The Search for Moderate Islam
By Lawrence Auster
FrontPageMagazine.com | January 28, 2005
The Search for Moderate Islam: Part I
Does it Exist?
A leading intellectual figure and stalwart fighter in America's confrontation with radical Islam, Daniel Pipes is perhaps best known for his idea that "radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution." As Pipes argues, radical Islam, though currently the dominant political force in the Muslim world, is supported by only 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide, while moderate Islam represents the great, though so far mostly silent, majority of Muslims. He further points out that radical Islam, also known as militant Islam or Islamism, is a very recent phenomenon, having more in common with modern totalitarian ideologies than with true, historic Islam. While he warns that militant Islam aims to overthrow the West and regain lost Islamic glory, he insists with equal conviction that traditional, moderate Islam is fully capable of living at peace with the rest of the world.
Pipes's dual perspective on Islam leads him to advocate a dual-track strategy toward it. We must, he says, use all necessary political and military means to defeat the Islamists and secure our own safety, even as we seek out moderates and help them in the vital work of reforming Islamic beliefs and practices, isolating the extremists, and building an Islamic community that can be a normal and productive member of a democratic world community.
In contrast to the view of Islam advanced by Pipes, which we might call "ecumenist" because it looks forward to an ultimate harmony and even union between Islam and the West, there is a perspective that we might call "civilizationist," because it insists that there are essential incompatibilities between the two civilizations. These different understandings of Islam imply diverging strategic concepts. For the ecumenist school, the only aspect of Islam that represents a danger is the radical, false Islam. We must therefore empower the true, moderate Islam, so that under its guidance the Islamic countries will re-make themselves into decent and free societies. But for the civilizationist school, the problem is not "radical" Islam but Islam itself, from which it follows that we must seek to weaken and contain Islam, rather than try to create some new, nicer Islam.
The issue is momentous. If we subscribe to the promise of a moderate Islam, we will make its cultivation the central focus and goal in the war against militant Islam. If this moderate Islam in fact exists, our efforts may help Muslims transform their civilization for the better and relieve the world of the curse of Muslim extremism. But if moderate Islam does not exist, yet we delude ourselves into thinking that it exists, we would inevitably find ourselves trapped in a cultural equivalent of the Oslo "peace process," forever negotiating with and empowering our mortal enemies in the pathetic hope that they will turn out to be friends. Alternatively, if we understand that there is no such thing and can be no such thing as moderate Islam, that would obviously result in very different policies. In the remainder of this article, I will endeavor to show that the latter view is correct, a task made easier by the fact that Pipes, the principal advocate of the moderate Islam thesis, has provided numerous statements that contradict it. As a result, virtually my sole authority in the ensuing critical discussion of Daniel Pipes's ideas will be Pipes himself.
There is no intention here to undermine Dr. Pipes, a man who has bravely spoken the truth about the terror-supporting organizations in our midst and exposed himself to their vicious attacks in the process. I've had numerous e-mail exchanges with Dr. Pipes in recent years and I respect him for the important contributions he has made to this fight. But when there are such radically divergent views regarding the nature of our enemy, which would lead us to radically divergent ways of dealing with the enemy, the respective positions must be aired in full. All that should matter to us is getting at the truth.
It should also be understood that our subject is not the thought processes and attitudes of one individual, but, in effect, of our whole society in its attempt to grapple with the incredibly difficult challenge of Islam. As one who stringently opposes the bad Islam and devoutly dreams of a good Islam, Pipes is emblematic of the rational fears and the delusive hopes that have been at the core of this debate.
Is it true?
So let us start again with Pipes's basic view of the subject, which happened to be used as the epigraph of a recent complimentary profile of Pipes in Harvard Magazine:
It's a mistake to blame Islam, a religion fourteen centuries old, for the evil that should be ascribed to militant Islam, a totalitarian ideology less than a century old. Militant Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution.
To say that moderate Islam is the solution to radical Islam implies several things: that moderate Islam exists; that it represents the true (though perhaps currently disregarded) norm of Islam; and that radical Islam is a departure from that norm. Yet in the same Harvard Magazine article, several other quotes are given from Pipes's work that suggest the very opposite of these ideas. Here, for example, he is discussing a Muslim student speaker at the Harvard Commencement a couple of years ago, who, along with some of his professors, sought to portray "jihad" in benign terms, as indicating only an interior spiritual struggle rather than military conquest:
"But of course," Pipes erupted in his article, "it is precisely bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, and the jihadists worldwide who define the term [jihad], not a covey of academic apologists. More importantly, the way the jihadists understand the term is in keeping with its usage through fourteen centuries of Islamic history." [emphasis added.]
And that definition, he continued, to the majority of Muslims meant, and means, "the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims (known in Arabic as dar al-Islam) at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims (dar al-harb)."
If bin Laden's and other jihadists' understanding of jihad "is in keeping with its usage through 14 centuries of Islamic history," as Pipes indicates, then jihadism, i.e., militant Islam, has in fact been a normative component of Islam for 1,400 years. Therefore it cannot be true that militant Islam is a very recent, minority movement.
In another quote in the Harvard magazine article, Pipes again asserts the supposed atypicality of militant Islam:
Militant Islam derives from Islam but is a misanthropic, misogynist, triumphalist, millenarian, anti-modern, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, terroristic, jihadistic, and suicidal version of it. Fortunately, it appeals to only about 10 percent to 15 percent of Muslims, meaning that a substantial majority would prefer a more moderate version.
The obvious point to make here is that the characteristics Pipes attributes exclusively to militant Islammisogynist, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, jihadistic and all the restcan be just as easily attributed to mainstream traditional Islam. But there is a less obvious point here as well. By his use of the subjunctive mood in the phrase, "a substantial majority would prefer a more moderate version [of Islam]," Pipes is suggesting, not that the "moderate" majority actually prefer a more moderate version of Islam, but only that they may prefer it in the future, under conditions which do not now exist. Thus the supposed vast moderate majority, making up 85 percent of all Muslims, seem to accept the actually existing, non-moderate Islam. How, then, could we expect them to become the leaders of Islam and remake it in a moderate direction? We might also point out that what 85 percent of the Muslim population believes is irrelevant in any case. What matters is what a majority of the political class in the Muslim lands believe.
Does moderate Islam exist?
As we continue to read Pipes's writings on the subject, a deeper problem in his concept of moderate Islam becomes evident. It's not just that the supposed moderate majority is really an indifferent or weak voice within Islam. It's that moderate Islam may not even exist in any meaningful sense.
There are several facets to this issue. In an article touting the progress of moderate Islam, Pipes balances the good news with an honest accounting of the serious difficulties that have been encountered in the effort to find and identify moderate Muslims:
Islamists note the urge to find moderate Muslims and are learning how to fake moderation. Over time, their camouflage will undoubtedly further improve.
