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What lies beneath the surface
by Boaz Ganor
Jerusalem Post
February 21, 2003

By Daniel Pipes
309 pages. W.W. Norton. $25.95.

Militant Islam Reaches America by Daniel Pipes. W.W.Norton. 256 pp. $25.95 After the September 11 attacks, Americans awoke to a new reality, filled with dangers, threats and anxieties which until then had been limited to Hollywood studios and science fiction scripts. But did reality really change, or were the people of America and the rest of the world merely forced to recognize changes and trends that had been smoldering under the surface?

Daniel Pipes, a historian who specializes in the Middle East, the Arab world and Islam and a Jerusalem Post columnist, aims in his book Militant Islam Reaches America to clarify the reasoning behind the terror attacks on America. He opens a window into the world of militant Islam and introduces us to the culture, thinking, modus operandi, decision-making processes, aspirations, achievements, and failures of its proponents. He also offers a guide to the general public, security bodies and decision makers as to how to deal with this dangerous phenomenon.

Pipes is not sparing in his criticism of American decision makers and academe, arguing that they chose an apologetic approach toward Islam in general and militant Islam in particular in an attempt to maintain 'domestic peace.' Such an appeasing and even obsequious approach minimizes the seriousness of the problem and the magnitude of the danger, and ignores its cultural, religious, social and operative roots.

Right at the beginning of his book, Pipes addresses a problematic issue that many others choose to repress, when he asks: does Islam pose a danger? In answering this question, Pipes makes a correct and important distinction between the Islamic religion itself, in relation to which the answer is negative, and militant Islam, which Pipes correctly views as a concrete danger to world peace.

Pipes opposes the view (attributed to Samuel Huntington) that labels the situation a 'war between civilizations,' and argues that in fact the real war is among Muslims themselves, with the non-Muslims serving at best as bystanders. Pipes offers an interesting observation to the effect that Turkey and Iran serve as two extremes in a continuum from traditional to militant Islam. But while Iran is becoming more moderate, Turkey is becoming more extreme, and so the question is which process will develop faster.

Elsewhere Pipes rejects the argument that militant Islam stems from economic distress, and to support his objection he cites the socioeconomic background of the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks. He claims that militant Islam resembles extreme ideologies such as communism and fascism more than it resembles traditional religion.

The extreme features of militant Islam include: a radical, utopian, totalitarian, anti-democratic, aggressive, intolerant, anti-Semitic and anti-Western worldview, and an unwillingness to coexist with other ideologies. The difference between traditional and militant Islam, according to Pipes, is that the traditional form wishes to teach people how to live according to God's will, while militant Islam strives to create a new order. The traditional is essentially personal, while the militant is a political ideology.

To those Americans who believe that the rationale for carrying out the September 11 attacks cannot be explained, Pipes says: wake up. Not only do you and all of us have a problem, but it has spread throughout the US. Its common denominator is the desire of militant Muslims to establish sharia law in the whole world. The problem of militant Islamic terror is no longer the problem of one country or another.

Pipes calls on American decision makers to change their policy toward militant Islam. His recommendations include declaring that militant Islam does not represent the Islamic religion, demonstrating that the will and determination of the Western world are no less than those of militant Muslims, avoiding any official or public dialogue with militant Islam, avoiding appeasement and aid to militant Islam, applying pressure on militant Muslim countries, supporting parties that confront militant Islam, and encouraging democratization and the creation of civil societies in the Muslim world.

As to the last recommendation, Pipes rightfully warns against attempting an overly speedy process that puts too much emphasis on elections. That warning surely applies to our region and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where various international players, headed by the Americans, are pushing for Palestinian elections in the hope that these will open the way for a return to the negotiating table.

These parties should listen to Pipes's warning that premature elections often make matters worse by strengthening militant Islamic elements.

Pipes devotes a large part of his book to an analysis of the threat to the US posed by militant Islam. He describes how activists from Hizbullah and other militant Islamic groups illegally enter the US by fooling immigration officials and exploiting the law to deceitfully gain citizenship, how these elements raise money for terrorist organizations and engage in illegal smuggling. Pipes warns of the growing number of American-born citizens, mainly Afro-Americans, joining militant Islamic groups. He views this as a dangerous social phenomenon that involves adopting extremist positions and supporting bin Laden and Khomeini. Then add the modern anti-Semitism that transforms classic Christian anti-Semitism from a problem of the past into a problem of the future - Muslim anti- Semitism is washing over the world like a dangerous wave. Pipes criticizes Jewish organizations that fail to appreciate the danger of the new wave, and are still busy with the Christian Right instead of with Muslim fascism.

American decision makers, security officials and the general public should read Pipes's book, learn about the danger beneath the surface, and understand that waging a war - as important as that may be - across seas and continents against the centers of militant Islam and terrorism in the Muslim world is not enough. At the same time action has to be taken against the spread of this ideology, and against the activities of these militant elements in the US itself, which exploit the democratic- liberal freedoms that are cornerstones of the American experience.

The writer is director of the Institute for Policy against Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

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