Daniel Pipes—the problem and the solution

In a recent profile and interview of Daniel Pipes in the Philadelphia Magazine, the author, Sadanand Dhume, emphasized that while Pipes used to be at the forefront of the Islam debate, it has passed him by, since increasingly the people leading the discussion on the conservative side are opposed not just to the ideology of “radical” Islam, which of course is Pipes’s target, but to the religion of Islam itself, of which Pipes is a warm defender and advocate. Dhume pointed out the stunning fact that five out of six commenters at Pipes’s website disagree with Pipes’s idea that radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution. It is impressive that a writer for a mainstream, liberal publication grasped this.

To understand why Pipes’s own supporters don’t take his views of Islam seriously anymore, we only need to read the current article. Dhume writes:

Pipes employs a catchphrase that captures, if it doesn’t adequately explain, his worldview: “Radical Islam is the problem; moderate Islam is the solution.” According to Pipes, there’s a distinct difference between Islam the religion and Islamism the ideology. The former, says Pipes, is a centuries-old faith for which he has always professed respect. But the latter, he says, is a modern set of beliefs whose adherents seek to create societies based on a political, social and legal system—the sharia—that he sees as misanthropic, misogynist, anti-modern, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and terroristic, among a long list of other unpleasant things.

So, according to Pipes—and since he himself sent out this article to his e-mail list he evidently does not disagree with Dhume’s characterizations of his views—what defines radical islam as distinct from traditional Islam is that radical Islam seeks to create societies based on the sharia, and traditional Islam doesn’t. I repeat: Pipes says that traditional Islam does not seek to create societies based on the sharia. Thus Pipes’s statements on Islam are not just wrong or contradictory, they’ve left the planet earth altogether.

However, if it is indeed the case, as Dhume says, that things have passed Pipes by intellectually, since his views of Islam aren’t remotely persuasive even to his fans anymore, that points to a solution to what I immodestly call the Daniel Pipes problem, as well as to my own obsession with Pipes.

On the intellectual level of explaining the nature and meaning of Islam, Pipes is, as I have shown in dozens of articles over the last few years, and as can be plainly seen in the above quote, hopelessly confused.

At the same time, on the practical level, when it’s a matter of what actual Muslim radicals are doing in our society, Pipes is skilled and canny. He gets the threat and is not fooled. He is brave and effective at bringing out the truth about the radical Muslim organizations such as CAIR and putting them on the defensive. His Campus Watch, a clearing house for student complaints about Islamic indoctrination, counteracts the vicious propaganda of Mideast Studies departments in universities around the country.

Indeed, it is Pipes’s very importance in the practical realm that has led conservatives not to criticize his writings about Islam, other than to say politely that they don’t agree.

Since Pipes is effective and successful as an anti-Islamist activist, but incurably conflicted and wooly-headed as a thinker on Islam, the obvious solution is simply for him to focus on what he does well.

To paraphrase his own mantra: Daniel Pipes as an intellectual writing about the nature of Islam is the problem; Daniel Pipes as an activist challenging the radical Muslims in our midst is the solution.

If Pipes would follow the course I’ve suggested, he would make his best contribution to America. But, whether he follows it or not, my own Daniel Pipes problem has been solved. Since even the people who like him best don’t take seriously his analyses of Islam any more, there is no point in my continuing to dissect his maddening and alarming, if also fascinating and amazing, statements on the subject.

—end of initial entry—

LA adds:

I could have used this alternative wording, but it would have been too cute:

To paraphrase his own mantra: Daniel Pipes as an intellectual telling us that moderate Islam is the solution is the problem; Daniel Pipes as an activist challenging the actual radical Muslims in our midst is the solution.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 11, 2007 12:29 PM | Send

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