Saturday, July 19, 2008
Pot shots at the Pipes dream
A pot shot, considered as a genre of criticism, may reflect poorly either on the critic himself, or on his intended target.
For the definition of a pot shot, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is: 1. a random or easy shot, and 2. a criticism made without careful thought and aimed at a handy target for attack. Insofar, therefore, as a particular person makes himself so easy and handy a target for criticism that the critic requires little or no careful thought to deploy his criticism, the pot shot reflects poorly on the person targeted.
Such a person is Daniel Pipes, the quintessential asymptotic analyst—indeed the paramount model of that category of analysis, whose foundational, axiomatic premise is that Islam is benign while the dangerous pathologies we find in the Islamic orbit (designated by the artificial construct “Islamism”) pertain to historically recent aberrations of that benign Islam; and whose analytic conclusion, therefore, applying the premise to the problem of jihad, is that benign Islam can help us to neutralize aberrant Islamic pathologies, as long as we in turn help benign Islam reassert itself.
Today, I shall have fun taking pot shots at the Pipes dream as it has been lately expressed in an interview with Daniel Pipes (cross-posted on Jihad Watch, where Robert Spencer introduces Pipes as a Jihad Watch “friend”. I’m sure he’s a friendly guy, but even friends need to be criticized when they advocate stupid, if not counter-productive, ideas.). The questioner in the interview, “Q”, is Iivi Anna Masso, “DP” is Daniel Pipes, and my pot shots will be set off in italicized passages.
Q: Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict political (nationalist) or theological?
DP: Ultimately the Arab-Israeli conflict rests on a Muslim assumption that territory that has been ruled by Muslims must not be ruled by non-Muslims, that it is permanently Muslim territory. That a non-Muslim people should come, take it over, and rule it is deeply inimical.
So far, so good, but with Pipes, one must not let one's guard down, for disappointment is always lurking around the corner of any fortuitously intelligent observations on his part.
That said, there have been four different stages of the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past century, four different stages of Arab approach. The first was pan-Syrian, to create a greater Syria; the second was pan-Arab, to create a greater Arab state, the third was Palestinian nationalist, and now the fourth is Islamist.
Ah, here we see that artificial construct "Islamism" rearing its historically recent head.
There could be a fifth and a sixth. The key here is not the approach which changes every few decades, but rather the deep belief among Muslims that Israel is an illegitimate state because it is in a territory that for over a millenium was controlled by Muslims.
Oh, are we now back to some factor underlying all these different "stages"—a factor with a very long history? What could it be, if "Islamism" is only recent?
Q: Do you see an end to this conflict?
DP: I do see a possible end. I don’t see it going on forever, as no conflict goes on forever. I do see that it’s possibly going to end in 20-30 years, when the Palestinians are convinced that Israel is there and it’s permanent, and realize that there’s nothing they can do about that, accept it, and instead of trying to eliminate Israel will try to fix their own polity, economy, society and culture.
Now, why would "Palestinians" (i.e., Muslims) become convinced of this, if, as Pipes just got through saying seconds before, there is an underlying unwillingness based upon a "deep belief" among Muslims that Israel should never belong to non-Muslims? And why has Pipes suddenly narrowed the problem merely to "Palestinians" when before that he was framing the problem as one involving "Muslims" in general? And how could "Palestinians"—even if, absurdly, they profoundly changed their minds in "20-30 years"—have the power to effect what Muslims in general, whose minds remain unchanged, would not support? It's amazing how much incoherence Pipes can tangle himself into in the span of a few brief comments.
Q: You have written extensively about the distinction between Islam and “Islamism”, also called “militant Islam”, or “fundamentalism”. How do you explain the difference?
DP: Islam is a personal faith, and there are many different ways of understanding what it means to be a Muslim.
Islam is a "personal faith"? This is not only naive balderdash, it is blatantly inaccurate. Islam is the least "personal" faith in the world: it is profoundly communalistic, arrogating the worth of the Umma, the sectarian division, the dictatorship du jour, the tribe, and the family over and above the individual.
One can be a Sufi, a mystic. . .
