An Evening With Daniel Pipes

October 14th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

Does the War on Terror still exist?  What is the status of that war?  Exactly who and what are we fighting?  Our government officials frame the debate in very general terms, with the DOD calling the fight an “overseas contingency operation,” and Napolitano infamously referring to the problem of terrorism as a “man-caused disaster.”  Senator McCain, on the other hand, claimed the problem was “radical Islam” and Pres. Obama, before his inauguration, said that the problem was the “perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”  Are any of them right?  Which ones?  Or is the answer something different altogether? These and other questions are the ones that Dr. Daniel Pipes, expert on the Middle East and Islamic history, addressed last night while giving a speech at the University of Illinois.

“We have to name the enemy in order to fight it,” Pipes pointed out.  He then explained that he did not think that either major view on Islam was correct, neither the establishment view that terrorists stem from a warped and perverted form of Islam nor the mainstream critical view that mainstream Islam itself was the problem.  “First of all, the Islam of 40 years ago was very different from the Islam of today,” he pointed out.  “And second, if Islam itself really is the problem, then what are you going to do?  Embark on a Crusade?  Convert all Muslims?”

Rather, Pipes holds on to a third view, that the radical Islam we see today is a legitimate, though very extreme interpretation of the religion of Islam, an ideology that seeks to apply Islam in its totality.  To these people, Islam is a totalitarian system which, when applied perfectly, will answer all questions and solve all problems.  It seeks a worldwide Caliphate, and the application of sharia law to society in a fashion similar to the way it is applied in Iran or Afghanistan under the reign of the Taliban.  Economics, education, child rearing, government … in this worldview, everything would be governed by the principles of Islam.  It is a form of Islam that emphasizes every negative and intolerant trait within the religion, and seeks to impose those traits first within the Dar al Islam, the House of Islam, and then within the Dar al Harb, the lands of the infidels or the House of War.

“How dangerous is this ideology?  Well, that depends on who you ask,” he goes on to explain.  The NSA claims that jihadis are a “mosquito bite” compared to Communism, he says, and the CIA holds the same view.  Pipes allows that this view is mostly correct as far as direct military threats go, but believes that these organizations do not adequately consider the threat of those who promote Islamism while remaining within the law.  “This is an ideology that is very comparable to fascism and communism,” Pipes explains.  “It is the third great totalitarian challenge for the West.”  He then goes on to point out that despite its weaker military might, it is strong in that it attracts many talented individuals to its cause, it is not a single movement with a single state which can be defeated, its ability to call on religious faith gives it greater staying power than communism and fascism ever had, and it’s ability to succeed through electoral and democratic formats is both disturbing and a long-term threat to freedom.

He also points out that its lack of a single coherent movement, and its ability to evolve over time make it more difficult to isolate and defeat.  “Islamism as a violent ideology is not much of a threat,” he concludes, “but Islamism as a lawful movement working within the system is much more dangerous.  Osama bin Laden is not terribly successful; he’s had some success but not much.  Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey however, is in charge of a large state with a good military, a growing economy… it is much better to be Prime Minister Erdogan than Osama bin Laden.”

“So how do we deal with this threat?” Pipes then asks.  “Well, we have two basic options: co-opt or confront.”  However, he then points out that while co-option is obviously the less painful option, he does not think it will work.  “When you look at the nature of this movement, you see that it is not due to economics, it is not due to lack of education, it is not due to American imperialism, or bad American foreign policy, or any of these things.  In a survey conducted on Al Qaeda members, it was shown that 75% of these people were upper middle class, 63% had gone to college, 90% were from good families, 73% were married, many of them had children, many of them had excellent jobs as engineers or architects or scientists — in short, they were the cream of their society.”

So what does move them?  “These people turn to Islamism out of frustration, a sense of responsibility towards the ummah,” Pipes said.  “Islam is historically a religion of success.  They had a great empire in the 10th and 11th centuries, they were on top of the world militarily, culturally, economically.  Then they went into a long period of decline and stasis until about 1800, while all that time Europe was moving forward.  Until that time, they had this sense of God’s blessing, the sense that they had the best religion, the best culture, but by the 1800’s that sense of superiority was gone.  So when they realized this they started to ask themselves as a society, ‘What went wrong?'”

