Was I being unfair to Pipes?

A friend was displeased with me for my strong criticisms of Daniel Pipes as having engaged in “deliberate obfuscation” and “concealment” of the truth that his model Islamic reformer, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, had in fact been executed for apostasy. She wrote:

Pipes is generally a good guy and there is no need to impute nasty motives to him. Just state the facts. A lot of Christians were executed whose work then went on to change things. The fact that Taha was executed is important but does not completely cancel out his efforts to modify Islam. Pipes may have been thinking along those lines. There is no need to jump to the worst conclusions about motives. Pipes is not an America hating leftist of whom we expect the worst. There is no need to make an enemy of him.

My reply:

This is not analogous to Christian martyrs. First, Taha is not seen in Islam as a martyr but as a reviled apostate; the martyrs in Islam are the suicide bombers. Second, the issue with Christian martyrs was not, “Can moderate Christianity change Christianity into something it’s never been?” The issue here is, can moderate Islam change Islam into something it’s never been? And, of course, as Pipes himself has occasionally acknowledged, a major obstacle in the path of “moderate” Islam is that the moderates are persecuted, intimidated, and isolated. So for him to foist on the unsuspecting average reader the idea that Mahmoud Muhammad Taha was a great example of the viability of moderate Islamic re-interpretation of the Koran, when Taha was EXECUTED FOR APOSTASY for the very re-interpretation that Pipes praises him for, was a hugely dishonest thing to do. It is shocking. I was gulled by it, since I knew nothing about Taha’s having been executed until Andy Bostom told me about it. Think of the thousands of other readers who were gulled by it.

Moreover, the execution of Taha, who was 76 at the time of his death, was a famous case. There is no way that Pipes did not know about it. Since when in intellectual discourse is it illegitimate to accuse someone of “deliberate obfuscation,” if that is what he did?

Pipes doesn’t have to be an anti-American leftist in order for him to be legitimately criticized in strong terms. People can be criticized for the things they write. That’s what I was doing here.

But it’s worse than that.

Pipes is calling on Muslims around the world to engage in this Islamic reform effort. Shouldn’t he tell them that if they do so, they are likely to be executed as apostates? Do you think it’s honorable to urge people into a course that will likely get them killed, and not tell them that they are likely to get killed?

Since you sympathize with Pipes, why don’t you write drop him a note and ask him nicely why he left out this fact?

The reader wrote back:

… I only want to suggest that other things might have been going on in Pipes’s mind than I am going to fool my readers.

My reply:

When I said “deliberate obfuscation,” I did not mean that he set out deliberately to fool his readers. I meant that he knew what he was doing.

He knew that Taha had been executed, he knew that this mattered, and he consciously did not include that information in the column, whatever his motive was. His motive may have been that he felt the information would confuse the issue. Or it may have been that he didn’t feel comfortable with that side of it because it would undermine his case for moderate Islam. Or it may have been that he consciously intended to fool his readers.

Generally people do not consciously will badness. They justify in their minds whatever they are doing. That is not a defense, however.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 19, 2006 12:10 AM | Send

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