How to fight fanaticism
By Eric Longley
A Review of "Militant Islam
Reaches America" by Daniel Pipes.
The author, Daniel Pipes, is a prominent scholar who has studied the
Islamic world. He used to work for the U. S. State Department and the
Defense Department, as well as teaching at Harvard and the University of
Chicago. Now he heads up the Middle East Forum. He is well-known for his
support of an aggressive, secularist U. S. policy in the Middle East.
Pipes’ book contains some valuable analysis of the phenomenon he calls
militant Islam-a phenomenon that has also been called *Islamism.* The
book also contains some interesting but flawed proposals for how the
United States can deal with militant Islam.
The ideology of militant Islam, according to Pipes’ estimates, is held
by about 10% to 15% of the world’s Muslims. Under the principles of
militant Islam, of which Usama bin Laden is the most infamous exponent,
the entire Muslim community is deemed to have been militarily,
culturally and spiritually corrupted by Westerners. The solution
proposed by militant Islam to this problem includes the use of violence
against Western interests, and against Muslims who don’t share the
militant perspective. Obviously, the followers of militant Islam deem
themselves at war with the United States-literally at war.
Pipes says that Islamists have adopted “an oddly Protestantized version
of Islam” (p. 10). This Protestantism derives from the fact that
Islamists focus on personal interpretations of their holy book, the
Koran. Other Muslims tend to read the Koran with the aid of traditional
interpretations handed down by various jurists. The Islamists, however,
like many Protestant Christians, think that all they need is access to
their holy book, from which they can figure out for themselves what it
all means. The analogy can be taken too far, but it seems fair.
Islamists, according to Pipes, turn Islam “from a personal faith into a
ruling system that knows no constraints” (p. 40). The concept of
religion being “a personal faith” is more characteristic of “mainline”
Western Christians than of Muslims, and even among Christians there are
those who draw no distinction between the personal and the political.
Mainstream Islam is even less likely than Christianity to regard itself
as “a personal faith.” The Koran seems to contemplate a theocratic
state, not a church that is separate from the institutions of the state,
as is ideally the case in Christianity. A Muslim doesn’t have to be an
Islamist to want to turn his religion into “a ruling system.” On the
contrary, there are many professedly Islamic states that reject
A more valid point made by Pipes is that Islamism is an ideology that
has been greatly influenced by the West. Unlike mainstream Islam, which
is largely a result of organic development within the Arab world,
Islamism is the product of ideologues with largely Western educations
and surprisingly “modern” outlooks. Islamists “unintentionally
substitute Western ways for those of traditional Islam” and want “an
Islamic-tinted version of Western reality” (pp. 74-75). In this respect,
of course, Islamism is very much like Third-World Communism during the
Cold War: A Western-inspired ideology that is adopted with alacrity by
people who want to show how anti-Western they are.
One example of the Western influence on Islamism, besides the
Protestantism mentioned above, is feminism. I bet you didn’t know that
the Islamists are actually feminists! Of course, they don’t think of
themselves that way, but Pipes points out some distinctly feminist
elements of Islamism (pp. 78 ff.). For one thing, some Islamist men (not
the Talibs in Afghanistan, presumably) say that there’s nothing
un-Islamic about women working outside the home. The veil can, in fact,
serve as a way to get women out of the house. If they can protect their
modesty with a veil, women will be able to move about in the world,
study science, get jobs, and so on without casting doubt on their
virtue. From the Muslim standpoint, this is objectively pro-feminist,
and this is a tendency that Pipes claims is encouraged by Islamists
(except in Afghanistan, of course).
Pipes sees another way in which Islamists use the veil in a modern way.
An Islamist named Shabbir Akhtar is quoted as saying that the veil
“create[s] an erotic culture in which one dispenses with the need for
artificial excitement that pornography provides” (p. 80). Come to think
of it, although Pipes doesn’t mention this, I suppose that a thoroughly
modern Islamist could write some pretty good pornography. “Underneath
Kedisha’s veil I could see the tantalizing outlines of her nose. The
sight drove me mad with desire...” OK, maybe not.
According to Pipes, the menace that Islamism poses to America isn’t
confined to terrorism. There are Islamists who are seeking to work
through the American political system to legitimize Islam and,
ultimately, turn the United States into an Islamic regime. Pipes cites a
book by a guy named Shamin A. Siddiqui that advocates Islamic rule in
the U. S (pp. 114-115).Siddiqui wants to fuse the U. S. with the “superb
ideology” of Islam, thereby giving Americans a much-needed dose of
morality. And then Islam will be invincible, bwahahahahahahaha!
Actually, that’s my own paraphrase, not a direct quote.