Figuring out who's who is a high priority. It may be obvious that Osama bin Laden is Islamist and Irshad Manji anti-Islamist, but plenty of Muslims are in the murky middle. An unresolved debate has raged for years in Turkey whether the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is an Islamist or not.
The task of identifying true moderates cannot be done through guesswork and intuition; for proof, note the American government's persistent record of supporting Islamists by providing them with legitimacy, education, and (perhaps even) money. I too have made my share of mistakes. What's needed is serious, sustained research.
Having told us that moderate Islam is the solution to radical Islam, Pipes now tells us that we can't even tell who is a genuine moderate Muslim. It's as though on America's entry into World War II Franklin Roosevelt assured the nation that with the help of our allies we would be able to defeat Nazi Germanyand then added that he had no idea if we actually had any allies or how he would identify them if he thought he had found some.
Similarly, Pipes writes:
If militant Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution, as I often argue, how does one differentiate between these two forms of Islam?
It's a tough question, especially as concerns Muslims who live in Western countries.
If it is so hard to tell a moderate from a radical, how is it possible to base anything that we do on the moderates? To continue my World War II analogy, it is as if President Roosevelt had said, "How do we differentiate between the Axis Powers and our allies? It's a tough question ... and then assured us that our allies stood firmly at our shoulder in the war against fascism.
Not only is it hard to find moderate Muslims, and not only is it hard to differentiate moderate Muslims from radical Muslims, but when you do find them, they are in a disorganized state:
Moderate Muslims who wish to live modern lives, unencumbered by burqas, fatwas, and violent visions of jihad, are on the defensive and atomized. They must be helped: celebrated by governments, publicized in the media, given grants by foundations.
Pipes further expands on the isolation, weakness, and fearful circumstances of anti-Islamist Muslimsnot just in the Muslim countries, but in the free countries of the West:
The weak standing of anti-Islamist Muslims has two major implications.
For them to be heard over the Islamist din requires help from the outsidecelebration by governments, grants from foundations, recognition by the media, and attention from the academy.
Those same institutions must shun the now-dominant militant Islamic establishment. Moderates have a chance to be heard when Islamists are repudiated.
Promoting anti-Islamists and weakening Islamists is crucial if a moderate and modern form of Islam is to emerge in the West.
The suggestion is that moderate Islam presently exists only in the form of individuals who lack any organized existence as moderates. Nor do they have the political capacity and support to become leaders within the Islamic community. So we must help them organize. We must help them become leaders. And what shall this help consist of? Media recognition, foundation grants, government celebrations. This raises an unavoidable question: if a national or religious movement needs to be nursed into life by people from outside that culture or religion, can it be considered a viable movement? France gave us crucial military assistance during the War of Independence; but we didn't depend on the French to help us create our own government and celebrate our national identity.
Obviously, far more than foundation grants will be needed to make the moderates a meaningful factor in Muslim politics. Writing in the New York Post on December 31, 2002, Pipes gave this prognosis:
[V]iolent jihad will probably continue until it is crushed by a superior military force.... Only when jihad is defeated will moderate Muslims finally find their voice and truly begin the hard work of modernizing Islam.
Moderate Islam is so weak, fearful, and undeveloped that it can't even find its voice until the dominant militant Islam is militarily destroyedby us. Like the interim Iraqi government, moderate Islam can only existin a vulnerable, tenuous stateso long as we are there to protect it. Furthermore, as appears from the endless terror war in Iraq, we lack the means to crush militant Islam in a Muslim country. At best we can fend it off, not defeat it. This means that the ability of moderate Muslims to find and keep their voice would depend on continued U.S. military presence throughout the Muslim region. We would have to maintain Mideast-wide counterinsurgency operations until the end of time. And that's just so that the moderates can find their voice.
Yet, having pointed to the weakness and dependency of the moderate Muslims, Pipes, when asked in a FrontPage Magazine interview what steps he would advise Bush to take in the war on terror, replied as follows:
I would advise him to surround himself with leading moderate, anti-Islamist Muslims and announce that the "War on Terror" has been redefined as the "War on Militant Islam." That would have many and profound implications, such as ... (3) pointing out the key role of moderate Muslims, and (4) specifying that the immediate war goal must be to destroy militant Islam and the ultimate war goal the modernization of Islam. [Emphasis added.]
But what "key role" could there be for the moderates in this struggle, given the fact that they will not even be able to find their voice, let alone be able to lead and govern, until after we have destroyed militant Islam over the whole globe?
Is a moderate Muslima Muslim?
There is yet a deeper perplexity that confronts us in the search for moderate Islam. It's not just that the moderates are, for all practical purposes, a minority in the Muslim world. It's not just that they are a politically weak and terrorized minority. It's not just that they won't be able to find their voice until the U.S. wins a permanent world-wide military victory over militant Islam. It's not just that they are atomized individuals rather than an organized group. And it's not just that moderate Islam does not presently exist in any meaningful form. It's that moderate Islam cannot exist. Consider this questionnaire that Pipes designed to find out whether a person is a moderate Muslim:
Should non-Muslims enjoy completely equal civil rights with Muslims? May Muslims
convert to other religions? May Muslim women marry non-Muslim men? Do you accept the laws
of a majority non-Muslim government and unreservedly pledge allegiance to that government?
Should the state impose religious observance, such as banning food service during Ramadan?
When Islamic customs conflict with secular laws (e.g., covering the face for drivers'
license pictures), which should give way?
While the questionnaire would help identify as a radical anyone who answered no to most of the questions, it has one notable flaw: anyone who answered yes to most of the questions would no longer be a Muslim. As long as Muslims follow the Koranic law that defines Islam, they could not accept the legitimacy of conversion out of the faith (banned by the Prophet on pain of death), nor could they accept, in any permanent sense, the laws of a majority non-Muslim government, since they are commanded by the Prophet to wage Holy War until the entire world has been subjugated to Islam. Therefore, by Pipes's own definition of what constitutes moderate Islam, it is a contradiction in terms. So let's be clear about the meaning of this. Religiously indifferent Muslim individuals exist. Formerly Muslim individuals who have left the faith exist. Formerly Muslim states that have de-Islamicized themselves exist (or at least one such state, Turkey, has existed). But moderate Islam does not exist, and cannot exist.
Pipes tacitly indicates the same in his book, The Path of God, where he criticizes the so-called reformist Muslims who have adopted more "spiritual" understandings of jihad. These reformists' ideas actually come from the West, Pipes continues, but by claiming an Islamic source, they maintain the illusion that Islam has always been humane and liberal. As a result, they avoid the hard work of facing the truth about Islam and changing it.
