Muslims “lagging behind,” says Pipes. That’s a problem?

In a blog entry entitled “Muslims ‘Lagging Behind,’” Daniel Pipes writes:

The book that most shaped my understanding of modern Muslim life was Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s Islam in Modern History (Princeton, 1957). To reduce Smith’s nuanced thesis to a few sentences, he argues that Muslim military, economic, and cultural success in the premodern period created an expectation that God’s people would be rewarded for their faith in mundane ways. That expectation left Muslims incapable of explaining what happened when, in modern times, they fell behind in those same arenas.

Pipes quotes Smith:

The fundamental malaise of modern Islam is a sense that something has gone wrong with Islamic history. The fundamental problem of modern Muslims is how to rehabilitate that history: to set it going again in full vigour, so that Islamic society may once again flourish as a divinely guided society should and must.

Pipes comments:

The trauma of modern Islam has already lasted over two centuries, with no end in sight.

Let’s get this straight. Pipes is telling us that when Islam was enjoying “military, economic, and cultural success in the premodern period,” that was good. But when Islam fell behind the rest of the world and remained that way,—externally powerless, beset by internal ills, unsure of its spiritual vocation, and emotionally traumatized by its multitudinous failures—that was bad.

Yes, that’s what Pipes is telling us. Therefore he is looking for ways to help Islam overcome its trauma. How? Well, since the trauma was caused by Islam’s becoming a military, economic, and cultural failure, evidently Islam can only heal the trauma by once again becoming a military, economic, and cultural success. Following his mentor Wildred Smith, Pipes wants Muslims to rehabilitate their history, to set it going again in full vigour, so that Islamic society may once again flourish as a divinely guided society.

In brief, Pipes, who imagines that historical Islam was benign and peaceful, wants Islam to return to the condition it was in when it was conquering and had conquered half the world and was incessantly raiding and threatening the other half. In his concern for Islam’s success, he doesn’t understand that the indispensable condition for the success of our own modern Western society, not to mention for its very existence, was that Islam had ceased to be a success.

Pipes has thus become like Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai, so caught up in the challenging and absorbing task of building the enemies’ bridge—or, in this case, building up their economic performance and their spiritual morale—that he’s forgotten that any increase of competence and power on their side will inevitably be used against our side.

In conclusion, Pipes remains, as I described him two years ago, a liberal ameliorationist, devoted to the vision of a single humanity where everyone is helping everyone—or rather where we are helping those poor Muslims overcome their spiritual trauma by making them strong again … so that they can wage jihad on us again. There is no escaping the sad fact that I’ve pointed to so many times: America’s most influential commentator on Islam is too wedded to the fatal illusion of a benign Islam ever to go beyond it.

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Mark S. writes:

Thank you! I think your analogy between Pipes and Col. Nicholson is a wonderful way to sum up Pipes’s (and so many other folks’) approach to Islam.

As you have shown, no Muslim society is a beautiful religious culture beset by economic difficulties. Rather, each is a potentially-rich society crippled by a barbarous and violent religion.

To try to help Islam surge again to the highest tidemark set during its original irruption is an insane goal for a Westerner. To imagine that aid to Islam would produce pleasant new friends rather than brutal and dangerous neighbors is imbecilic.

LA replies:

Pipes’s position is quintessential liberalism. Liberalism says that all people are basically good and basically like us, and if they’re not good and not like us right now, it’s because of “problems”—problems that in many cases are our fault and that in every case we can fix. If we show good will toward people and help them with their problems, they will like us and they will become like us.

Most of all, liberalism says there are no enemies. Liberalism therefore tells a society to disregard the first principle of all political societies, which is to defend itself against its internal and external enemies (see Book I of Plato’s Laws).

Ok, that’s liberalism. But now Pipes applies this insane liberalism, not just to some generic unassimilable domestic minority group, not just to some generic unassimilable Third-World immigrant group; he applies it to the most unassimilable, antithetical-to-us, unlike-us and not-liking-us people on earth—Muslims, followers of a religion that commands them to view all non-Muslims as evil inferiors and to conquer, convert, or kill them all. So lost is he in his romantic attachment to Islam that he declares with a straight face that we of the West should seek to restore to power and glory our age-old arch enemy. Of course, he doesn’t think he’s calling for us to restore to power our age-old arch enemy, because, as a liberal, he doesn’t believe there is such a thing as an enemy—not ultimately. Since no one is ultimately an enemy, and since Muslims in particular are not an enemy (except for that pesky minority of “radicals”), how can it cause harm to help Muslims? How can doing good be bad? Such is the thought process of a liberal.

Notwithstanding Pipes’s fatuities, not a single mainstream writer criticizes him, because the left is anti-American and so wouldn’t even notice let along be offended by Pipes’s call to appeasement, and the so-called right has become a vast mutual admiration society that thinks of Pipes as a conservative hero, mainly because of his useful contributions on the problems of radical Islamic groups and the fact that those groups frequently attack him. But the “Islamist” groups are just one dimension of the problem we face. Our real problem is not CAIR. Our real problem is not terrorists. Our real problem is Islam. And on the issue of Islam,—particularly its doctrines and historic practice vis à vis non-Muslims—Pipes is worth than useless.

LA continues:

To those who feel that I’m too harsh in my comments about Daniel Pipes, I will say this. Pipes, as I have been documenting for years, routinely says contradictory, careless and indefensible things Islam. Yet no mainstream commentators—certainly none on the “respectable” right—ever reprimand him. So he’s never made to feel the slightest need to pull back and think critically about his own statements. He just sails on as before. That leaves virtually all the criticisms coming from just one person, me, which leaves me sounding nasty, hyper-critical, relentless, and so on.

But what is one to do? We’re looking here at the surreal—a conservative, highly respected critic of Islam whom no one on the mainstream right ever criticizes, calling for Islam to return to its glory days of military, cultural, and religious power. Is one supposed to respond to such statements with mild, restrained objections, barely registering, WFB-like, above the tone of an abstracted whisper?

When it comes to my supposed extreme tone, here’s my bottom line: I refuse to be Kafkaesque—which means, I refuse to treat the surreal as though it were normal.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 26, 2006 12:06 AM | Send

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