An Interview with Daniel Pipes
Editor’s Note: Our executive editor, Elwood McQuaid, spoke recently with Daniel Pipes, founder and director of the Middle East Forum and one of the world’s leading experts on Islam and related issues. We are privileged to print edited excerpts from that interview.
EMQ: Dr. Pipes, we see a great change in Europe. I’m referring to the invasion of Islam and the Muslim claim that it is creating an Islamic Europe. Is that concern justified?
DP: I think it is. There are three components to it. The first is demographic. Indigenous Europeans are not having enough children by about one-third. You need 2.1 children per woman [to sustain a population], and they are having about 1.4. So they need immigrants; and those immigrants are coming from Muslim countries like Algeria and Turkey. Also, the Muslim countries have very large, young populations.
The second component is religious. One sees a near collapse of Christianity in Europe and a lack of sense of purpose in terms of faith and spirituality—which the Muslims have, of course, in abundance. And third is a cultural dimension. Europeans have become politically correct, multicultural, call it what you will. Muslims come with a clear sense of cultural superiority. Put these three together and you see the possible transformation of a continent. It’s not happened yet. It could be averted. But if trends continue, it’s likely to happen.
EMQ: It seems the United States and Europe are resigned to Iran developing nuclear weapons. Should we be concerned about this? And what should be done about it?
DP: If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, it changes the dynamics—not just in the Middle East, but worldwide. If the Obama administration has in mind to do something, it’s not about to broadcast it. So we don’t know. But I’m not optimistic. But I also would not conclude at this date that the Iranians will get the bomb. There is still pressure that can be brought.
EMQ: Can sanctions really accomplish anything?
DP: I don’t think so. I don’t think sanctions have any value beyond window dressing. I don’t think agreements have any value. I don’t think threats have any value. It boils down to whether we accept the Iranian nuclear program or we destroy it.
EMQ: How should Israelis feel about this?
DP: I think it’s realistic for the Israelis to attack and do real damage. Now, what constitutes success, I’m not exactly sure. There are many, many questions. If I were [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, I would say to [U.S. President Barack] Obama, “Why don’t you take out the Iranian nukes? Or else we will. And we will not do it by trying to fly planes across Turkey and Syria or Jordan or Saudi Arabia. We will do it from submarine-based, tactical nuclear weapons. You don’t want that; we don’t want that; but that’s the way we can do this job for sure. You do it your way so we don’t have to escalate to that.”
That would be a way of applying pressure. There are so many details which I’m not privy to. But that would be my kind of approach if I were the Israelis.
EMQ: Do you believe leaders in the West are actually listening to [Iranian leader Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and believing it?
DP: There seems to be a growing willingness to accept Iranian nuclear weapons and work the Iranian government into the international system. But whether or not there is also an effort to undermine and even to destroy this, I can’t tell you.
EMQ: On the issue of Israeli and Palestinian peace, apparently nothing is happening. Why is this true, and has Palestinian determination to destroy Israel diminished?
DP: No, it hasn’t diminished. It’s there, virulent as ever. In about 90 years’ worth of Palestinian response to Palestine, which the British created right after World War I, roughly four-fifths of Palestinians have refused anything to do with the yishuv [Jewish community in Israel prior to statehood] or Israel, and one-fifth have said, “Okay, we can live with it.” That number has remained remarkably static over close to a century.
Why is nothing happening? That’s a very interesting question. The Obama administration came in and had two factions within it. One said, “We can get concessions from the Israelis if we work with them.” The other said, “We can get what we want from Israel by picking a fight with it.” The latter faction is the one that prevailed initially. And they picked a fight by focusing on the so-called settlements. I don’t like this term, but I’ll use it for shorthand.
[U.S. Secretary of State
] Hillary Clinton said, “No growth whatsoever, at all, period.” [Not even in Jerusalem.] This had two inadvertent consequences that the geniuses in the White House did not think through. First, it got the Israelis to back Netanyahu because this policy was flatly unacceptable in Israeli politics. Netanyahu got stronger, not weaker.
Second, the Palestinians who had been negotiating with the Israelis said, “No more! If the Americans said you can’t grow the settlements, then we say you can’t grow them.” So the Obama administration hardened the position on both sides and finds itself with no negotiations taking place—which, for me, is just fine. But from their point of view, it’s a disaster. EMQ: Islam is touted to be a religion of peace, love, and coexistence with other religions. If this is true, why are Muslims the primary persecutors of Christians worldwide?
DP: Islam is a religion that is 1,400 years old, and there have been many different forms of it. There have been times and places when Islam was tolerant, at least in comparison to other civilizations at that time.