The first solution they tried was to become more like the West, to modernize, Pipes continued.  At least, some of them did.  That lasted until about 1920.  Then they tried turning to fascism and communism when those ideologies were strong, in Germany and in Russia, but that didn’t work either.  “So now they have turned to Islam, pure Islam, and that’s what we’re seeing now,” Pipes concluded.

Of course, all of this brings us back to the question of what to do.  “We cannot appease or co-opt this movement,” Pipes concluded.  “We must fight it, and defeat it as we defeated fascism and communism.  We cannot just fight terrorism, we must induce the Islamists to give up their totalitarian ideology and modernize their faith.”  Pipes then goes on to say that while a moderate form of Islam does not yet really exist, creating some moderate form of Islam — a form that is democratic, humane, liberal, a good neighbor — is the only permanent solution.  “This is not only a possible option, but it is a necessary option and indeed the only option,” Pipes stated.

In order to do this, he then outlines two main steps.  “Non-Muslims will have to bear the burden of defeating the Islamist ideology,” he explains, “but the actual reform of Islam will have to come from within.  The Koran will have to be reinterpreted, and Islam’s positions on jihad, women, slavery, corporal punishment, secular law will have to be reexamined and modified to coexist with modern society.”  The West can aid that effort by providing a platform for moderate Muslims, Pipes says, helping to disseminate their ideas and giving them the freedom they will need to speak.  Muslims will have to ask themselves what it means to be a modern Muslim, and Westerners will have to ask — and answer — the question of whether their civilization is worth defending.

“This conflict has been described as a clash between civilizations,” Pipes concluded, “but in reality, it is a clash between civilization and barbarism.”  We cannot appease it, he tells us; we must defeat it and help to put in its place a new version of Islam with which we can peacefully coexist.


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6 Responses to “An Evening With Daniel Pipes”



  1. Tom Carter |

    Excellent report on Pipes’ speech and his views. One wonders if you should be a rocket scientist or a journalist….

    I’ve read a lot of Pipes’ articles and seen a number of interviews. He often takes things a little further than I would, but basically I think he’s much more right than wrong. When he says that the problem we face today is a clash between civilization and barbarism and that we must defeat it, he’s right. I wish he weren’t, but he is.


  2. Brianna |

    I do have a friend who got his bachelors with me who is now working as a photographer…. :-)


  3. Paul Beaird |

    I applaud Mr. Pipes’s questioning of the main views of Islam. I also see that he is correct about co-opting Islam, since Islam rests on a worldview that fundamentalists will always revert to, whenever their religion loses dominance, thus, propelling future generations of Moslems to violence, even if today’s leaders lose influence.

    However, his view that Islam can be reformed, even from within, is flawed by that very same pull of the religion’s worldview.

    The only way to defeat Islam is to rob its adherents of their belief in the truth of its origin on the supernatural, the Divine, the Moon God Al’lah. That can be done by creating in their minds and in the mouths of the critics of Islam a new question.

    How to begin? Since Ialsamic leaders know clearly that they are against Western civilization, against secularism and its this-worldly view of Earthly properity by means of peaceful production and trade, they must come to see Western success as inevitably blessing the entire world. The proof that they know what to regard as “the enemy” is the target they chose, the destruction of the World Trade Towers, the symbol of Western production and trade worldwide.

    So, it is against the symbols of Islamic origin in the supernatural that the West should have aimed all its might. The Ka’aba, that site where the meteorite struck the Arabian desert in pre-hisotory and served as the altar of idols, one of which was the Moon God, Mecca, Medina and all the other Moslem holy sites should be destroyed, even to the point that low-yield nuclear waste cover those sites, so that no one can go there for 10,000 years. Now we have a new question.

    In the minds and hearts of every Moslem, reminded over and over by every organ of communication in the West will be the discouraging question, If your Al’lah declares you will subdue the entire Earth and force every breathing soul to worshing the non-exsitent Moon God, why can’t he protect his own holy sites?

    If Mr. Pipes’s account of the discouragement of the Moslem spirit in the past is true, it can be achieved again.

    History bears out this solution. The Romans, no strangers to cruelty and the impoverishment of conquered peoples, found that it was not possible to tolerate the impotent, but violent hatred and uprisings of the First Centuury Jews in Palestine. So, finally, they destroyed the symbol of Jewish connection to the supernatural, leaving no stune resting upon another of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and they scattered the Jews out of Palestine.
    Today, the Jews have regathered, mostly Westernized and not the belligerents of the First Century. . .after 2,000 years.