Siddiqui, quoted by Pipes, says that Islam will show up “the
shortcomings of capitalism...[and of] democracy...[and] liberal
life-style” (p. 121). Pipes seems to see this as a bad thing. However, I
would suggest that an Islamic regime, oppressive as it would be, is
preferable to the pagan regime we have today in the United States. Maybe
an Islamic government would persecute Christians and chop the hands off
of shoplifters, but at least it wouldn’t hand out condoms to high-school
students or provide subsidized abortions. This is all fairly theoretical
at present, since the prospect of an Islamic takeover of America via the
democratic process is about as remote as the prospect of NBC having a
good fall lineup.
Pipes gives some attention to a non-mainstream Muslim organization
called the Nation of Islam (NoI). The NoI is not accepted by other
Muslims as genuinely Islamic, but its anti-American preachings arguably
bring it into the category of Islamism. Pipes actually has some words of
praise for the NoI. Young black men headed for a life of crime have been
known to shape up after joining the NoI (p. 231), just like other young
men shape up after joining the military. The downside of the NoI is that
its leader, Louis Farrakhan, is a total fruitcake who praises African
dictators and claims to have had a vision of being taken up into a
To sum up his observations of Islamism, Pipes says that “militant Islam
has proved itself to be the only truly vital totalitarian movement in
the world today” (p. 246). It is an ideology that calls for complete
state control over the economy, culture and religion. Any country that
is afflicted with a militant Islamic regime will be oppressed.
Islamism/militant Islam “adapts an age-old faith to the political
requirements of our day by adopting some of the key premises of earlier
totalitarianisms, fascism and Marxism-Leninism.” Islamism is a form of
“radical utopianism” (p. 135). “They [Islamists] may appear law-abiding
and reasonable, but they are part of a totalitarian movement and as such
must be considered potential killers.” However, the history of American
Communism shows that members of a totalitarian movement are not all
potential killers. Some of them are misguided idealists. Care should be
taken in distinguishing the hard-core totalitarians from the
fellow-travelers, and Pipes doesn’t seem to want to do this.
An example of a country that fell under Islamist control is Iran. Iran
is certainly a messed-up, oppressed country that sponsors terrorism, but
Pipes manages to overdo his attack on Iran. Pipes says that “[t]he
largest Islamist bloodletting, however, was Iran’s war on non-Islamist
Iraq after 1982, leading to hundreds of thousands of Muslim dead” (p.
249). Excuse me, but it was our then-ally Iraq that started that war by
invading Iran. It is true that the Iranians sought for several years to
overthrow Saddam Hussein, and therefore refused a negotiated peace until
1988, thus prolonging the war. Does Pipes think it was wrong to try and
overthrow Saddam? If he thinks this, he should hurry up and criticize
President Bush for trying to accomplish that very thing.
Islamic organizations in the U. S. are “extremely hostile to the
prevailing U. S. culture and want to replace it with an Islamic order”
(p. 123). But the U. S., says Pipes, is very tolerant of Islam. To prove
this alleged tolerance, Pipes cites some examples that seem to prove the
opposite. In Portsmouth, Virginia, two Islamic women were wrongfully
arrested for wearing veils and were awarded $100,000 in compensation.
The arrests were made under an anti-mask law aimed at the Ku Klux Klan.
The willingness of the city to pay the women compensation, and the
support for this compensation reflected in an unscientific poll,
supposedly show how tolerant the U. S. is towards Muslims.
I looked up a story about this incident in the Richmond
*Times-Dispatch.* (“Women get $100,000 each in wrongful arrests,” April
8, 2000). The article said that the two women had been confronted in a
supermarket parking lot in September 1996 by two policemen. One of the
policemen demanded that the women remove their veils. When they refused,
they were arrested. “A police sergeant called the arrest a mistake and
released the women.” After they sued and got their compensation, the
City Attorney was quoted as saying, “[w]e wish it had never happened.”
The lawyer for the women said that the incident reflects only on a
single policeman, not on the entire police department.
Interestingly, although Pipes and the *Times-Dispatch* article say that
the law allowed the wearing of veils by Muslim women, when I looked up
the Virginia mask law I saw no mention of such an exemption (see §
18.2-422). Nevertheless, the payment of $100,000 in damages shows that
the arrest was unlawful. If the situation were reversed, Pipes wouldn’t
think the incident was all that innocuous. If a priest in Saudi Arabia
had been arrested for possessing communion wine, Pipes would have cited
this as an example of intolerance, even if the Saudi authorities later
apologized and paid compensation. Nor does Pipes mention the ongoing
dispute in Florida (and perhaps other states) over the insistence that
Muslim women remove their veils for drivers’ license photographs, a
requirement which has the same effect on pious Muslim women as Saudi
Arabia’s ban on woman drivers.
