"Pipes versus the Islamists"
Daniel Pipes, one of several frightening advisors Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, has gotten some attention from this and other liberal blogs recently, mostly focused on his crude and appalling views on the Palestinians. That’s a crucially important issue, but it shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow a picture of Pipes’ broader views.
In essence, Pipes think al-Qaeda isn’t that big a deal. They are significant only insofar as they are a manifestation of the much bigger and broader problem of “Islamists” writ large, a label that encompasses Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Council on America-Islam Relations and all sorts of other groups around the world. Not being a Muslim myself, I don’t find that any Islamist political movements — which is to say movements that attempt to ground their political agendas in Islam in some sense or another — to be personally appealing. On the other hand, I also recognize that it’s common for liberal democracies to feature at least one political party that in whole or part seeks to mobilize the locally dominant religion for political purposes. What’s more I also recognize that it’s possible for even an anti-democratic Islamist political movement to not necessarily be an enemy of the United States — for, for example, the authoritarian Islamist regime in Teheran to be one with whom we actually have certain interests in common (to wit: al-Qaeda, among other things) and with whom we ought to seek improved relations through diplomacy while simultaneously hoping that, at some point, the regime’s rule will come to an end.
To Pipes, though, all this is dangerous nonsense. All Islam-inflected political movements are essentially totalitarian, and the United States is remorselessly condemned to struggle with 10 to 15 percent of the world’s Muslim population. And, indeed, by Pipes’ definition of the Islamist threat, I think he’s probably undercounting. It’s the kind of mindset that leads to analysis like this:
Is Turkey going Islamist? Is it on the road to implementing Islamic law, known as the Shari’a?
I replied in the affirmative to these questions in a symposium at FrontPageMag.com a month ago. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, I wrote, plans to undo the secular Atatürk revolution of 1923-34 and replace it with the Shari’a. I predicted the leadership of his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish initials, AKP) will use the democratic process only so long as this serves its purpose. It will circumscribe, or even terminate, political participation when the right moment comes. The end result, I predicted, could be an “Islamic Republic of Turkey.”
Left out of Pipes’ world is the possibility that Turkey — or any other Muslim country — might adopt neither the sort of illiberal secular Kemalism he admires nor the sort of anti-democratic Islamism he fears. But if, indeed, we try to force the world’s Muslims to choose between this form of secularism and war with the United States, the odds are that they’ll choose war, just as America’s Christian population would be infuriated by efforts to install Turkish-style secularism here at home. These aren’t cartoonish ideas that drive Pipes, but they’re badly wrong and incredibly dangerous; a significant step beyond Bush in unnuanced and extreme approaches to the Muslim world. The prospect of Pipes serving as an influential advisor in a Giuliani administration is very frightening.