Militant Islam Reaches America (Daniel Pipes)

Militant Islam Reaches America (Daniel Pipes)

Post-Sept. 11 has spawned a host of books and columns by experts and political commentators. Few have been more visible and vocal that Daniel Pipes. Militant Islam Reaches America, a collection of Mr. Pipes writings in recent years, organized into two sectionsҗMilitant Islam and Islam Reaches America (curiously, in one case he simply uses the term Islam not militant Islam)is ostensibly an attempt to understand דwhy?

President George Walker Bush HAS sent a deliberate message that America IS fighting a war against global terrorism not against Islam. Daniel Pipes differs with Bush, emphasizing ԓthe enemy is not a featureless terrorism but militant Islam. 

Throughout much of his career, Pipes, a bright, well-trained expert with considerable experience, has had a remarkable ability to identify key issues in the Middle East and in Muslim politics. However, more often than not, his response has been that of a cold warrior with a [Manichean] view of the world that, like Osama Bin Laden, sees [the world] IT in terms of two contending forces. First, the opposing force was communism, then with the fall of the Soviet Union, political Islam.

Militant Islam Reaches America addresses many of the questions and issues that have been raised SINCE 9/11: What is the connection between Islam and violence and terrorism? Is Islam medieval and anti-modern? Is there any real difference between Islam and militant Islam, fundamentalism, political Islam or Islamism? Do American Muslims suffer from entrenched biases, are they anti-American, can they integrate? Most specifically, is there an Islamic threat internationally and domestically?

Mr. PipesԒ decision to answer these questions and others with a collection of his past and more recent articles is problematic both in terms of organization and substance. The first third of the book has only a remote connection to the title, consisting of background pieces, some quite dated, on political Islam. Several later pieces on Islamic economics and African-American Islam have at best a tangential relationship to the title of the volume and the sections in which they appear. Throughout the volume it is difficult to find a sustained argument, other than that there is a serious threat from Islam.

Despite his knowledge and experience, Pipes ideological position and commitment get in the way of his analysis. This is not a series of analytical studies as much as a collection of ғeditorials, whose major points often have little or no supportive evidence. He is a man on a mission, a cold warrior facing a global threat. The central flaw in Daniel PipesԒ approach is his selectivity; he selects an individual, event, or a quote out of context and then generalizes to make broad conclusions. Thus, for example, he selects two American converts, Jamil, the former H. Rapp Brown, and John WALKER Lindh, the young convert who fought with the Taliban, to generalize about how sadӔ it is that American converts have become radicalized, implying that this is a widespread phenomenon. There is no evidence offered as to how representative they are. No discussion of all the converts who are mainstream Americans and prominent academics and professionals. This methodology is as legitimate as equating all American Jews who have emigrated to Israel with Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the American physician who emigrated to Israel and later slaughtered some 25 Muslims at prayer in the Hebron mosque. Pipes knows much better.

A similar problem of selectivity and distortion occurs with his distinction between moderate Muslims and militant Muslims. He lumps all Islamic activists, fundamentalist or Islamist, together rather than distinguishing between members of the mainstream and extremists. Pipes asserts that 10 to 15 percent of the worlds Muslims are militants. His evidence for giving 100 million Muslims this label is an ғestimate from election data, survey research, anecdotal evidence, and the opinion of informed observers. He provides no citation of the specific election data or surveys nor the names of any of his informed observers. Most Islamists live and function within society, not underground. They run institutions and organizations within civil society. They hold or have held positions in parliaments and cabinets, and as top-ranking government officials, such as , Dr. Necmettin Erbakan, the former prime minister of Turkey and, Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia.  In contrast, a radical and deadly minority has and continues to engage in acts of terrorism.  But implicitly portraying them as authoritarian, and perhaps dangerous, rulers, Pipes makes no distinction between legal, non-violent opposition and terrorism.

His argument is further undermined here and elsewhere in his writings and presentations by his presentation of ill-chosen examples of moderate Muslims. His choices include writer Salman Rushdie;  TunisiaԒs ruler Zeine Abedin Ben Ali; and Turkeys government and secular elites. Salman Rushdie, whatever his merits as an author, is at best a cultural Muslim and not a religious one. Ben Ali is an authoritarian ruler who wins elections by 99.91 percent and brutally crushes any political opposition. Meanwhile the notion of secularism among the Turkish government and that countryҒs elites is not separation of church and state, but an anti-religious bias. This mindset has led them to ban political parties, forbid the wearing of a headscarf, refuse to swear in duly elected parliamentarian Mervat Kovakick because she wore a headscarfand subsequently attempt to pull her citizenship. Pipesג approach leaves the clear impression that the only good Muslim is a secular or cultural Muslim.

In light of Pipes equation of mainstream and extremist[s] Islam under the rubric of militant Islam and his definition of moderate Islam as secular or cultural, uninformed or uncritical readers of this book will erroneously conclude that Islam, not simply militant (violent extremist) Islam, is a serious threat domestically and internationally. 

John L. Esposito is University Professor and Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University. The most recent of his more than 25 books on Islam and Muslim politics are Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam and What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam (Oxford University Press 2002).