Sufis are not merely, nor predominantly, "mystics" in the benignly Joseph Campbellite sense that would comfort upper-middle-class post-Yuppie New Age-esque Ikea-shopping NPR listeners; Sufis, as Spencer and Fitzgerald have in fact shown when they selectively critique Stephen Schwartz (but avoid criticizing their "friend" Pipes), have historically supported traditional military jihad and sharia law.
. . . one can be someone who lives by the law in a very strict way, one can be a nominal Muslim, who does not pay that much attention to his faith; all these and other ways are possible within the religion of Islam.
These "other ways"—the "nominal Muslim" and the harmless "mystic"—may be "possible" in Islam, but are they quantitatively numerous enough, and qualitatively distinct enough from traditional Islamic jihad, to warrant their usefulness in the framework by which Pipes here claims they are in fact useful? Given the deadly stakes of today's threat emanating out of the global diaspora of Muslims, it is not enough for such types of harmless Muslims to be "possible": if their usefulness is to be established, they must also be numerically significant, geographically dispersed, politically active in a massive way, and their harmlessness must be qualitatively verifiable. Pipes, however, seems unconcerned about these crucial qualifiers; it is enough for him, apparently, that such hopeful utility is "possible".
Islamism is a very specific approach, one that holds that Muslims would be powerful and rich were Muslims to follow the Islamic law in its complete detail. Islamists aspire to apply that law everywhere in the world, and see non-Muslims as inferior, and to be defeated. It’s an ideology that has its roots at the origins of Islam, but developed in its present state about 80 years ago.
This is a crafty way of putting it, a phrasing worthy of the slippery sophistry of Robert Spencer, where the phrase, very strictly speaking, is correct, and though it tends to evade or even contradict its corrective, it can nevertheless be disingenuously salvaged from criticism by the one phrasing it pleading that in fact his slippery, crafty way of phrasing did not logically exclude the corrective, you see! Thus, in the phrase of Pipes here, we could agree that the ideology of the current Muslims who are engaged in various forms of advancing jihad is "in its present state" only "about 80 years" old—insofar as we qualify "present state" as pertaining to relatively superficial features. However, Pipes in his phrasing is clearly contrasting "present state" from "roots at the origins of Islam", clearly implying that the "roots", while existing, were not dangerous to non-Muslims until "about 80 years" ago. Also, his polarity of "roots at the origins" and current history consisting of the last "about 80 years" leaves out over 1300 years of history, during which the first full thousand years involved Muslims overwhelmingly and even more aggressively pursuing jihad both in its blatant military form as well as in the form of pre-modern terrorist attacks known, before that modern word was coined, as "razzias" (for a razzia by any other name is still a razzia. . .).
All in all, his argumentation here is preposterous, both logically and historically, and Hugh Fitzgerald must be chewing his fingernails to the bone in frustration of not being able to pillory, with supreme merit, this "JW friend". [Update: I see now that Hugh in fact has posted a comment undermining the crux of the Pipes dream—his term "Islamism"—indeed rightfully describing it as "downright dangerous": however, not once in his post does he mention the name of Pipes, and it is highly unlikely that he will press his criticism—even of an analyst so wrong that his analysis is "downright dangerous"—for to do so, you see, would be to indulge in a "hobbyhorse" that undermines the (false) unity of the anti-jihad movement as directed by Robert Spencer and his slumbering supporters; and we cannot have that!]
It is part of Islam, but not the whole of Islam.
Here Pipes demonstrates a remarkably simplistic comprehension of Islam, whereby an even elementary sociological grasp seems beyond his analytical powers. Islam is, in fact, a sociologically organic system, whereby all its parts—however multifarious and "wonderfully diverse" they may seem to be—cohere and convolve each other. Understood this way, any given "part" of Islam that seems benign when considered in the abstract—i.e., apart from the organic, systemic whole of which it is a part—becomes restored to its concrete complicity with the unjust and dangerous evil that is at the center of Islam. This brings us to the anodyne phrasing of Pipes: the unjust and dangerous evil of Islam, to Pipes, is just a part, one more "part of Islam" in a heap of parts, and not in fact its foundational core, its center. Even here, however, Pipes will contradict himself, for to him Islam is not merely a heap of equally un-central parts: in fact, that part of Islam that is benign and which will help us neutralize the evil part, functions for Pipes as the central part, the "true Islam".