    While one may not condone this robbery of the native lands of the Jews, nor the imposition of Caesar-worship in the Holy of Holies, the destruction of symbolic places succeeded for two millenia.

    Mankind can use at least that much rest from a religion that turns what were born human beings in to biting, tearing, wild beasts of the jungle, suicide bombing civilians, killing Russian school children, airplane bombing workers in high-rise towers, cutting off heads, hands, mutilating females, and engaging in killing family members and calling it “honor”.

    If mankind is to survive, Islam must be destroyed. And that is how to do it.


  4. Tom Carter |

    Paul, your ideas on how to deal with the threat from Islamic extremism illustrate the problem of taking things to absurd levels of over-reaction. And by the way, would you also nuke the third most holy site in Islam? That’s the Dome of the Rock, which happens to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

    Islam is just as valid a religion as the other two Abrahamic belief systems, Christianity and Judaism. They, and all other religions, depend on faith in unprovable supernatural concepts. Just as Muslims can find passages in the Qur’an that justify violence, so can Christians find similar passages in the Bible. The problem is not Islam; it’s extremists within Islam who use religion to their own ends. They’re the enemies we have to deal with, and that requires us to set aside political correctness and knee-jerk opposition to so-called profiling. That’s hard enough to do, without going into the fantasy world you’re proposing.


  5. Ann |

    Great summary of the talk, Brianna. I appreciated the cause and effect explanation by Dr. Pipes of what is happening so quickly in the world today: a new push by Islamics to establish world domination. One question I have, however, for Americans is we need to be consistent about the distinction between barbarism and civilized behaviour. I would submit that abortion and homosexuality are barbaric practices. Why? Because they are unhealthy, destructive to life, and the results of unrestrained passions.

    The draw I have seen of people to worldviews like Islam is that it gives them rules to live by to help them be what they would consider better people. Unfortunately, however, when those rules are manmade they become tools in the hands of a few power holders to manipulate the masses.


  6. Brianna |

    One question I have, however, for Americans is we need to be consistent about the distinction between barbarism and civilized behaviour. I would submit that abortion and homosexuality are barbaric practices. Why? Because they are unhealthy, destructive to life, and the results of unrestrained passions.

    I would disagree. With respect to homosexuality, even if I thought this practice was barbaric, which I do not, it is nevertheless a purely personal matter which affects only the lives of those who choose to participate in it. So many people, religious and secular, have justified themselves by claiming that they were doing it for the good of others that I do not believe it is a civilized practice to force people to be moral in the name of saving them from themselves. As for the charge that this practice is unhealthy and destructive, while it is true that there are certain risks (AIDS springs to mind) associated with homosexuality which are not as strongly borne by those whose sexual behavior remains strictly heterosexual, this does not mean that homosexual behavior is de facto unhealthy. I am actually friends with a gay married couple (got married in MA) and as far as I can tell they are happy and healthy. So long as they are not suffering from their behavior nor inflicting suffering on others, what grounds do I have to ask them to change?

    As for abortion, while I understand that the conservative pro-life position stems from the idea that life begins at conception, I disagree with that premise. I believe that a fetus is a potential life, that life begins when thought begins, and that while one could certainly argue about when that point is, or make a case against late-term abortions, abortion during the first three months certainly does not kill a thinking being and thus should be protected. Before the point when thought begins, a fetus is only a potential life, and the mother (and when relevant, father) still have a choice about whether or not to abort the pregnancy or carry it to term. Certainly the best choice is to try and keep unwanted pregnancies from happening at all, but contraceptives occasionally fail, mistakes are made, and pregnancy can also occur in cases of rape which are certainly no fault of the woman. A woman should still have the option of not carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term in such a case, and abortion is the only way to guarantee her that right.

    Finally, I disagree that the fundamental problem with islam is that it is manmade law. After all, the Constitution is manmade law as well, and I don’t think anyone in the US would argue that we should chuck that in favor of God’s law (which would simply be another form of manmade law anyway, since God doesn’t actually TALK). Rather the problem is that although sharia is manmade law (as indeed, all law ultimately is), it is perceived to be God’s unalterable law and thus is placed outside the purview of human interpretation and human reason. There is much evidence to suggest that the reason Judaism and Christianity are not as violent and fanatical as Islam are because their holy books are interpreted and seen through the lenses of changing times and human reason, and those who take those books more literally are not given the ability to enforce their views with political power. Islam, and espeically Islamism, contain no such moderating impulses.


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