Pipes's meaning is undeniable: moderate Islam does not now exist. It must be created. Moreover, it can only be created by means of renouncing that which Islam has always been. But, on those terms, can the result still be Islam? In the culminating passage of his magisterial 1878 biography, The Life of Mahomet, William Muir, after noting the good things about Muhammadanism, speaks of the "radical evils [that] flow from the faith in all ages and in every country, and must continue to flow so long as the Koran is the standard of belief." But the Koran, of course, is the basis of Islam and its highest authority, viewed by Muslims as the eternal, uncreated word of God. Muslims can no more give up the Koran and remain Muslims, than lions can give up their teeth, their claws, and their tawny coats, and still be lions
Pipes defends his thesis
Pipes, of course, is not unaware that his thesis about Islam's underlying or potential goodness is widely doubted, and he has written several articles replying to critics. The arguments he has offered, however, are surprisingly, almost shockingly weak.
For example, in "The Evil Isn't Islam," published in July 2002, he attempts to meet head-on the assertion that Islam is "evil." His entire argument adds up to two factual claims:
- There are a couple of Koran verses that are "moderate"; and
- "There have been occasions of Muslim moderation and tolerance." [Emphasis added.]
From these two insignificant data, Pipes concludes that "Islam's scriptures and history show variation." That's it. That's Pipes's "proof" that Islam isn't evil. This is like saying that Nazi Germany showed some concern for the well-being of the German people, and individual Nazis had their kindly side, and therefore Nazism was not evil.
We should also point out that variance in Koranic verses and in the moral conduct of individual Muslims tells us nothing. The key questions are: What do Muslims usually doas opposed to what they do in rare circumstances? What does the religion command its followers to do? Christians violate the New Testament all the time, but it's disobedient people who are to blame, not the religion. Islam tells its followers to wage Holy War, to slaughter non-Muslims, to find the Jew behind a tree and kill him, and all the rest of it.
Pipes continues: "Things can get better. But it will not be easy. That requires that Muslims tackle the huge challenge of adapting their faith to the realities of modern life." He then gives examples of how backward Islamic societies really are and of how difficult the task of creating a moderate Islam will really be. Thus his whole case comes down to the wishful hope that if Islam can somehow be totally transformed, a good Islam can emerge. By his own account, he has conceded that his moderate Islam is not a substantial reality. It is a well-meant hope which he has touted, in one article after another, as though it were a reality. But as soon as he gets into specifics, its tenuous quality becomes all too apparent.
In a follow-up column, Pipes quotes the overwhelmingly negative mail he received in response to the earlier column. "Your point of view is for people who believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus," writes one correspondent. "I hope you are not beginning to lose your nerve," says another. "Maybe your hope is overshadowing your understanding of the truth," sniffs a third. The readers' points come down to these: Islam has always been aggressive, militant Islam is Islam, and the "moderate" suras of the Koran that Pipes had referenced were abrogated by Muhammad himself in the later suras.
And what does Pipes have to say to these critics?
My response ... is that no matter what Islam is now or was in the past, it will be something different in the future. The religion must adapt to modern mores. [Emphasis added.]
This can be done. [Emphasis added.]
In support of that possibility, he proceeds to tell about some "moderate" developments in Turkey, such as a greater respect for women, and anticipates that the same might happen in other Muslim countries as well. Butin this article written specifically to answer the attacks on his central thesisPipes offers no reply to his critics' claims about the absence of a historically moderate Islam. By saying, "no matter what Islam is now or was in the past," he tacitly concedes that Islam was not moderate in the past and is not moderate now, or at least that he has no proof of the opposite. All that is left is the imperative ("it must adapt") that Islam become moderate in the future. But why must it adapt? Here, finally, Pipes gets down to the motivational core of his position:
[I]f one sees Islam as irredeemably evil, what comes next? This approach turns all Muslimseven moderates fleeing the horrors of militant Islaminto eternal enemies. And it leaves one with zero policy options. My approach has the benefit of offering a realistic policy to deal with a major global problem.
In other words, we are obligated to believe that Islam can change, because disbelief in that possibility would lead to unacceptable results. Pipes is no longer basing his promotion of moderate Islam on any claim of factual or historical truth. He is basing it on hope and fearthe hope that Islam may someday become something inconceivably better than that which it has always been, and the fear of the intolerable things that would happen if we abandoned that hope.
Given Pipes's admission, in some articles, that moderate Islam has never existed as a concrete social and religious reality, and that "radical" Islam is therefore the historic norm of the faith after all, what explains his continuing insistence, in other articles, that radical Islam is only an extremist offshoot of the true, moderate Islam?
An opening into Pipes's contradictory thoughts on the subject can be found in remarks he wrote for an Islamic American magazine, The Minaret, in September 2000 (and which he repeated in the introduction of his 2002 book, Militant Islam Reaches America). After praising Islam for the "extraordinary inner strength" it imbues in its followers and the great cultural achievements of its classical period, he said:
I approach the religion of Islam in a neutral fashion, neither praising it nor attacking it but in a spirit of inquiry. Neither apologist nor booster, neither spokesman nor critic, I consider myself a student of this subject.
This is an odd comment for an intellectual to make. Since when does studying a subject preclude one from criticizing it? Since when does scholarship require non-judgmentalism? If Pipes were a student of, say, Soviet Communism, like his father the historian Richard Pipes, would he say that his scholarly approach to Marxism-Leninism prevented him from criticizing the Soviet Gulag, the millions of political murders, the enslavement of entire nations? Also, how can Pipes as a scholar expect his evaluations of Islam to be considered reliable if he announces up front that he will not render a negative judgment about it?
In any case, Pipes's personal motivations, whether for not wanting to be seen as a critic of Islam (which would be an understandable tactic of self-preservation given his exposed position), or for actually not wanting to be a critic of Islam (which would be harder to excuse), are not our concern. Pipes has already given us a meaningful and satisfactory explanation of his political motivations for avoiding a too searching critique of Islam: his fear that if we come to the conclusion that Islam is not and cannot be moderate, we will lost any basis for a constructive policy toward it and will be doomed to regard all Muslims as our eternal enemies. This is not a concern that can be lightly dismissed, and is probably shared by millions of Westerners. We will return to it in the second part of this essay.
What matters to us here is not Pipes's motivations, but the truth of his statements about the nature of Islam and about his role as a student of it. For a scholar in a field so filled with bloody controversy, there can be no such thing as the non-judgmental neutrality that Pipes attributes to himself. For example, Communist regimes, according to the most authoritative book on the subject, The Black Book of Communism, killed upwards of 100 million unarmed civilians in the course of the 20th century. If I speak this true fact about Communism, I am, perforce, a critic of Communism. If, conversely, I choose not to be critic of Communism, I can only do that by ignoring or minimizing its crimes, in which case I have ceased to be its student and have become its apologist. Therefore Pipes's claim that he is neither a critic nor an apologist is not true. As we have seen, sometimes he is one, sometimes the other. When he tells us that militant Islam is a fearsomely dangerous movement that threatens us all, and when he tells us that reformist Muslims falsely imagine the historical existence of a moderate and liberal Islam, he is being a critic. But when he tells us that only modern Islamismnot historic Islamis dangerous, and that moderate Islam is the solution to radical Islam, he is being an apologist.