Today, clearly, that’s not the case. Indeed, speaking as a historian of Islam, I would say there has never been a worse moment in Muslim history. There are many points of view, and one of them is that it’s intolerant—not just against Christians. Christians are a prominent example. Muslims who are liberal and open-minded are, themselves, persecuted. The first victims of radical Islam are Muslims. One example is the case of Darfur. This event is arguably the worst humanitarian situation in the world today. And that’s Islamists versus Muslims. The Christian plight is part of a larger picture of Muslim intolerance and radicalism that is prevailing today. When I entered this field 40 years ago, it was not like this. It is a terrible moment, and Christians in particular are paying a heavy price.
EMQ: What is the future of Islam in America? And should we be concerned when Muslims talk about a global Islamic caliphate?
DP: The global Islamic caliphate is indeed a powerful concept and something one should be concerned about. The future of Islam in America is difficult to predict. There are two great possibilities. One is that it continues down the path of being radical and adversarial with the existing order, or (I don’t see this possibility in Europe) that Islam will become part of the American religious scene and not try to dominate. There is that possibility.
EMQ: Do Western leaders, including Americans, really understand the root of Islamic militancy? They keep attempting to separate it from religion. Do they “get it”?
DP: Basically, no. I would say there are three interpretations of the current state of affairs. One is what is called the establishment view, which is what you just described. People say, “Islam has been hijacked; the problem is terrorism; Islam is a religion of peace.” A denial of the problem.
The second is what I call the insurgent view: “Islam itself is the problem. Islam has always been a problem, with jihad, honor killings, and the like. Islam is itself evil and problematic. Muslims are inherently a problem.” I think that is too broad-based and wrong.
And then there is the middle position, which I subscribe to. It would be summed up by saying, “Radical Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution.” I believe there is a possibility for Islam to evolve in a way that is moderate, modern, and willing to live in harmony with others. I think it is possible for non-Muslims and moderate Muslims to work together to achieve that.
Even if you believe the insurgent approach, that Islam itself is evil, there’s no policy you can pursue. What can you do if you’re president [of the United States] and you believe that? Are you going to throw out freedom of religion? Are you going to exclude Muslims? Are you going to fight wars abroad to promote Christianity? It’s not who we are. It requires such fundamental changes that I’d say it’s just not possible. So I think it’s a dead-end approach.
Even if you believe that, and I’m sure some of your listeners do, I’d say you have to join me in seeing Islamism as a political ideology comparable to fascism and Communism because we have tools to defeat that. We have won wars against them: the Second World War and the Cold War. We can do it again. But if we see the problem as religion, we don’t have tools; we can’t win.
EMQ: Is there a fear that speaking against Islamic radicalism will provoke attacks on reporters, officials, or whoever speaks his mind? We know that converts to Christianity from Islam are under fatwas [death orders]. Is there a fear that people will be attacked if they express themselves?
DP: I would differentiate between physical attacks and social-political attacks, such as ostracism, condemnation, loss of job, and the like. And I would differentiate those two from prosecution by the government. There have been extraordinary cases of anonymous cartoonists in the UK and Netherlands being arrested, the police tracking them down and arresting them, putting them in jail overnight for cartoons. So there are actually three different dimensions: the violent, the social-political, and the governmental.
Yes, these are all significant problems. I, in fact, started something called the Legal Project at my organization, which is exclusively focused on protecting the right of scholars and activists to speak freely about this range of issues. We have developed an expertise. We have a network of pro bono and reduced-cost lawyers. We have a pot of money. And we’re not just defending but, in some cases, going on the offense to make sure there is freedom of speech about this all-important issue of Islam.
EMQ: And where do you fall in those three?I know you are vehemently criticized by some of the pro-Islamic organizations and some of the so-called progressives. Where do they put you?
DP: Well, I don’t have physical threats, and I don’t have governmental prosecution. So for me it’s just the social-political.
EMQ: If Muslims are concerned about their religion being hijacked by radicals, why the silence from Islam generally about this issue?
DP: It’s not a complete silence. There have been important exceptions. Perhaps the most dramatic was in mid-2007 when literally millions of people on the streets of Turkish cities said no to Islamic law. And there have been other major demonstrations in Pakistan and elsewhere. But I accept your basic point that, in general, Muslims who don’t want the Islamic law imposed on them and don’t want the caliphate have been all too quiet. I think that has to do in part with intimidation, in part with lack of organization, with ideology, and with funding.
I think there is also a respect that these people [radical Islamists] are really living and applying Islam in its fullness. Just because there isn’t enough of a moderate-Muslim push-back today doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. I believe that is a goal we should work toward to help moderate Muslims. The U.S. government and other public institutions have been very deficient in this.
If you look at television or go to a university, you’ll find over and over again it is the Islamists who are in place. We should consciously exclude them and push them to the side, exclude them as we would the KKK or Nation of Islam. Exclude them from the public square and invite the moderates instead.
EMQ: In the case of some of these extremist organizations you mentioned, it was largely Christians who rebelled against them and pushed them to the side. I hope we can see that with moderate Muslims in the future.
DP: I am very much hoping so too.
To read more from Daniel Pipes, log on to his website, DanielPipes.org.