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A review of Militant Islam Reaches America. By Daniel Pipes.

Nov 19, 2002

Norton, 2002.

In this volume Middle East expert Daniel Pipes looks at the changing world since September 11. While some of the essays here were penned before that tragedy, all deal with the rise of Muslim militancy, and how the West should respond.

The title should not deter Australian readers however. The Bali blast has shown how we are all vulnerable to terrorism, and our strong alignment with the US means we stand or fall together on this issue. Indeed, much of Pipe’s discussion of radical Islam in America is fully relevant to the Australian scene.

Pipes begins by arguing that militant Muslims, or Islamists, do not represent all followers of Islam. The good news is they only comprise, at tops, fifteen per cent of the total. The bad news is, with one billion Muslims, 150 million are extremists. It is the Islamists that are the real threat, says Pipes, not traditional Muslims.

Pipes provides the historical backdrop for this new militancy. For their first six centuries, Muslims enjoyed huge success. By the 13th century however decline set in, and for the next six centuries they found themselves heading to the bottom of world affairs, as power and wealth slowly ebbed away. The loss of their golden age, and their sense of alienation and frustration resulted in three recent responses.

Secularism, the first response, is seen in countries such as Turkey. The second option, reformism, meant trying to live with the West. The third option, Islamism, is the focus of this book. Militant Islam seeks to reclaim its golden age, wants the total imposition of Shari’a law, and rejects completely Western influences.

Radical ideology

Pipes shows that Islamism is in fact a radical, utopian ideology, of the same mould as Marxism-Leninism or fascism. It is totalitarian in nature, and seeks salvation in political power, not individual religion. Whenever Islamists take power, as in Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan, a bloody tyranny results.

Pipes argues that most traditional Muslims disagree with the premises of the Islamists. This is reflected in part by the fact that often traditional Muslims are the main victims of militant Islam. Algeria is a good case in point, with tens of thousands of Algerians killed (compared to some 80 foreigners).

Since its ascendancy almost three decades ago, Islamism has become the main threat to freedom and democracy. It seeks global hegemony, just as past ideologies did. Fueled by fanaticism and hatred, militant Islam has become the new focus of evil in the world.

There are two main ways in which Islamists can achieve their goal of world dominion: revolution or integration. The latter comes in the form of immigration to the West, high birth rates, and conversion. All three means are resulting in rising Muslim populations in most Western nations.

The other option, bloody struggle, is something the West is becoming all too familiar with. Suicide bombers and terrorist cells are active around the world, and this threat is one all Western governments must come to terms with. Indeed, Pipes shows how militant Islam has been targeting Americans well before September 11.

Pipes sees some hope, however. Muslim unity has often been seen as an oxymoron, with the Iraq-Iran conflict being but one example. Another issue is how moderate Islam deals with the threat. If modernism is embraced and Western values are seen as compatible with Islam, then the fanatical arm may be contained. But it is by no means clear in which direction the majority of Muslims will move in the future. It is Muslims themselves, argues Pipes, not the West, who will determine the outcome of this post-Cold War ideological battle.

Islam in the West

Pipes also writes about Muslims living in the US. There may be 2 or 3 million of them there. Pipes argues that on every front, the US is doing all it can to be hospitable to Muslims. There is a de facto affirmative action mentality in place, with schools, governments, the media, even the military, all fearful of showing any disrespect for Muslims.

Tolerance and respect of course are in order, argues Pipes, but in many ways Muslims are being given preferential treatment, so much so that the US government has become “a discreet missionary for the faith. Without anyone quite realizing it, the resources of the federal government have been deployed to help Muslims spread their message.” Pipes documents numerous examples of just how this is in fact happening.

Pipes argues that if Islamists get their way in Western nations, freedom of speech concerning Islam and militant Islam would all but cease. In Australia, recent racial and religious vilification laws have been leading to just that very thing, with court cases now being held, based on complaints by Muslim organisations. It is becoming increasingly difficult to say anything which might be regarded as critical of Islam.

Jihad

Pipes briefly examines the question of whether Islamism and jihad are an integral part of Islam, or a distortion of it. He recognises that Islam, like all great religions, is made up of different schools and is subject to varieties of interpretation, “from the mystical to the militant, from the quietist to the revolutionary. Its most basic ideas have been susceptible of highly contrasting explications.”

Thus Pipes sees a battle for the soul of Islam being waged, with moderates and militants competing for dominance. But he sees terroristic jihad against the West as but “one reading of Islam … not the eternal essence of Islam”.

He argues that if half the population of the Muslim world hates America, the other half does not. It is to these more moderate Muslims that the West must work with, along with its own Muslim populations, to see that the radical Islamists do not prevail. The struggle will be long and difficult, says Pipes, but an Islamist victory is by no means certain.

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