The false distinction between Islamism and Islam
Insofar as Pipes is a protector of Islam, the chief way he protects it is through his distinction between modern Islamism, with which he associates everything bad about Islam, and traditional Islam, which he describes, not neutrally, but in respectful, glowing tones. Writing in The National Interest in Spring 2000, he evokes the full-bodied, romantic view of Islam that is familiar from the works of Arabists and traditional Islam scholars such as Bernard Lewis. There was, he tells us, this glorious civilization, far greater than the miserable Europe of the early Middle Ages (a condescending attitude toward medieval Christian Europe is, of course, de rigeuer in all such encomia to Islam). But in the modern period Islam lost ground to the West, became weak and powerless, and now Muslims are bewildered and angry and are looking for explanations and a way to win back their former glory. So they have turned to the vicious ideology of Islamism, which uses modern technology, communications, mass indoctrination, and propaganda to strike back at modern civilization.
There are two points to make about this description of Islam's Golden Age. As Serge Trifkovic writes in The Sword of the Prophet, the glories of medieval Islam are largely a myth. It was a parasite civilization whose achievements were mainly the work of its subject peoples such as Byzantines, Jews, and Indians, and it declined when it eventually killed off its host.
Second, Pipes in his wholly positive portrait of historic Islam says nothing about jihad, nothing about the Islamic conquests that destroyed the former Christian and Jewish civilization of the Near East, nothing about sharia or mass deportations or slavery or the suppression and extinction of conquered peoples under the conditions of dhimmitude. The only negative aspect of Islam that he notes is modern Islamism, which he describes as a reaction to Islam's defeat by the West and its resulting internal decay. The upshot is: Islam is not the problem. Jihad is not the problem. A trauma that Muslims went through in modern times is the problem. That trauma gave birth to the totalitarian murderous ideology of Islamism, just as the traumas of modernity gave birth to Communism and Nazism.
Consider how far Pipes goes to create an absolute distinction between bad Islamism and good Islam:
While Islamism is often seen as a form of traditional Islam, it is something profoundly different. Traditional Islam seeks to teach humans how to live in accord with God's will, whereas Islamism aspires to create a new order. The first is self-confident, the second deeply defensive. The one emphasizes individuals, the latter communities. The former is a personal credo, the latter a political ideology.
A personal credo that emphasizes individuals? This is the fighting creed that swept over half the known world, that crushed and dispossessed entire populations, that subjected the survivors to the miserable choice between conversion and dhimmitude, that treats women as a lower order of being, and that to this day pronounces a death sentence on anyone who leaves the faithand Pipes calls it a personal credo that emphasizes individuals?
Pipes doesn't stop at denying the catastrophic human destructiveness of Islam; he even denies its aspirations to social and religious dominance. He wrote recently at Jewish World Review:
The mentality of radical Islam [emphasis added] includes several main components, of which one is Muslim supremacisma belief that believers alone should rule and otherwise enjoy an exalted status over non-Muslims. This outlook dominates the Islamist [emphasis added] worldview as much in the elegant streets of Paris as in the rude caves of Afghanistan....
The Ehrgott and Okashah incidents fit an ugly Islamist [emphasis added] pattern of double standards. Although CAIR presents itself as a civil-rights group, it is just the opposite--an organization asserting special privileges for Muslims and derogating the rights of others.
Pipes is telling us that the radical ideology of Islamism believes in Muslim supremacy; that it holds that "believers alone should rule and ... enjoy an exalted status over non-Muslims"; and that it promotes a pro-Islamic double standard. Which means, given the constant theme of Pipes's writings, that Islam itself does not seek Muslim supremacy over non-Muslims, does not promote a pro-Muslim double standard, and does not derogate the rights of non-Muslims.
In effect, Pipes is removing more and more of the actual content of Islam and transferring it to Islamism. First he removed the extremism and terrorism that have characterized Islam for 1,400 years, and now he even removes Islam's aspiration to Islamic supremacy over non-Muslims.
Going against the whole historic record, Pipes denies the aggressive, collectivist, genocidal, tyrannical, and even hegemonic aspects of traditional Islam. Yet in some of his other writings, as we've seen, he speaks critically about the jihadist beliefs and practices that have characterized Islam from the beginning, and insists that Muslims admit and seek to change these ugly facts about their religion. While we have no wish to psychologize, there is no denying the profound ambivalence Pipes evidences between his affection for the good things of Islam and his knowledge of its evils. He cannot wholly deny that jihad is the core of Islam, since that would be a lie, nor can he admit it, since that would mean that Islam is unreformable. So he veers back and forth, sometimes portraying traditional Islam in altogether affirmative terms, sometimes pointing to the bloody historical realities of jihadism, but then turning around and insisting, regardless of how bleak the prospects may look now, that we must believe in Muslim's ability to change, because if we don't believe it, there is no hope.
However, we now understand that whatever Pipes's reasons may be, his absolute distinction between "radical" and "moderate" Islam is not true. While Islamism is certainly more toxic and murderous than traditional Islam, both have messianic elements, both appeal to the Koran as their ultimate source of authority, and neither can shed its jihadism in any principled and permanent way. Savage killings and beheadings of innocent non-Muslims did not begin in Iraq in 2004, but go back to Muhammad's days in Medina, when he carried out the treacherous and homicidal acts against his enemies (including mere critics) that became a paradigm of Muslim conduct toward unbelievers for all ages to come. Islamismthe modern, fascist-inspired version of the faithmay be new, but Islamic militancy is 1,400 years old.
Conclusion of Part I
While we have established that there can be no such thing as moderate Islam, most Americans, and certainly the political class, still believe that it exists. Therefore the next question is: what are the practical consequences of our society's holding to the belief in moderate Islam, even though it is not true? And that question gives rise to a second, which goes to the heart of Daniel Pipes's expressed fear: if Islam is radical Islam, what can we possibly do to make things better? What hopeful policies can result from such a seemingly hopeless insight? These issues will be addressed in the second part of this article.
If it doesn't exist, then what?
When people speak of moderate Islam as the solution to radical Islam, they mean that there is a modernizing core within the Muslim community capable of transforming it into a civilized member of the world community. They foresee that the dar al-Islam, the Realm of Islam, will cease to be at war with the dar al-Harb, the Realm of War, and particularly with that part of the Realm of War known as the West. I describe these ideas as the "ecumenist" school of Western-Islamic relations, because to believe in the existence of moderate Islam is to believe that the two civilizations can erase their mutual divisions and get along as friendseven mingle together, as some urge, in a single, shared civilization.
Based on my analysis of the writings of Daniel Pipes, one of the chief advocates of the moderate Islam idea, I argued in the first part of this article that moderate slam does not and cannot exist. Yet its proponents still feel a deep need to go on believing in it, since the only alternative they can envision is unending civilizational warfare. It would be a war waged not only between the Western and Islam parts of the globe, butbecause of the huge Muslim immigrant populations already sojourning in Europe and North Americawithin the West itself. The prospect seems so horrible that the ecumenists cling to the faith in a moderate Islam no matter how unsupported it may be by the evidence.