Q: However, hard-line Muslims as well as some critics of Islam insist that you cannot be a real Muslim unless you follow the Islamic law—that would make the distinction between Islam and Islamism disappear?
DP: It is curious to note that Islamists and those who say that Islam itself is the problem both agree that I’m wrong, and that Islamism is Islam. The Islamists say that because they want to portray their version of Islam as the only one.
The "Islamists"—magically created by Pipes through his use of this artificial and un-Islamic term, by the way—may say that because they want their understanding of Islam to be seen as the only one, but that is irrelevant to the question of whether theirs is, in fact, true Islam as that is defined by the foundational texts of Islam (Koran plus Sunna), by Islamic writings throughout history, and by the historical conduct of Muslims throughout history.
And those who see Islam as the problem, conflate the religion and the ideology. I think it a mistake.
Here, Pipes assumes that only those who see Islam as the problem are conflating the religion and the ideology, as though the foundational texts of Islam, the Islamic writings throughout history, and the historical conduct of Muslims throughout history, have not also conflated the religion and the ideology.
Even if you believe that’s the case, and you’re a Westerner and a non-Muslim, I would argue that you’d have to adopt my point of view, because a Western government cannot fight Islam. Ours are not crusader states.
"Cannot" fight Islam, or "should not". . .?
Therefore, you have to fight the ideology of Islamism, not the religion of Islam.
That would be fine, were not the religion of Islam directly, indirectly, massively and sociopolitically nourishing, enabling and inspiring the "Islamists".
We know how to fight ideologies. We fought Fascism and Communism and now there’s Islamism.
Ah, now we see the felicitous motive for the artificial construct "Islamism"—it is tailor-made to be pragmatically fought! The argument of Pipes here, when we undress it, seems to be: We can’t fight Islam (meaning a relatively incoherent combination of "it is too big to fight practically" conjoined with "we shouldn’t behave like 'crusaders' anyway because that would be ethically wrong"), so let us artificially whittle Islam down to a more manageable entity we can fight—"Islamism"! Voilà!
We can’t fight a religion. So if it’s reduced to a religion, then we lack the tools to protect ourselves.
Nobody is "reducing" here except Pipes, with his reductionist constructs of a bad "Islamism" which represents a small minority, and of a good Islam which is merely a "personal faith" representing the vast majority of Muslims around the world.
Q: Would non-Islamist Islam mean a secularized, privatized Islam?
Now the interviewer grants Pipes a moment to indulge in his fantasist construct and what it "would mean".
DP: Secularism means two different things. A secular person is one who is not religious. A secular society is one that divides religion from politics. Non-Islamist Islam needs [sic] not be secular in a personal sense. . .
Woah, hang on a minute there, Mr. Pipes: in this very interview, you began your description of Islam thusly, and I quote: "Islam is a personal faith. . ." Why then would a "non-Islamist Islam" not need to be secular in a personal sense? And if it is not secular in a personal sense, would it have any pragmatic usefulness, since Islam is, as you say, a "personal faith"?
. . . a person can be pious, but not Islamist. But it does mean secular in the latter sense, in that society divides politics from religion.
Why would Islam even have to "divide politics from religion" if Islam is not dangerous anyway, according to Pipes? Since, according to Pipes, Islam itself is harmless, then what harm would come of politics being influenced by Islam? None, if Pipes would only follow his own logic for once; but then his arguments would start to dissolve.
For example, the Atatürk regime in Turkey is secular, you can be religious, but you cannot bring religion into the political sphere.
Again, according to the logic of Pipes by which Islam is distinguished from "Islamism" and the former is harmless and only the latter is dangerous, then there would be no compelling reason why any state should need to prevent religion from being "brought into the political sphere".
Q: What do you think about the term “Islamophobia”—it has been used a lot in Europe lately?
DP: “Islamophobia” is a fundamentally flawed notion, because the people who are worried about Islam are not phobic.
Pipes seems to have a little slip here—he forgot to apply his handy-dandy suffix, the “-ism”. There is nothing to worry about with Islam, according to Pipes, only “Islamism”. Therefore, logically, Pipes would have to agree with the label “Islamophobia” to denote those who are worried about “Islam”.
