The ban that was designed to liberate women actually increases their isolation.

Cohen-Almagor devotes much of The Republic, Secularism and Security: France versus the Burqa and the Niqab (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2022) to refuting arguments heard in France for the ban on burqas and niqabs in public: these garments oppress women and diminish their dignity, they challenge French identity and unity, they are offensive, they cause sensory deprivation and vitamin D deficiency, and they undermine public safety and order.

On this last topic, Cohen-Almagor uses me as his foil:

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Fellow Conservatives, Please Reject Conspiracy Theories

by Daniel Pipes  •  April 22, 2022  •  Dispatch

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Matthew Continetti writes in his newly published book, The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism, that conservative rhetoric of late "has often veered into apocalypticism and conspiracy theory."

Indeed, it has. Specifically, three conspiracy theories have damaged the American conservative movement during the past year and a half, diverting Republican Party attention, derailing it from enduring principles, and diminishing its electoral appeal among young voters. To get back on track, Republicans must stop alleging that the 2020 presidential election was a "fraud," that COVID-19 vaccinations are "dangerous," and that the U.S. government "lied" about developing banned bio-weapons in Ukraine.

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Putin's Invasion Scrambles the West

by Daniel Pipes  •  March 30, 2022  •  Washington Times

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How has the Ukraine crisis affected political life in the West? Deeply but contradictorily. Vladimir Putin's invasion wakened sleeping populations to eternal power realities, exacerbated leftist de-platforming, and bizarrely enhanced his appeal on the Right.

Power realities: A century-long peace following the Napoleonic wars left Europeans mentally unprepared for the carnage of World War I; similarly, the 77-year peace after World War II bred a faulty European assumption that trade and diplomacy could solve the continent's problems. Military strength was seen as anachronistic as slavery. Slogans such as "There is no military solution" and "War never solved anything" prevailed.

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The Great Inquiry into National Character

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Academic Questions

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Of all the books that no one can write, those about nations and national character are the most impossible.
- Jacques Barzun, 1943[1]

Like an impressionist painting, national character appears when a body of countrymen are viewed from an appropriate distance.
- Don Martindale, 1967[2]

Clever people among today's intelligentsia disdain the very idea that there is such a thing as "national character."
- Thomas Sowell, 2009[3]

Stereotypes about national character – a generalization about an ethnic group's enduring qualities – may seem to be the stuff of idle cocktail-party chatter, the observations of jaundiced hotel keepers, or the superficial impressions of travelers; but they are much more. Indeed, a long and impressive tradition of elite politicians, intellectuals, and social scientists have opined on this topic.

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review of Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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The subtitle promises a dry analysis, but Mohammed (b. 1974) delivers instead an intensely personal autobiography that mainly revolves around two themes: her demonic Islamist mother and the process of liberating herself from this mother by repudiating both the maternal and the Islamist bonds. As Mohammed, a Canadian of Egyptian heritage, explains about the latter: "First, I was a nonpractising Muslim, then I didn't believe in any organized religion, then I was spiritual but not religious, then I was agnostic, and then finally I identified as atheist."

The author barely mentions her two formidable family connections: she is the great-grandniece of Mohamed Naguib, the first-ever president (1953-54) in Egypt's history until he was shoved aside by Gamal Abdel Nasser; and she was married to and had a child by Essam Marzouk, a violent jihadi now thought to be either dead or rotting in an Egyptian jail. Fittingly, that marriage was pushed on her by a mother who herself lusted for the future son-in-law.

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review of The Scramble for Europe: Young Africa on Its Way to the Old Continent

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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Smith, professor of African Studies at Duke University, looks at demographics to reach deep conclusions about the future of Europe and Africa. Consider some raw facts: when Europe's "scramble for Africa" took place about 1885, Europe (excluding Russia and what is now Turkish Thrace) had an estimated population of 240 million people and Africa 100 million. Today, those numbers are 600 million and 1.25 billion. In 2050, predictions peg them at 600 million and 2.5 billion. Over the 165-year period, then, Africa will have grown ten times faster than Europe.

Noting these numbers and the desperation of many young Africans to reach Europe, Smith holds that "neither Europe nor Africa has yet taken the full measure of the challenge that lies ahead. The two continents are still unprepared for a migratory encounter of unprecedented magnitude." He proceeds to explore this challenge in his absorbing book, what he wryly calls the "scramble for Europe."

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review of Leaving the Allah Delusion Behind

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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Having written and edited a small library of books on Islamic topics, the pseudonymous Ibn Warraq has now collected some of his writings on ex-Muslims in a book with four parts: freethought and atheism in classical Islam, the mysterious Treatise of the Three Imposters (a reference to Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad), the influence of Ibn Rushd and Ibn Tufayl on Western freethinking, and atheism among Muslims in the modern age.

The author kicks things off with his characteristic verve: "Greeks and Aristotle lead to Muslim Materialists, and Averroes, who in turn leads to the thirteenth and fourteenth century Renaissance in Europe. Averroes's influence extends to Jewish philosophers whose influence on the European Enlightenment leads to the modern world." This is intellectual history on a grand scale, of the sort that hardly any member in good standing of a university history department would dare offer, but the sort that makes the pace quicken and the mind race.

No less emphatically, Ibn Warraq explains his purpose: "A history of atheism and freethought in Islam [is] a moral necessity; it gives necessary succor to ex-Muslims, and provides evidence that many in Islamic civilization have shaken off the intellectual shackles of Islam, and, what is more important, atheism can provide a new identity, and show a means of living moral lives without the aid of Islam."

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review of Jews and the Qur'an

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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Bar-Asher, professor of Islamic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tackles one of the most delicate and subtle questions of religious history and current politics in this slender but packed book: what is the place of Jews in the Qur'an? (Before going further, note that he ignores the powerful body of revisionist history, limiting himself only to the increasingly discredited conventional history.)