Notwithstanding these fears, there is a rational alternative to the belief in a moderate Islam. I call it the "civilizationist" school, because, in contrast with the ecumenist school, it not only posits irreconcilable differences between the two civilizations, but grapples head-on with their practical implications. Thinkers of the civilizationist school note essential facts about Islam that make any friendship or cooperation with it suicidal in the long run. These include the Koranic command on Muslims to engage in jihad against non-Muslim societies until the whole world is Islamized; the imposition of the totalitarian Sharia law wherever Islam becomes politically dominant; and the permanent subjection of non-Muslims to the miserable oppressed status of dhimmis.
According to the civilizationists, there is and can be no such thing as moderate Islam, and therefore no solution to the Islamic problem that can come from within Islam, since Islam itselfnot "radical" Islamis the problem. Moreover, the civilizationists do not say these things, as the ecumenists do, because they want Islam to be that way, but because Islam, unfortunately, is that way.
When ecumenists report various moderating trends within Islam, civilizationists respond with skepticism. They point out that the apparent moderateness of any Muslim community consists of either a temporary abeyance of the militancy that defines Islam (and such periods of non-aggression have been an established part of jihad strategy since the days of Muhammad), or simply the natural quiescence of the masses who lead their lives, pray, and don't involve themselves with activist movements. Such masses do not constitute any moderate Islam. They are not forming any organized political body or belief system distinct from and opposed to jihadism. Furthermore, regardless of any reforms that may occur from time to time within Islamic society, the center of the faith remains the Koran, which commands jihad, death to apostates, death to Christians and Jews, the stoning of adulteresses and all the rest of it. The fundamental point is that Islam cannot reform itself in any lasting way, because Islam has no source of authority apart from the Koran. In any debate between hard-liners and putative moderates, the hard-liners will have the Koran on their side and will ultimately win the debate.
Therefore no matter how long an Islamic society has been relatively peaceful, moderate, and perhaps even irreligious, an unexpected social or political crisis can bring radical Islam to the fore againany spark can re-ignite jihad. Iran, a modernizing if authoritarian regime for decades under the Shah, returned to Sharia and jihad within months of his fall from power in 1979. Turkey, officially secular for eighty years, has recently started returning to Islamic rule. Egypt, the most important "moderate" Arab country, is teeming with fanatical jihadists, whose rantings are published in state-controlled newspapers. More than one Westerner has reported his shock on seeing a thoroughly westernized Muslim woman suddenly show up in traditional Muslim dress and proudly announce that this is who she really is.
For all the above reasons, civilizationists do not place their trust in anything arising from within Islam, whether traditional, modern, or "moderate." Their sympathy for moderate Muslim dissidents and victims as human beings does not lead them to drop their guard against Islam itself.
The cultural "peace" process
Yet Daniel Pipes wrote that we must cleave to the hope of a moderate Islam because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. He thus sidestepped the issue of the truth or falsity of his moderate-Islam theory and made an appeal based on the bad consequences of rejecting it. I think Pipes's remark opens up a useful approach to the issue, if we apply the same analysis to both sides. I shall proceed, then, to address these questions: what are the likely consequences of our accepting the belief in moderate Islam, and what are the likely consequences of our rejecting the belief in moderate Islam?
Let us begin by noting that the practical viability of an idea cannot be separated from its underlying truth. If moderate Islam does not exist, a strategy premised on its existence would be delusional, even suicidal. An example is Israel's decades-long quest for peace with the Arabs, fueled by the repeatedly dashed, repeatedly renewed hope that a "moderate" Arab leadership would somehow emerge that would endorse Israel's right to exist.
There are, in fact, striking parallels between Pipes's half-realistic, half-utopian approach toward Islam, and the Labor Zionist movement's approach toward the Arabs, starting from before the founding of Israel and culminating in the disastrous Oslo Accords. On one hand, the Zionists were tough-minded nationalists who knew they would have to fight and defeat the Arabs in order to secure a Jewish homeland; on the other hand, the Zionists were utopian leftists who hoped (and many of them still hope today, against all the evidence) that once the Arabs had been stopped in their attempt to destroy the Jewish state, they would miraculously turn around and accept Israel's existence, inaugurating a glorious epoch of Arab-Jewish brotherhood. As a result of this way of thinking, each time the Israelis have won a war, instead of pressing home their advantage and achieving real and permanent security for their state, they have launched yet another series of negotiations that has only weakened their position and lost the gains that had been achieved at such cost. In a parallel fashion, Pipes's respect for Islam, his faith in its essential benignity, and his abiding hope (despite all the evidence) that we can ultimately live in complete harmony with it, contradict and undercut his realistic analysis of its dangers.
While the analogy is not perfect (most importantly, the Oslo "peace process" included unrepentant terrorists, while Pipes is firm on the fact that we must have nothing to do with radicals or terrorists), the Oslo process nevertheless demonstrates the kinds of perplexities into which the search for a moderate Islam must lead us. The Palestinian leadership, corresponding in our analogy to the jihadist core of Islam under its "moderate" clothing, never wanted peace on terms that were compatible with Israel's survival. In order to keep the process alive, the Israelis systematically ignored the Palestinians' radical lack of compliance with their obligations under the Oslo Accords and treated them as though they were civilized men engaged in good-faith discussions. The effect of such conciliation was to liberate Palestinian aggression as never before. Within a few months of the signing of the Oslo agreement, the first suicide bombings of Israeli buses began. This initiated a pattern that lasted throughout the years of the "peace" process, in which intensified suicide bombings would be followed by Israeli crack-downs on the Palestinians, which in turn would lead to a quieting of terror, until the Israelis would once again get their hopes up and let their guard down, and the suicide mass-murders would re-commence.
Similarly, if we embrace the idea that moderate Islam is the cure for extremist Islam, we will have to carry out a cultural peace process, in which we strive to build up the "moderate" Muslims (whether in our own country or in the Mideast) and turn them into leaders of the Islamic community. The path is filled with punji traps. In light of Pipes's desolating observation that we often cannot even tell a moderate from a radical, our efforts to raise the influence of "moderate" Muslimsmany of whom will turn out not to be moderatewill simply mean giving Muslims qua Muslims more caché and power in our society, with their demands and perhaps their threats ever increasing, while we get more and more entangled in the process of instructing, exhorting, bribing, and (maybe) changing them, even as we keep desperately assuring ourselves that moderate Muslim solution will work in the long run.
