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your debate with Wafa Sultan

Reader comment on item: Moderate Islam: Western Ally or Western Myth?

Submitted by E Wieger (United States), Jan 6, 2010 at 19:39

Dear Dr. Pipes

I just listened to your debate with Wafa Sultan. Thank you very much for engaging in this debate. I sensed the profound existential difference between you and her. Your review of historical changes in the use of Sharia was very helpful to me, for understanding your hope.

Wafa Sultan was correct, it seems to me, to define Islam both as both a way of relating to God, and as a State. It is difficult to imagine that this State dimension could be reformed out of Islam.

Your position is made difficult by the fact that you are not a Muslim Jurist, and perhaps therefore you stay away from putting forth a positive definition of Islam that could live peaceably with the rest of the world. I did not come away from the debate sensing that you had really defined what a non-Islamist Islam would be. This line must be drawn somehow, in order to define what the Islamist is, so he can be marginalized. Taqiye is a real problem. I think the State Department has been treating Fetullah Gulen as if he were a postive influence. Yet, he could not avoid seeing Islam as a State that must replace the Turkish secular State.

I think Wafa Sultan has a point when she speaks of the very long-term mind-set of Muslims in their pursuit of the Islamicization of the State.

Your strongest point is to ask Wafa, If you are right, what hope is there? What solutions?

The problem I see is the Islamic sacred texts themselves. I don't think they really end up being a shopping mall. There is an over all sense to the Islamic system, rooted in Mohammed's life and the early Caliphate, however much it is adjusted and accomodated to changing eras. That over-all sense is not so much an "essence", as in "essentialism". It is a message which the believers believe. Fervency of belief is more powerful than holding belief in check. The nature of Allah and of the sense of Islamic domination lends itself to a fervent belief in Jihad on many levels. I cannot tell if the "essence" of the Islamicist today is like, say, a Janissary on the Sultan's Jihad at the gates of Vienna...or any other historical mujaheddin. I can say that they are all manifesting a belief in the over-all message of Islamic texts that leads them to kill and to hazzard their lives in the process, with the hope that the Islamic State, or a manifestation of it, will be strong.

The mujaheddin is a believer in the over-all body of text and authoritative tradition. The more he believes in the texts, the more energized he is. Passion is on the side of those who take a thorough-going approach to the text and tone of early Islam, and try to reproduce it now. Those Muslims who do not take this side will tend to be more timid and tepid. That is a real problem. Ataturk was effective not because he was a moderate Muslim, but because he was an anti-Muslim, often using Islamic expressions as a cloak. His passionate anti-Islam was powerful. If he were merely toning Islam down to be more peaceable, I doubt he would be so passionate. He was worshiping the Nation and telling the nation to worship himself.

I loath the idea of our institutions trying to encourage a moderate version of Islam, because I suspect they will end up in bed with the likes of Fetullah Gulen.

They would need a very strict definition of moderate, and they would need tools to discern that no taqiye was involved. For example, the Turkish Diyanet has tried to re-define Islam according to the Medina texts. This is very significant. However, what assurance do we have that this is not a taqiye of sorts. After Turkey has used its moderate Medina face to get what it wants, and to grow in power, what will keep it from turning back to the Meccan face in its general interpretation?

I fear the "good cop, bad cop" dynamic, in which militant Islam strikes us, and "peaceable" Islam says, in effect, "if you would just listen to us, and give us what we demand, those radicals would not strike you." That dynamic would tend to happen with out any conspiracy intended.

You are absolutely right that our institutions should not be giving platforms to the likes of CAIR, or Islamist professors or chaplains.

However, our Leftists seem to love to do this kind of thing, and they are strong at the cultural high points. They are leading our young people at the Universities to a frame of mind that is unable to see the dangers of Lawful Islamicism. What solutions do we have against our own Leftists...or should I day Deconstructionists? Who is really behind the almost universal push of political correctness? It was not a grass roots movement. What is it in its origin, and why is it so friendly to Islamists? I do not think Muslims and pc cicles have been plotting together. There is, however, a common thread between them, of wishing the unraveling of Western Civilization, in order to replace it with things of their own agendas... Is there no national security issue at stake here?

1. Do as you recommend: scrutinize and marginalize Islamists.

2. Incessantly beat all physical forces of violent Jihad wherever we can afford to do so: including slave raiders in Africa and separatists in the Philipines.

3. Politically and legally beat all forces of Islamicist Lawfare.

4. Define "acceptable" Islam, as that which positively affirms the existing State, and the Constitution of it, including the right of conversion out of Islam as well as into Islam. "Bill of Rights" Muslims could be a term used as a litmus test, perhaps. Agitation for the formation of the Islamic State among us should be defined as treason, and be punished by our laws accordingly. Those who fit "acceptable Islam" should not, I think, receive any particular recognition or assistance, nor should they be hindered in their lives as citizens. I say this because of the very real possibility that Bill of Rights Muslims will morph, whence powerful enough, into Sharia Muslims. They should not be helped to power, because of the generational nature of the problem. So long as their texts are what they are, their children or grand-children will be tempted to seek the formation of the Islamic State among us. They, as a community, should not be helped to prestige or power, but only regarded in so far as they demonstrate adherence to our American Order.

There's my two cents.

Thank you again for the debate. It is, I confess, a terribly difficult issue. I wish for all the reforms you hope for, and that my estimation of the enduring power of Islamic texts is wrong.


E Wieger


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