Pipes goes where he has not gone before

When Pope Benedict’s important statement that Islam cannot reform itself was publicized recently by Fr. Joseph Fessio, everyone naturally wondered how Daniel Pipes, the leading Western proponent of Islamic reform, would respond. Today he did so, and it’s basically a recapitulation of his response to my massive critique of him last year, when he said that “Islam can be whatever Muslims wish to make of it.” Now he says that Muslims can re-interpret Islam so as to excise all the bad parts, which just happen to comprise the main body of the faith, and keep the nice parts. Two problems immediately manifest themselves. First, Pipes never considers what arguments orthodox Muslims might use against such re-interpretative efforts. Second, Pipes never considers what might be the real-world consequences for the courageous Muslims who actually attempt to carry out the re-interpretative task that he urges on them. Such lack of seriousness on Pipes’s part is not new. What is new is that in support of his reformist argument he engages in what must be seen, by even the most charitable view, as deliberate obfuscation.

Here is a slightly revised version of the comment I posted about this today at FrontPage Magazine:

Pipes says that a radical re-interpretation of Islam is possible, in which the Medinan, warlike part of the Koran is essentially canceled out, leaving only the Meccan, peaceful part of the Koran. As an example of such reform efforts he mentions the work of Mahmoud Muhammad Taha of the Sudan, who, he tells us, died in 1985. Curiously Pipes leaves out how Taha died. He was publicly executed by the government of the Sudan as an apostate, while all his followers were forced publicly to recant his views.

This is what always happens to reformers within Islam, because Islam is what it is. Islam has an unchangeable authoritative structure, going back to the Koran and the hadiths as well as the Islamic schools of jurisprudence of the ninth century based on the Koran and the hadiths. And one of the unchangeable laws of Islam is that apostates must die. Therefore the reform of Islam is humanly impossible.

For Pipes to conceal the fact that his model Islamic reformer was in fact executed for advocating reform is an astonishingly dishonest thing to do. Unfortunately, this is what happens when people commit themselves to an agenda that is inherently impossible, such as creating a “moderate” Islam, or making peace with someone who is inherently an enemy, as we see in the Oslo “peace” process and its ever-more bizarre successors. In order to keep the hope of peace alive, the peacemaker must continually cover up the true nature of the enemy with whom he wishes to make peace.

However, even if Pipes had not concealed the fate of his model reformer, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, Taha’s ideas could still go nowhere, as they would involve literally removing everything, including sharia, that has made Islam what it has been for the last 1,400 years. It’s time for people to stop indulging Pipes in his fantasy and insist that he come clean. The fact which he, and all of us, must face is that the only way for Islam to stop being jihadist is for Islam to cease to exist. Since we don’t have the ability (or desire) to eliminate Islam from the world, our only rational option is to contain and isolate Muslims within the Islamic lands, which we do have the ability to do. We did it for hundreds of years, and we can do it again.

What needs to be understood is that beyond the specific dishonesty of Pipes’s concealment of Taha’s execution, is the larger dishonesty of his whole promotion of moderate Islam.

Pipes is committed to an untruth. He is committed to the untruth that historical Islam was peaceful and moderate, and that only modern, “political” Islamism is jihadist. This false belief disarms the West and puts it to sleep.

Furthermore, he must know this is untrue because in some of his writings, he suddenly shifts from promoting a return to traditional, “moderate” Islam to promoting a moderate Islam that he admits has never existed and must be created. What else can he mean when he says that Islam is not fixed in its essence, but that “Islam can be whatever Muslims wish to make of it”? Yet, after admitting that moderate Islam has never existed and must be created,—and creating something that has never existed is obviously a lot more difficult than returning to something that has existed for 1,400 years—he turns around once again and tells us that historical Islam was moderate, which suggests that Muslims only need to return to an already existing moderate Islam, which would not be so difficult. He re-affirmed his commitment to this untruth last August, as I discussed here.

Now, why does Pipes keeps switching back and forth between these two positions? He does it because he is juggling two distinct concerns that conflict with each other. On one hand, he wants to make people believe the Islam is basically nice and that a return to the “true,” moderate Islam is readily possible. But this involves the blatant lie that historical Islam was moderate and purely spiritual, not jihadist and conquering. Because this position is untenable, he occasionally he switches to the more truthful position that moderate Islam has never existed, which means that it must be created out of whole cloth. But the problem with that position is that to create something out of whole cloth—to make Islam into something that it has never been—seems vanishingly unlikely. Of course, Pipes keeps pretending otherwise, with his risible notion that “Islam can be whatever Muslims want it to be.” So this second position is also unsustainable, on two counts: (1) it is unbelievable that moderate Islam can be created out of whole cloth; and (2) if it is unbelievable, then there can be no moderate Islam, and therefore, as Pipes said once, we must view all Muslims as our enemies. This, to him, despairing prospect forces him to return to his first, false position, that moderate Islam has existed for 1,400 years and has only been temporarily pushed aside by modern, “political” Islam.

So he is caught between two equally unviable and equally dishonest positions. His first position, that moderate Islam is easy to achieve, is based on a total historical lie about the nature of Islam; so it is not sustainable and he can’t hold to it consistently. His second position, that moderate Islam has never existed and therefore must be created, is historically true, but prospectively false in its claim that Islam can become something it has never been. If the falsity is admitted, then moderate Islam is revealed as a practical impossibility, and there is no hope of a reconciliation between the West and Islam.

The first position is attractive, but historically false; the second position is historically true, but unacceptable. So he forever oscillates between them.

But here is another angle on this. According to Andrew Bostom, Taha was not even the reformer that Pipes claims he was:

As it turns out, Taha’s writings on jihad are quite vile. He is complete negationist and apologist for jihad, which he claims against all hard evidence was a “surgical” instrument and should not be “misrepresented” by the “symbol” of the sword. This is preposterous and reveals the basic flaw in Muslim discourse, a complete lack of serious self-criticism. Thus far, the only individuals who demonstrate the requisite self-criticism for truly reforming Islam and Islamic civilization are the brave apostates like Ibn Warraq.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 17, 2006 07:57 PM | Send

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