My reply to Pipes

Here is my reply to Daniel Pipes’s “Reply to Lawrence Auster.” My reply has also been posted at Pipe’s website. (Earlier I also tried posting it at FrontPage, but was unable to do so because of FP’s blocking software which tells me that my comment contains vulgar or profane language (though the software does not, in a Kafkaesque twist, tell me what the vulgar or profane language is so that I can change it.)

My reply to Daniel Pipes’s reply to me

In Daniel Pipes’s cursory and dismissive response to my article, one of his methods of argumentation is to ignore my substantive criticisms of his statements about Islam, and simply reiterate how he “sees” Islam. Thus he writes:

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.

So, Pipes “sees” Islam as being like Germany between the wars, and that makes it so. The Koran, the Traditions, and 14 centuries of Islamic jihad and dhimmitude don’t count. Just what Pipes chooses to “see.”

Also, if the fanaticism and aggression of Islam are only a temporary and recent phenomenon, then why, elsewhere in his reply to me, does he insist that he has written extensively about historical dhimmitude, slavery, sharia and all the rest? If historical Islam is characterized by dhimmitude, slavery, and sharia, then obviously the contemporary pathologies of Islam are not merely recent and temporary, but are consistent with 1,400 years of Islamic history. In contradicting himself like this, Pipes repeats the pattern of contradictory statements that I analyzed at length in my article.

He also mentions the times when he has criticized traditional Islam, by way of refuting my assertion that he is wholly positive toward traditional Islam in some of his writings, But, of course, I also mentioned the many times he has criticized traditional Islam. That was one of my major points, that Pipes veers back and forth between apologizing for Islam, and making (rather superficial) criticisms of Islam.

Instrinsic to Pipes’s selective “seeing” is his habit of pointing to some apparently tolerant form of Islam that has existed here or there, or some isolated Muslim scholar who has taken a moderate approach, and then claiming that this adds up to a “moderate Islam” that can take the place of the actual Islam that has existed for 1,400 years.

He describes my position, that Islam cannot be something other than Islam, as “essentialist,” while he believes that Islam can be whatever Muslims want it to be. But as a commenter at FrontPage said:

Pipes is correct that Auster thinks in essentials (it’s called conceptual reasoning, Dan). Pipes is obviously a nominalist: words can mean anything we want them to.

Precisely. Pipes claims that there are no definitional lines to Islam, which is obviously untrue. If someone denied that “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet,” would that person still be a Muslim? There, even Pipes would acknowledge that there are definitional lines to Islam that a person cannot cross and still remain a Muslim. In my article I pointed out that, according to Islam has it has been defined by its founder and by all its authorities for the last 1,400 years, Pipes’s criteria of moderate Islam are a violation of Islam. To this argument, Pipes has no answer. Since his position is unsustainable, he must ignore or summarily dismiss my criticisms.

Pipes finds my comparison of Islam with Soviet communism “offensive.” But the comparison is apt. The essence of Islam is that it is a totalitarian system insisting on global dominance, in which anyone outside the system must be reduced to subhumanity and ultimately exterminated. Like Communism, wherever Islam takes over a society, it crushes whatever culture, freedom and intellectual life existed there. I recommend the first chapter of André Servier’s 1922 work, Islam and the Psychology of the Musulman, where he writes: “After a century of Arab domination [over a society] there is a complete annihilation of all intellectual culture.”

Pipes continues:

He wonders that I do not judge Islam, to which I say that a person’s faith is not within my purview, only the person’s politics and actions. I suggest it is generally a good idea not to mix scholarship with matters of faith.

As Pipes must be aware, this discussion has not been about Islam as a private faith. It’s been about the public character of Islam on the stage of history as it impacts upon non-Muslims. And that was the Islam he was declining to judge, though, of course, as I pointed out over and over, Pipes keeps going back and forth between criticizing Islam and presenting the conventional glowing picture of it.

He continues:

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. [emphasis added.] I suggest that Auster ground himself more in this civilization before dismissing it.