. . . whereas people who are worried about terrorism, about the imposition of the Islamic law,
Woops! Did Pipes mean “Islamic” law or “Islamist” law. . .?
Q: What could Europeans do to prevent a worse crisis?
DP: There are many steps that Europeans could take. For example, there is the step of integrating the Muslim immigrants. . . On the immigrant side, there needs to be a greater willingness to participate, and to accept the existence of the European civilisation, and not try to change it, but live within it.
This decidedly limp-wristed (if not ultimately suicidal) recommendation from Pipes stems, of course, from his grievously wrongheaded analysis—wince-inducing examples of which we have noted above—of the nature of the problem in the first place.
Q: You wrote a book about the “Rushdie Affair” in 1990, right after it happened. Now there have been several similar conflicts about “offending Islam” in the West. Has anything changed from Rushdie affair to today?
DP: The Rushdie affair came as a shock, because for the first time ever Muslims said what could and could not be written about, or stated, in the West. The other examples, of which there have been quite a few, have reiterated and confirmed that point. As time goes by, Muslims have become more determined to restrict free speech. . .
Hang on a minute there sloopy: didn’t you mean to say “Islamists”?
Q: With the pressure in the UN to ban “defamation of religion” worldwide, will the West just have to accept that in the increasingly intertwined and multicultural world the freedom of speech will not be what it used to be for at least the last decades?
DP: One can see a real reduction of the freedom of speech in many Western countries. One curious development took place in Saudi Arabia earlier this year when the Saudi Consultative Council was asked to confirm the idea that no criticism of religion could take place. But the Council rejected it, because the members noted it would recognize polytheistic religions, which they found “unacceptable”. So really what it’s meant to do is protect Islam. . .
Hang on a minute there sloopy: didn’t you mean to say “Islamism”?
. . . and I would be surprised if such legislation passed.
Q: So if the restriction of critique of religion would concern all equally, Muslims do actually not want it?
Why did Pipes fail to correct the interviewer? For “Muslims” are not the problem—only “Islamists”!
Q: Regarding what we can and cannot say, you have written that the West itself, even the US have increasing problems naming the enemy in the “war on terror”?
DP: It is difficult for the modern Western person to speak bluntly about the problem of this sort. That results from a sense of confidence, and a feeling that it’s impolite and unnecessary to speak bluntly. It is enough to speak obliquely and carefully.
Pipes is one to talk!
However, I think it is necessary in a time of war to speak clearly about the identity of the enemy.
Too bad that, for Pipes, the identity of the enemy is an irrationally truncated “part” (i.e., “Islamists”) of the larger whole (i.e., Islam). It is in fact that larger whole that menaces us, and has menaced the West for the past 1350 years (with only a relatively brief respite from circa 1700 to the 1970s, and even during that period of respite rearing its Islamic head in the jihadist piracy that led to the Barbary Wars.)
If one traces, for example, President George W. Bush’s statements, one finds that they began very vaguely and then became more accurate and now they’ve become vague again.
Pipes is one to talk!
That’s rather typical of the West as a whole, in its uncertainty how to understand who the enemy is, and what the nature of this war is. That’s problematic. It’s now almost seven years since 9/11, it’s almost 30 years since the Iranian seizure of the American embassy in Teheran, and in all these years the US government still has not figured out who the enemy is, and what the problem is.
Pipes is one to talk!
Q: How would you name the enemy?
DP: I would name the enemy as radical Islam or Islamism. It’s a movement, a body of ideas. Like Fascism and Communism.
Even the relatively incoherently asymptotic analyst Robert Spencer is miles ahead of this pathetic excuse for an analysis of the nature of our enemy.
Q: So when academic, pro-gay-rights feminists declare Hamas and Hizbollah “progressive”, this is what it is about—a common enemy?
DP: Feminists who ignore what Islam says. . .
Woops! Pipes forgot his handy-dandy suffix again!
. . . do so because that is tactically useful at the moment. Like in Iran in the 1970s, the Left and the Islamists worked together against the shah. . .
Whew! It’s tacked on again!