Because the search for moderate Muslims requires us not to see the other side as it really is, we must replace truthful speech with politically correct slogans that demoralize us and encourage our enemies. For example, almost every time Pipes criticizes radical Muslims, he mustin order to prove that he's not a bigot and that he still believes in an ecumenic resolutionassure his audience that "moderate Islam is the answer." Varieties of this double message, repeated constantly by the government and the intelligentsia, create deep confusion and ambivalence in the public mind. On one hand we're being told that radical Muslims are a remorseless wicked enemy; on the other hand, we're being told that almost all Muslims are moderate and harmless, and that we are bigoted if we think otherwise. The net effect of these two contradictory statements is to establish the unassailable legitimacy of Islam in our country. But, since there is no moderate Islam, the Islam that gets legitimized will, inevitably, be radical Islam.
The cultural peace process would distract and weaken us in other ways. Instead of spending our energy building up our own society and culture, which is within our power to do, we would be attempting to build up the Muslims' society and culture, which is not within our power to do. We would be gambling our freedom and survival on the chance that we can bring something into existence that has never existed. We would be making our safety contingent on whether the moderate Muslims can be what we want them to be. We would keep gazing expectantly at each Muslim as a potential moderate, and averting our eyes when he turned out not to be onejust as the leaders of Israel and the U.S. kept closing their eyes to the real nature of the Palestinians for all those years and are closing them still. We would have to keep refusing to acknowledge failure, because that would wreck our fantasy of an ecumenic and peaceful world. Regardless of all disappointments, we will still keep telling ourselves that some wonderful "moderates" are just around the corner and that we have to reach out to them.
In the end, our refusal to face the truth about Muslims, our flattery of non-moderate Moslems as "moderates," will convince them that we are saps lacking the wit and will to defend ourselves, which will increase their aggression against us. Like the Marxist dream with its 150 years on the road to nowhere, our dream of a moderate Islam will inevitably collapse one day, and the price might be nearly as high.
If the universalist dream fails, the alternative could be slaughter
If, on our ecumenist road to peace, we refuse even to consider the possibility that Muslims as a whole might be our permanent enemies, if we decide that even to think such a thought is evil, then we are preventing ourselves from acknowledging something that may, in fact, be true. What then happens if it actually is true?
Mark Goldblatt writing at FrontPage Magazine provides a terrifying glimpse of where the demand for a universal peace can lead. Arguing that jihadism can only be defeated if the Muslim populations rise up and defeat them, he continues:
There are ... only two conceivable scenarios by which the requisite pan-Islamic upheaval will happen. The more humane scenario is the one being pursued by the Bush Administrationthat is, establish a democratic Iraq in the heart of Islam and hope that it inspires moderate Muslims to reject the radical elements among them. ...
But what if democracy in Iraq fails outright? Or what if it survives but fails to inspire the overwhelming majority of Muslims to reject the radicals? In that case, Islamic terrorism continues unabated. What follows then is the "Hobbesian" scenario [political philosopher Lee] Harris sketches: Sooner or later, the United States will take one hit too many, or one hit too catastrophic, and the American people will set aside their natural aversion to mass bloodshed and demand a disproportionate response. Theyll elect a government that promises to end the threat, permanently, whatever the costand the cost will likely be millions of Muslim lives. [emphasis added.]
Like the German and Japanese civilians in 1945, Muslim civilians from North Africa through the Persian Gulf and down into Southeast Asia will at last feel their absolute defeat. Theyll accept that the fundamentalist struggle against the West has been lost. Theyll dig out from the ruins of their cities and recognize that they cannot allow the radicals to make martyrs of them all. Then, with our assistance, both military and financial, theyll set out to purge themselves of the terrorist cancer.
Tragically, the Hobbesian scenario is the more probable of the two.
Goldblatt doesn't consider any options beside the total democratization of the Muslim world on one side and its mass destruction on the other. Scenarios such as the one I suggest belowof forcing and encouraging Western Muslims to move back to their home countries and isolating them there where they can't harm usdo not occur to him. He more easily envisions the slaughter of millions of Muslims in their native countries than the exclusion of Muslim immigrants from America. He would sooner contemplate genocide than be seen as intolerant.
The attitude is not at all rare today on the political right. At the pro-Bush website Lucianne.com, the Id of the Republican party, pundits have repeatedly threatened the nuclear annihilation of Muslim countries. The website's editors evidently see such remarks as normal and acceptable, since they are freely made and no one seems to be banned for making them (though the editors do routinely exclude people for such misbehaviors as criticizing President Bush). For the L-dotters, the moral and practical idea of stopping all Muslim immigration, closing all Wahhabi mosques, and deporting all jihadists and terror supporters is unthinkable and is never spoken of. But the idea of killing millions of human beings is thinkable, and has been expressedwith sanguinary enthusiasmmany times.
This is a logical if extreme result of the ecumenist vision. Universalists cannot imagine radically different civilizations residing and flourishing in distinct spheres. They can only imagine a single global system formed by a single set of democratic ideas. A culture permanently hostile to democracy or to America defeats, by its very existence, the universalist idea. The only way to defend the idea from such a recalcitrant culture would be to annihilate it.
By contrast, civilizationists accept the fact of civilizational differences and have no fear of alien civilizationsso long as they stay in their own territory. It follows that we don't need to destroy Islam, we just need to contain it within its own sphere so that it can't threaten us.
The results of rejecting moderate Islam
To summarize the argument thus far, the consequences of our seeking peace with Islam will be disarray and distraction on our side, surging confidence and aggression on the Muslim side, renewed major terrorist attacks by Islamists against us, and the punitive killing by us of hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Muslimsafter which, according to Goldblatt, we will become responsible for rebuilding the Muslim world.
What are the likely consequences if we reject the quest for peace?
Here again is the Pipes quote that began this whole discussion:
[I]f one sees Islam as irredeemably evil, what comes next? This approach turns all Muslimseven moderates fleeing the horrors of militant Islaminto eternal enemies. And it leaves one with zero policy options. My approach has the benefit of offering a realistic policy to deal with a major global problem.
Pipes says that the first result of our failing to believe in moderate Islam is that we would see Muslims as our eternal enemies. Yet for the last 1,400 years Muslims have beenas Pipes himself indicates in some of his writingsour very long-term enemies. And it was during those same centuries, when Western civilization viewed Islam as its enemy, that it successfully drove back repeated Islamic invasions and saved itself from conquest and extinction. By contrast, it is only in the modern period, when the West stopped viewing Islam as its enemy (which occurred at the same time that the West stopped being publicly Christian), that it dropped its guard and began admitting the Islamic immigrant masses that now threaten the survival of Europe. So which way is better? To view Muslims as our enemies (which we did for a thousand years and it didn't harm us but saved us), or to view Muslims as our friends (which leads promptly to our own defeat, dhimmitude and ultimate extinction)? If a certain party is our enemy, isn't it better to know that he is our enemy, rather than to imagine that he is not? This is especially the case when the appropriate response to the enemy is simply to build solid walls between us and him, rather than to wage a world war in order to force him to become like ourselves.
The civilizationist approach
Pipes's second objection to the belief in permanent civilizational conflict is that it leaves us without policy options. In fact, the civilizationist perspective has given birth to a variety of proposals for coping with the Islamic menace, ranging from intellectual confrontation to military confrontation to radical changes in immigration policy.
