Pipes, the nominalist, decides words have fixed meanings after all

Daniel Pipes complains about the fact that his critical posture toward radical Islam is now being attacked as “racist.” He quotes several dictionary definitions of racism, shows that they all have to do with race not religion, and concludes, entirely correctly, that criticism of Islam cannot be racist.

Yet, as the blogger Jason Pappas points out, in Pipes’s dismissive response to my article, “The Search for Moderate Islam,” where I showed that there is and can be no such thing as moderate Islam, Pipes’s declared that Islam can be whatever Muslims say it is.

But if Pipes believes that Islam can be whatever Muslims say it is, then why can’t racism be whatever the Muslims and anti-racists say it is? If Islam has no fixed and objective meaning, why isn’t the same true about racism? In other words, why is Pipes a nominalist when it comes to promoting his pet belief in moderate Islam, but an anti-nominalist when it comes to defending himself from the charge that he is a racist?

Now perhaps Pipes would reply that Muslims have the right to define their own religion as they like, but that they don’t have the right to define other people’s beliefs, namely the beliefs of the supposed anti-Islamic “racists,” as they like. But this is a distinction without a difference. Whether Muslims are defining Islam, or defining the beliefs of Islam’s enemies, both concerns are of central importance to the Muslim community, and, in any case, there is no reason according to the tenets of nominalism why the meanings of both words can’t be decided by Muslims themselves. After all, hasn’t Pipes, a non-Muslim, taken it upon himself to change the word “Islam” into “radical Islam,” while inventing a non-existent entity that he calls “moderate Islam”? Indeed, moderate Islam would seem to be much more the creation of Pipes than of the so-called moderate Muslims themselves.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 22, 2005 02:54 PM | Send

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