For starters, Bar-Asher sifts through Jewish life in Arabia before the Qur'an and concludes that, basically, no reliable information is available. When looking at the Islamic scripture, he finds "The image of Jews and Judaism that emerges from the Qur'an varies according to whether those meant are the biblical Hebrews or the contemporaries of Muhammad." To simplify, the former are praised and the latter are condemned. (In this, one sees an early version of the contemporary "people love dead Jews" phenomenon.)

Favorable Qur'anic verses portray Jews as the chosen people or as the Israelites who exited Egypt and arrived in the Promised Land or those who received the Torah. Unfavorable verses focus on idolatry, which Bar-Asher calls "tangible proof of the Hebrews' and then the Jews' rejection of monotheism"; on the weird Qur'anic assertion that Jews believe one Uzayr to be a prophet or even the son of God; or on the calumny that Jews murdered their own prophets.

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review of European Islamophobia Report 2020

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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This massive tome, now in its sixth annual edition, features 37 authors and covers 31 countries. Published in conjunction with seven "cooperation partners" (pointing to the establishment nature of this topic), it for some reason hides the blatant Turkish government role that the prior five editions proudly displayed.

The study leaves the gate asserting that in 2020, "the state of Islamophobia in Europe not only has not improved, but has worsened, if not reached a tipping point." Worse, "French and Austrian Muslims have been left in the hands of brutal state violence." Not only that, but the editors are grandiose about the importance of their topic for all of Europe: "Islamophobia not only directly devalues the lives of otherized people, but questions the humanity of a society that pretends to stand for the equality of all humans."

As one might expect, those 886 pages are replete with instances of horrible things done and said against Muslims. As one might equally expect, many of the instances are not so horrible.

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review of Countering Islamophobia in North America

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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The Muslims-as-victims campaign has turned into a significant cottage industry, with university centers, academic organizations, and a vast, if repetitive, bulk of writing devoted to showing that Muslims, due to no fault of their own, suffer from a range of unprovoked maladies and unjustified biases at the hands of nasty Westerners.

In a typically banal example of this genre, Aswad's Countering Islamophobia in North America diligently ignores the many Muslim activities that drive anti-Muslim sentiments. An anthropologist of Egyptian origins who has taught at Wayne State University, Aswad mentions ISIS all of three times but the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the 1979-81 Iranian hostage crisis only once each. More notable are those individuals, groups, and concepts that do not appear a single time: Iranian leaders Khomeini and Khamene'i, al-Shabaab, and the Sharia. The Taliban of Afghanistan are never discussed; the group comes up just once, in the context of a Florida teacher, who allegedly called a 14-year-old Muslim student a "raghead Taliban." The persistent maltreatment of Jews and Christians in Muslim-majority countries goes entirely unnoted.

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review of The Perfect Police State

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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Prior colonial rulers – the Spanish in Mindanao, the Dutch in Aceh, the French in Algeria, the Russians in Central Asia – have sought to control their Muslim subjects and defang Islamic sentiments, always failing. Can the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the territory historically known as East Turkestan and renamed Xinjiang by its Chinese overlords, succeed in this task?

As Cain's title suggests, he believes it can. An investigative journalist and technology writer, he emphasizes the mix of the indomitable CCP will and twenty-first-century methods. From first-hand experience and extensive interviews alike, he reports that there exists no "surveillance state so well-honed and menacing as this one," not even North Korea's. Xinjiang's government does not merely surveille and monitor its subjects but seeks "to purge their thoughts" of bad ideas, a wholly different undertaking and one intimately tied to the Uyghurs' Turkic and Islamic identities. The goal is cultural genocide without killing. As an apparatchik in a detention camp put it, "We are the surgeons who operate on your brains, your ideology. Your minds are poisoned. Now, we will give you medicine. You must be grateful to our great nation for this medicine."

Cain describes in detail the impact of a state-imposed video camera in a Uyghur household. Of course, this effort requires the active participation of high-tech companies, and they (Microsoft in particular) have been only too willing to oblige.

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review of Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal

by Daniel Pipes  •  Spring 2022  •  Middle East Quarterly

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For many centuries, the word Arab meant roughly the Bedouin. In the age of nationalism, it came to define nearly all those who spoke Arabic as a mother tongue (though not Jews and some others). This eventually transmuted into the political movement of Arabism, especially during the glory years of Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1956-67. Such concepts as Arab socialism and the Arab mind became prominent. By 1980, however, the self-evident hollowness of the Arab concept had become only too obvious and the term receded from political and cultural life, becoming limited mainly to matters having to do with language, such as Arabic literature.

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How to Answer When Asked for Your Pronouns
Letter to the Editor

by Daniel Pipes  •  February 10, 2022  •  Wall Street Journal

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Colin Wright correctly points out that replying to the question, "What are your pronouns?" implies acceptance of the premise that humans can choose their gender ("When Asked for Your 'Pronouns,' Don't Answer," op-ed, Feb. 5). His suggestion not to reply to the pronoun impertinence makes good sense.

But matters are sometimes more complex. The only person to ask me for pronouns did so in bureaucratic mode as I was scheduling a medical appointment. Not wanting to jeopardize my health for a principled stand on pronouns, I unhappily mumbled "he/his." Some employers and schools require staff and students to supply pronouns. In such cases, rudeness, sarcasm or refusal do not work.

Something succinct, clever and polite is needed. My best retort is, "I think you know the answer," but I welcome better ones from your readers.

Daniel Pipes
Mr. Pipes founded Campus Watch.

Feb. 10, 2022 addendum: Other suggestions:

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