Bat Ye'or, author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam and the soon-to-be published Eurabia, has said that our aim as Westerners should not be to save the soul of Islam but to save ourselves, our values, and our civilization. The approach she urges is primarily intellectual: we must stop closing our eyes to the reality of jihad, stop blaming ourselves for Muslim terrorism, and stop imposing crippling taboos on our own speech. Instead, we must openly discuss the Muslims' jihadist beliefs, both among ourselves and with the Muslims. This would force them to face the truth about themselves, which in turn might bring about a positive alteration in their outlook and demands. An unstated premise of Bat Ye'or's argument is that Muslims cannot change themselves. We must help them do itor rather, we must put them in a position where they will have no choice but to moderate their own attitudes and behavior toward us. Bullies respect strength.
A corollary is that any such positive changes in Muslim attitudes could only be temporary. This is because the changes would not be the result of any organic development arising from within the Muslim community, but of pressure and rebuke coming from without. As soon as that external pressure and rebuke were withdrawn, as soon as the West reached out a hand of friendship and tolerance, the Muslims would return to their "default" mode, which is jihad. Therefore, as long as Islam exists, the only solution to the problem of Islam is to keep the Islamic world in a powerless condition, as it had been through all of modern times until 1979. Western criticism of and confrontation with Islam must be permanent.
On the military side, Mark Helprin of the Claremont Review has proposed a World War II-scale expansion of American military capabilities plus a permanent U.S. base located in an isolated though strategically central spot in the Mideast or Persian Gulf region, giving us the ability to destroy any Muslim regime that becomes dangerous to us. Helprin rejects any notion of occupying and reconstructing a Muslim country after we topple its government. The purpose of his strategy is not to reform or democratize the internal politics of terror-supporting Muslim societies, as President Bush and the neoconservatives seek to do, but to make militant Muslim leaders realize that they have no hope of harming us and that they face the loss of their regimes and their lives if they try. Once they get this message, they will change their behavior. In Helprin's military plan, as in Bat Ye'or's proposal for intellectual confrontation with Islam, the West does not seek to change the Muslims, but places them in circumstances, not of their choosing, where they will be pushed to change themselves. The demand is not that they become democrats and liberals, but only that they cease being dangerous to us.
Angelo Codevilla, also at the Claremont Review, goes further than his colleague Mark Helprin, advocating the outright destruction of several terror- and jihad- supporting Muslim regimes, either by killing the members ourselves (about 2,000 in each country) or, better, turning them over to their domestic enemies. This, he says, is the only way real regime change occurs in the Arab and Muslim world. Like Helprin, Codevilla advises that we have no interest in occupying these countries or building democracies there. The precise borders and political systems of Mideastern Arab societies are not our concern. We're not trying to create a positive, we're only trying to eliminate a negativethe international network of jihadist and Ba'athist terrorists and the regimes that make them possible.
Let us also note the remarkable fact that Helprin and Codevilla, who reject the need for universal democracy and accept civilizational differences, talk about killing only the top 2,000 regime members in several hostile countries, while Mark Goldblatt, who sees universal democracy as the only long-range solution, warns that if universal democracy fails we will have to kill millions of innocent Muslims.
Finally, there is the immigration side of the problem. I have proposed at FrontPage Magazine a set of policiesthe end of mass Muslim immigration, the deportation of all jihad-supporting resident aliens and naturalized citizens, the closing of Wahhabi mosques, and the explicit abandonment of multiculturalismaimed at achieving a net out-migration of Muslims from this country. If we reduce both the jihadism and the numbers of the U.S. Muslim immigrant community, those who remain will no longer pose a cultural or physical danger to us, simply because they will have become a relatively insignificant group. Or rather, they will have been made insignificant, by our decisive actions. As with Bat Ye'or's, Helprin's, and Codevilla's proposals, the aim of my plan is not to reform the Muslims, i.e., to "assimilate" them to our way of life, but to confront them and diminish their power. Those policies will have the effect of encouraging the reduced U.S. Muslim population to adapt themselves more to our society, or choose voluntarily to leave.
Whatever the specific proposal may be, the basic civilizationist idea is to speak the truth about Islam, to confront Islam, and to contain Islam. It is to initiate a net out-migration of Muslims from the West and to isolate the Muslim world in its historic lands. It is to restore the Realm of Islam to the powerless and quiescent condition in which it resided during the early modern period. We of the West, along with other non-Muslim peoples, cannot be safe co-existing in this world with Islam, unless Islam has no ability and opportunity to affect us.
Years ago the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb called for the "re-moralization"
of societythe reviving of the moral fiber and discipline that had made earlier
generations of Westerners, particularly the Victorians, such strong, disciplined, and
self-confident people, whereas we have become unsure, guilt-ridden, and disbelieving in
ourselves and our culture. If I may coin a phrase, I would suggest that alongside the
re-moralization of our own society, what we need today is the re-demoralization of Islamic
Of course, Daniel Pipes says: militant Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution.
But I say: Islam is the problem. The defeat and re-demoralization of Islam, combined with the steady return of Muslims from the West to their own countries, is the solution.
Many people will condemn me for saying that Islam is dangerous and must be suppressed. They will say that there are good and deeply rewarding things about Islam, at least from the Muslims' perspective.
But the key point, from our perspective, is that Islam can only be "good" when it has no power. As soon as Muslims achieve power relative to non-Muslims, or feel that they are gaining such power or that they can gain such power, then the jihad aspect of Islam automatically kicks in. When we make a cult out of "moderate" Muslims, we are, in the long run, helping Muslims gain power. Their moderateness will revert, sooner or later, to militancy, but they will still have the powerand the moral sanctionthat we gave them. The only way to keep Islam's inherent tendency toward jihadism in abeyance is to keep Muslims in a situation where they have no influence over non-Muslims and no chance of achieving it.
To weaken Islam in the manner I'm suggesting is not to deny the Muslims' humanity. Powerlessness or defeat is not what most deeply bothers Muslims, but the loss of honor. As they have demonstrated over and over in their history, they view honorable defeat, even honorable death, as desiderata. Thus Muslims can be powerless, and still keep their honor. It should be the goal of our policy to return the Islamic world to that salutary condition.
Once that has happened, Western students and romantics of Islam could still pursue friendships and cultural interchanges with Muslims. Such inter-cultural contacts would no longer be dangerous because they would no longer be premised on the myth that Islam is benevolent to non-Muslims. If we want the possibility of decent human relations between individual Westerners and Muslims, we must defang the dar al-Islam and keep it that way. Lasting peaceor, rather, the absence of violencecan only be achieved through Western strength and dominance, not through trying to make friends with a non-existent moderate Islam. Under such circumstances a more decent type of Islam may arise. But, as I've said over and over, it will have arisen only because we confined the Muslims to narrower quarters on this globe.
Summary and conclusion
Two starkly different paths lie before us.