As further examples of American tolerance for Islam, Pipes says:
“Advertisements that take the faith [of Islam] lightly are withdrawn
with alacrity. [For example,] Total Sports, Inc., canceled an ad showing
a group of Muslims ‘praying’ to a basketball” (p. 166). Wow, canceling
that ad is almost as good as not running the ad in the first place! How
Describing militant Islam, Pipes says: “That a significant movement in
this country aspires to erode its bedrock social and legal arrangements,
including the separation of church and state, and has even developed a
road map toward that end, poses a unique dilemma...” (p. 124). It’s not
unique, actually. Many evangelical Protestants also want to erode the
separation of church and state. The Christian Coalition has certainly
developed a “road map” for legal change in this direction. Pipes’
rhetoric about the Islamist menace sounds like something Norman Lear
might say about Protestant fundamentalists. The rhetoric is exaggerated
in each case. There are many religious activists trying to change the
secularist system in the United States. Maybe it needs to be changed.
Pipes again: “No other body of ideas claims, as the militant Islamic
ones do, blanket superiority over the culture, customs, laws and
policies of the United States; even the fascist and Marxist-Leninist
ideologies dealt only with politics” (p. 131). Come on. Only militant
Islam claims blanket superiority over the system in place in the United
States? Not so! I heard there is a cult whose Founder said His kingdom
was not of this world; whose followers are called on to reject many of
the ideals animating mainstream American society, including violence,
revenge, casual sex, degrading entertainment, disregard for human life,
etc. One of the cultists even said to be not conformed to the pattern of
this world. I forget the name of that cult right now. Maybe the name
will come to me. Anyway, the militant Muslims are not alone in their
alienation from American institutions.
Pipes cites propaganda by the Bush administration giving an overly rosy
picture of Islam. The U. S. government is giving such a warm fuzzy
picture of Islam that it is, in fact, “a discreet missionary for the
[Islamic] faith.” Pipes says that, contrary to administration
propaganda, the American idea is not compatible with Islamic values.
“The message [of America to the world], it hardly needs pointing out, is
one of individualism, freedom, secularism, rule of law, democracy, and
private property” (p. 102).
How should the United States defend its values against the Islamists?
Pipes has the answer: Use methods that infringe on freedom, secularism,
the rule of law, and democracy. Pipes quotes, with approval, a remark by
ex-Islamist Soheib Bencheikh: “To fight the fundamentalists one has to
have been a bit so oneself” (p. 48). Namby-pamby nancy-boy insistence on
democracy and civil liberties should be dispensed with.
Pipes wants the U. S. to help non-Islamist Muslims (p. 246). Just as the
U. S. backed right-wing bad guys against Communists, now it must back
left-wing bad guys like the murderous Afghan leader General Dostum
against Islamists (pp. 48-49). Leftist regimes are “mere tyrannies” and
“have a better chance of evolving in the right direction than do
intensely ideological regimes.” Isn’t that what people like Pipes used
to say about our *right-wing* allies during the Cold War? Weren’t we
told that the Communists would stay in power longer than the
right-wingers? Well, that was then and this is now.
“Governments in combat with the Islamists deserve U. S. help,” says
Pipes. “We should stand by the non-Islamists, even when that means
accepting, within limits, strong-arm tactics (Pakistan, Egypt, the PLO),
the aborting of elections (in Algeria), and deportations (Israel). It
also means supporting Turkey in its conflict with Iran and India against
Pakistan on the Kashmir issue” (p. 50). The regimes on that list are not
nice at all-Pipes isn’t kidding about that! Pakistan has made it a
capital crime for Christians and others to denounce Mohammed. Egypt
employs torture against suspects, including but not limited to suspected
And Turkey! The Turks aren’t boy scouts by any stretch of the
imagination. But Pipes thinks that, while continuing to protest against
Turkish “barbarisms”-of which the burning of villages is the only
example cited-the U. S. should take on Turkey as a full-fledged ally
against the Islamists. The Turks are mostly Muslims, but as Pipes points
out, the Turkish government espouses a secularist ideology called
Kemalism, named after Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Pipes
wants Turkey to spread Kemalist ideas throughout the Muslim world,
“sponsoring writers with a Kemalist outlook, establishing film
competitions,” and so on. If anything, Pipes thinks that the Turks are
not fanatical enough about spreading their ideology, which is seen as a
necessary counterbalance to Islamism.