Here Pipes is subscribing to the conventional philo-Islamic myth. In fact, the myth of great “learning” in the medieval Muslim world was exploded as far back as the Renaissance, when Europe discovered the original Greek scientific works that had previously been known only through highly distorted Arabic translations. Believing those translations to be original Arab works, and knowing nothing of the Greek works on which they were based, medieval European scholars falsely concluded that Islam had made unheard-of advances in science. This was the genesis of the belief in great Arab learning, which has persisted right up to the present moment. Not only does Pipes not seem to know this, he subscribes to that belief himself. By way of corrective, I recommend chapter 13 of Servier’s book, where he catalogs one medieval “Arab” work after another which was believed at the time to be an original work of science and turned out to be an Islamized Arab translation of a Syriac translation of an ancient Greek work.

Pipes then makes this staggering statement:

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.

This of course is the standard view of the superiority of good, tolerant Islam over a cruel and oppressive Europe. It is, once again, a myth, formed by comparing the parts of Europe where Jews were treated the worst, with the parts of Islam (mostly in the former Eastern Orthodox lands) where Jews were treated better, while ignoring the parts of Europe where Jews were treated better, and ignoring the parts of Islam where Jews were treated worse. A more fundamental problem with this view is that, by mentioning only the Jews, it ignores the Muslim treatment of Christians, Zoroastrians, and Hindus, the systematic destruction of one subject people after another through invasion, conquest, dispossession, slavery, dhimmitude, crushing taxes, and systemized degrading treatment which resembles, not Communism, but Nazism. Historians estimate that Muslims massacred around 100 million Hindus in India over a period of five centuries. Is there any European Christian behavior that is remotely equivalent to that? The repeated Judeo-centric focus in this discussion has the effect of making people fail to see the total picture of Islam’s treatment of non-Muslim peoples.

Also, if Pipes is going to use the fact that some Jews fled Christendom at some points in the Middle Ages for Islamdom, then he also has to account for the fact that the movement was reversed after about the 12th century. In the High Middle Ages, 90 percent of Jews lived in Islamdom, and 10 percent in Christendom. By the 20th century, those numbers had been reversed. You can’t give Islam credit for its supposedly wonderful treatment of the Jews in the early Middle Ages, while ignoring its horrible treatment of the Jews in the later Middle Ages and afterward.

For more details on the comparative cruelty of Europe and Islam, please see the reader’s review by FrontPage contributor Andrew Bostom (identified as “Andrew”) of Mark R. Cohen’s book, Under Crescent and Cross. Below Bostom’s review is a review by Daniel Pipes in which he approves of Cohen’s book. I invite readers to compare Bostom’s and Pipes’s reviews and ask themselves which one is more factual, comprehensive, and intellectually serious.

Pipes then says:

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.

In fact, Pipes is only confirming what I said in my article: that (by his own admission) his moderate Islam doesn’t exist, that it can only be brought into being by a global military defeat of the whole Muslim world by the U.S. Which brings us back to my question: How can he go on calling moderate Islam the “solution” when it DOESN’T EVEN EXIST, and only the most radical changes in the world (an American military defeat of, Pipes, implies, all Muslim countries) can have some slight theoretical hope of bringing it into existence?

Finally, Pipes, having side-stepped my actual criticisms of him, acts as if my own program is the same as his, thus creating the impression that I am not saying anything new in my article:

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.

Pipes fundamentally misrepresents what I said. I said that we cannot change Islam, and therefore we must simply drive it back, weaken it, and contain it. I then added that once Islam has been weakened and isolated, it’s possible that a more decent Islam might evolve. I’m not saying that our plans should depend on a more decent Islam evolving. I’m simply saying that the appearance on the scene of a more decent Islam would be icing on the cake, if it happened. Pipes, by contrast, bases his whole program on the transformation of Islam into moderate Islam. So, notwithstanding Pipe’s attempt to make my program seem similar to his (or even, he strangely suggests, derived from his), our respective approaches are radically different from each other, as I discussed at length in my article.

While there’s much more that could be said, I’ll just add this for now. Pipes never even acknowledges, let alone replies to, the question I address in the second half of my article: If there is no moderate Islam, then what? What do we do about the Muslim menace, if Pipes’s ecumenist scheme doesn’t work out? Apparently Pipes is not even capable of imagining such a possibility for the sake of debate, so committed is he to the hope and the dream that moderate Islam is the solution. But if a man refuses, as a matter of principle, even to consider the need for a Plan B, can his Plan A be trusted?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 31, 2005 10:55 PM | Send

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