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Nothing to Be Defensive About

Reader comment on item: The Problem with Middle East Studies

Submitted by Ron Thompson (United States), Jul 14, 2008 at 10:24

I'm not sure whether there's a whiff of defensiveness in Daniel Pipes' response to being called a "neo-orientalist", such as when he seems to try and defuse his own statement , "Muslim countries have the most terrorists and fewest democracies in the world". Why tone down this bold statement of the elemental threshold fact about the Muslim world. Given what is out there for the whole world to see, isn't the burden of proof on those who would take issue with the statement rather than those who make it?

The truth and relevance of Pipes' statement is given more credence by the comments of Yakub Halabi about the overthrow of the Shah in Iran. Does Halabi really think that Khomeni's revolution was an expression of "modernity" in the Muslim world, as he seems to say? Are those who call attention to the non-democratic, non-pluralist, and intolerant ways of Iran's government really going to let him get away with this comment?

Is it an aspect of modernity when Iran's President threatens Israel, whose mere existence is taken as a threat to Iran? Is it rational for Iran under its 'Supreme Ayatollah' to bait a nuclear power and wage proxy wars against it? Does Halabi believe that's what the Iranian people want from their government, or why they voted for Ahmadinejad?

It's a uselessly abstract exercise to argue whether or not Islamic countries will "always" be undemocratic. But surely it is fair to wonder whether Islam and democracy can co-exist. It is almost like the great framing of the debate by Abraham Lincoln in the United states in 1858. Can a society remain half-free and half-slave? Can democracy emerge in societies where small minorities are striving, usually through violence, to give ultimate control to unelected clerics, whatever trappings of democracy may accompany this bizarre process?

To ask these questions is not 'Neo-Orientalism', but simple common sense and responsible observation, which, as usual, there is too little of in general, and apparently almost none at all in Middle East Studies.

Ron Thompson


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