If we pursue the course of ecumenism, we will embark on a decades-long attempt to turn Muslims into moderate Muslims. The endeavor would become the central political project and moral commitment of our society, an obsessive, irrational quest thatlike the Oslo "peace" processwe could never permit ourselves to abandon, no matter how many times it had failed. In the process we would empower Islam and lose ourselves.
If we pursue the course of civilizational defense, we will unstring Islam as a global force by decreasing Muslims' presence in the West and containing them within their historic lands. Once the two civilizations are no longer in each other's faces, our freedom and safety will no longer depend on our begging, cajoling, and bribing them to give up their deepest convictions.
Which path is more promising? The path of civilizational realism, in which we recognize Islam as our eternal adversary and act accordingly, or the path of the civilizational peace process, in which we look on a billion Muslims as moderates who have somehow failed so far to realize that they are moderates, but whowe devoutly believewill somehow discover that they are moderates if we keep trying hard enough to convince them of that fact?
**Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He offers a traditionalist conservative perspective at View from the Right.
A Reply to Lawrence Auster
By Daniel Pipes
FrontPageMagazine.com | January 28, 2005
Lawrence Auster characterizes my approach to Islam as "ecumenist" and his own as "civilizationist." I prefer to call my approach historical and his essentialist. That is, I emphasize that things change over time and he sees them as static. For example, he emphasizes continuities going back centuries, I focus on the vast changes since I began studying Islam in 1969.
At the core of his argument is the view that "moderate Islam cannot exist." To which I reply that Islam can be whatever Muslims wish to make of it. I commend to him the study of Muslim history, so that he can for himself understand how (to take two extremes) Bosnian and Najdi Islam turned out the way they did, with one among the most tolerant and the other surely the most stringent.
The religion has changed momentously in the past and surely will continue to do so. Most of us can agree that the Muslim world is in the throes of terrible crisis now, but Auster sees this as a permanent condition, I see it as temporary, comparable, perhaps, to Germany's in the interwar period.
In particular, Auster's argument is based on a static understanding of the Koran, ignoring how much Muslim views have changed in the past and continue to do so. Interpretations already exist (such as that of the Sudanese scholar Mahmud Muhammad Taha) that upturn centuries of Koranic interpretation and would make Islam compatible with modernity. They exist, ready for the taking. I am "deluded," writes Auster, into thinking that moderate Islam (or anti-Islamist Islam) exists. But I personally have worked side-by-side with moderate Muslims and have provided specifics (see "Naming Moderate Muslims" for details) about some of them. For Auster to deny their existence suggests he is driven more by theory that facts.
I find Auster's comparison of Islam with Soviet communism offensive. But if he must compare a faith with a political ideology, then he should compare Islam with socialism as a whole, inclusive of its range from social democrat to Stalinist.
He wonders that I do not judge Islam, to which I say that a person' faith is not within my purview, only the person' politics and actions. I suggest it is generally a good idea not to mix scholarship with matters of faith.
As for his dig, "Since when does studying a subject preclude one from criticizing it?" I reply that my study is not of Islam the faith but of Muslims in history. I repeatedly have signaled this prism, for example, in the sub-titles of my books ("The Genesis of a Military System," "Islam and Political Power," "Views of Islamic and Middle Eastern Politics"). In contrast, he will search my bibliography in vain to find works on such topics as the concept of the godhead in the Quran, the origins of the Hadith, the poetry of Rumi, and the faith of Sufis.
The Auster view of premodern Islam ("the glories of medieval Islam are largely a myth. It was a parasite civilization whose achievements were mainly the work of its subject peoples such as Byzantines, Jews, and Indians, and it declined when it eventually killed off its host") is a superficial projection backwards of today's problems. Indeed, its very premise ("a parasite civilization") is oxymoronic. There was a true and vital civilization of Islam and (to take a convenient date) in 1005 it represented the best that humans had attained at that time in terms of learning, governance, and general advancement. I suggest that Auster ground himself more in this civilization before dismissing it.
Auster portrays me as an apologist for traditional Islam ("Pipes unbelievably denies the aggressive, collectivist, genocidal, and tyrannical aspects of traditional Islam. he evokes the full-bodied, romantic view of Islam"). My view of historic Islam is allegedly "wholly positive," with a notable absence in my writings of anything about jihad, the Islamic conquests, Sharia, slavery, and dhimmitude. I wish Auster had spent a bit more time looking over my writings before drawing conclusions about them. For example, a long 2002 article, "Jihad and the Professors," as well as several shorter pieces ("Harvard Jihad," "What is Jihad?") deal extensively with jihad and are as tough as even Auster could ask for (a "gruesome reality" I call it in one place; in another, I quote Bat Ye'or on the suffering jihad has caused through "war, dispossession, dhimmitude, slavery, and death"). And slavery? My first book is titled Slave Soldiers and Islam. I also published lesser works on this subject (mostly dating from around 1980 and not online) carrying such titles as "Mawlas: Freed Slaves and Converts in Early Islam" and "Why Did Military Slavery Exist?"
I wonder what, exactly, I must do to prove my non-romantic view of premodern Islam.
That said, I view premodern Islam by the standards of its time, not ours and so am less judgmental than is Auster. Further, I subscribe to the wide scholarly consensus that during the first half of Islam's history, its adherents were less "aggressive, collectivist, genocidal, and tyrannical" than their Christian counterparts in Europe. The consistent pattern of Jews fleeing Christendom for Islamdom provides one indication of this reality.
And finally, I must respond to this characterization: "Pipes's respect for Islam, his faith in its essential benignity, and his abiding hope (despite all the evidence) that we can ultimately live in complete harmony with it, contradict and undercut his realistic analysis of its dangers." Yes, I have respect for the faith of a billion people but I don't recall ever espousing "faith in its essential benignity." To the contrary, I have publicly argued against President George W. Bush's formulation that "Islam is peace." As for my hope that Muslims and non-Muslims can live in complete harmony, it is a hope. But who in 1940 could imagine living in complete harmony with Germany, Italy, and Japan? Such hope is functional. That we have for many decades now suggests that change is possible through victory in war and wise guidance of the defeated to understand their own traditions in a moderate, modern, and good-neighborly way.
As for the second part of Auster's analysis, his policy recommendations; they differ surprisingly little from my own, as presented three years ago in "Who Is the Enemy?." Auster asserts "that the West must confront Islam as Islam and so reduce its power to the point where Muslims have no opportunity to wage jihad campaigns against us. Under such circumstances a more decent type of Islam may arise." This two-stage approach resembles or perhaps even derives from my program of defeating radical Islam, then promoting moderate Islam in its place. Auster and I agree that, in the end, "a more decent type of Islam" is the only answer.
I'll leave it to Auster to explain how his "decent" Islam differs from my "moderate" Islam (which he insists "does not exist, and cannot exist"). And why, if Islam cannot change, he pins his hopes, with me, on a changed Islam.
*Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).