AMERICANS WAKE UP TO ISLAMISM
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
The debate is as unexpected as it is extraordinary. One would have thought that the event which touched a nerve within the American body politic and made Islam a national issue would have been an act of terrorism. Or would have been discovery that Islamists had penetrated U.S. security services. Or would have been the dismaying results of survey research. Or would have been an apologetic presidential speech.
But no, something more symbolic roiled the body politic – the prospect of a mosque in close proximity to the World Trade Center's former location. What began as a local zoning matter morphed over the months into a national debate with potential foreign policy repercussions. Its symbolic quality fit a pattern established in other Western countries. Islamic coverings on females spurred repeated national debates in France from 1989 forward. The Swiss banned the building of minarets. The murder of Theo van Gogh profoundly affected the Netherlands, as the Muslim reaction to publication of Muhammad cartoons in Denmark did to that country.
Oddly, only after the Islamic center's location had generated weeks of controversy, did the issue of individuals, organizations, and funding behind the project finally come to the fore – although these obviously have more significance than does location. Personally, I do not object to a truly moderate Muslim institution in proximity to Ground Zero; conversely, I object to an Islamist institution being constructed anywhere. Ironically, building the center in such close proximity to Ground Zero, given the intense emotions it aroused, will likely redound against the longterm interests of Muslims in the United States.
This new emotionalism marks the start of a difficult stage for Islamists in the United States. Although their origins as an organized force go back to the founding of the Muslim Student Association in 1963, they came of age politically in the mid-1990s, when they emerged as a force in U.S. public life.
I was fighting Islamists back then and things went badly. It was, in practical terms, just Steven Emerson and me versus hundreds of thousands of Islamists. He and I could not find adequate intellectual support, money, media interest, or political backing. Our cause felt quite hopeless.
My lowest point came in 1999, when a retired U.S. career foreign service officer named Richard H. Curtiss spoke on Capitol Hill about "the potential of the American Muslim community" and compared its advances to Muhammad's battles in Seventh Century Arabia. He flat-out predicted that, just as Muhammad once had prevailed, so too would American Muslims. While Curtiss spoke only about changing policy toward Israel, his themes implied a broader Islamist takeover of the United States. His prediction seemed unarguable.
9/11 provided a wake-up call, ending Emerson's and my sense of hopelessness. Americans reacted not just to that day's horrifying violence, but also to the Islamists' outrageous insistence on blaming the attacks on U.S. foreign policy, their blatant denial that the perpetrators were Muslims, and the intense popularity of the attacks among Muslims.
American scholars, columnists, bloggers, media personalities, and activists became knowledgeable about Islam, developing into a community, a community that now feels like a movement. The Islamic center controversy represents its emergence as a political force, offering an angry, potent reaction inconceivable just a decade earlier.
The energetic push-back of recent months finds me partially elated: those who reject Islamism and all its works now constitute a majority and are on the march. For the first time in fifteen years, I feel I may be on the winning team.
But I have one concern: the team's increasing anti-Islamic tone. Misled by the Islamists' insistence that there can be no such thing as "moderate Islam," my allies often fail to distinguish between Islam (a faith) and Islamism (a radical utopian ideology aiming to implement Islamic laws in their totality). This amounts not just to an intellectual error, but a policy dead-end. Targeting all Muslims conflicts with basic Western notions, lumps friends with foes, and ignores the inescapable fact that Muslims alone can offer an antidote to Islamism. As I often note, radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution.
Once this lesson is learned, the new energy brings the defeat of Islamism dimly into sight.
© Daniel Pipes 2010
Originally Published in National Review Online, September 7, 2010
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, September 7, 2010
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for National Review Online, Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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