As part of its support for Turkey, Pipes wants the West to support
Turkish membership in the European Union (p. 36). “As a state not prone
to war, [Turkey] attracts unduly little attention,” Pipes blandly
asserts (p. 37). Not prone to war! What do you call the invasion of
Cyprus in 1974, the ongoing dirty war against the Kurds, and Turkish
assistance to the U. S. in its war with Iraq? If that isn’t war, what is
Turkey’s “current adversaries, the Greeks and the Armenians, do
everything to perpetuate [Turkey’s bad name]. In the process, whether
intentional or not, they are aiding the mullahs” (p. 37). Pipes doesn’t
mention *why* the Greeks and Armenians dislike the Turks. The Armenians
are a little cheesed off because of the massacre of about a million
Armenians by Turkey during World War I, a genocide that was cited by
Hitler as a precedent for his mass murder of Jews. The Greeks are
annoyed at the Turks for, inter alia, driving the ethnic Greeks out of
Anatolia and northern Cyprus, despite the fact that Greek communities
had been established in these areas for two millennia or more. And by
fussing about all this genocide and ethnic cleansing, the Armenians and
Greeks are supposedly aiding the "mullahs." At least Pipes is generous
enough to acknowledge that this aid and comfort to the mullahs *might*
be unintentional. Thanks a lot for that graceful concession!
Pipes supports “a keener monitoring of Muslim organizations with
documented links to Islamist activity, including [but not limited to!]
the support of terrorism; and the immediate reform of immigration
procedures to prevent a further influx of visitors or residents with any
taint of Islamist ideology” (pp. 124-125). “Exclude foreign Islamists,
the adherents of a radical ideology,” is Pipes’ advice for America. “Use
the ‘secret evidence’ provisions of U. S. immigration law” to deport
alleged Islamists without giving them the chance to examine the evidence
against them. So much for the rule of law! (p. 141).
“Maintain the utmost respect for individual Muslims, mosques, and other
institutions. A time of crisis does not change the assumption that each
of us is innocent until proven guilty” (p. 142). Pipes can’t seriously
ask the reader to believe that he supports the presumption of innocence,
not after calling for the use of secret evidence and the application of
the principle of collective guilt to Islamist immigrants.
Other draconian measures advocated by Pipes are “military tribunals
where needed; restrictions on lawyer-client privilege in certain cases;
and, when appropriate, the serious use of ‘profiling’ to uncover
sleepers and other terrorists.” (p. 253).
What are “sleepers?” Glad you asked! Sleepers are terrorist operatives
who live in the United States awaiting instructions to carry out
terrorist acts. How can we tell sleepers from innocent people? Pipes has
some pointers. Al-Qaeda manuals captured by the U. S. military instruct
sleepers to blend into the surrounding society, not calling attention to
themselves. So if an Arab doesn’t have a beard, if he isn’t particularly
pious, if he is “friendly but standoffish” and “do[es]n’t bring
attention to” himself, he may be a sleeper (pp. 151, 154).
Other signs that a person may be a sleeper? “Support for militant
Islamic groups and fronts....Disparagement of Western civilization in
favor of Islamic civilization.... Immersion in a purely Muslim
environment.... Other miscellaneous pointers to look for include...[c]hoosing
to live in areas where many cultures are represented and an easygoing
attitude toward different customs is evident (northern New Jersey,
southern Florida, Leicester or Bradford in England, Hamburg in Germany
(p. 153-154).” So an Arab should be considered suspicious if he acts
suspicious and also if he acts like he’s trying *not* to act suspicious.
The degree of vigilance Pipes suggests may result in the capture of
sleepers, but it will certainly result as well in the harassment, and
perhaps the wrongful imprisonment, of many innocent people.
There are certain additional subtle clues that may indicate that a
person is a sleeper. These are the kind of clues that might escape the
notice of the casual observer. But Pipes is no casual observer, he is an
expert on these matters. Like Sherlock Holmes figuring out the identity
of a suspect by observing a few bits of cigar ash, Pipes knows how to
identify a sleeper from such innocent-seeming things as the following:
“Possession of such artifacts as detonators and a protective suit
against chemical and biological weapons...Possession of instructions for
conducting *jihad* of either a spiritual nature (how to prepare for
one’s suicide death) or a practical nature (how to smuggle detonators)”
(pp. 152-153). I can see the police, like Dr. Watson, expressing their
gratitude to Pipes for this advice: “You never cease to amaze me! You
figured out who the terrorists are based only on their possession of
detonators and jihad manuals. We might not have seen the significance of
such evidence if it hadn't been for you!"
In all seriousness, Pipes discusses a real problem in this book. The
Islamists are a very real threat. The solutions Pipes proposes to the
problem, however, are kind of scary.