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Beliefs & Perspectives Islam & Arab

Pipes Versus Pipes

Daniel Pipes has taken the position—contrary not only to that of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, but Muslims themselves—that Islam and the West are not engaged in a “clash of civilizations.” Pipes also claims that Islam is not decadent.

Before examining some of Pipes’ own writings, a word from the renowned Lebanese-born scholar, Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University.

In The Dream Palace of the Arabs, Ajami portrays the thoughts of the most prominent of literati of the Arab world who sorrowfully behold the “death of Arab civilization.” He himself writes that “Arab society had run through most of its myths, and what remained in the wake of the word, of the many proud statements people had made about themselves and their history, was a new world of cruelty, waste, and confusion.” Surely this must also be said of Islam.

Turning to Pipes, despite his denial that Islam is decadent, we read in his Militant Islam Reaches America (2002) the following assessment of the Islamic world:

Whatever index one looks at, Muslims can be found clustering toward the bottom, whether in terms of military prowess, political stability, economic development, corruption, lack of human rights, health, longevity, of literacy… Muslims also lag when one looks at the Nobel Prize winners, Olympic medalists, or any other easily gauged international standard. There is a pervasive sense of debilitation …

Moreover, sectarian strife, violence, insurrection, and terrorism erupt repeatedly throughout the Islamic world. This turbulence is described in a study of some fifty countries in which Muslims reside; and it matters not whether these Muslims constitute an overwhelming majority or only a tiny minority. The study was published in 1983 by Daniel Pipes. It makes no difference whether the Muslims are Sunni or Shi’ite Muslims, Arabs or non-Arabs, or even whether they are “fundamentalists,” “traditionalists,” “reformists,” or “secularists”—the story is the same.

Pipes has assembled a wealth of information confirming the clash of civilizations he denies. To minimize the appearance of such a clash, Dr. Pipes states in the preface to the 2002 reprinting of his 1983 book In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power, that “militant Islam [is] best understood not as a religion but as a political ideology.” Nonsense: Islam has always been a political ideology.

Bernard Lewis cites the late and “learned” Ayatollah Khomeini, who said “the Quran contains a hundred times more verses concerning social problems than on devotional subjects. Out of fifty books of Muslim tradition there are perhaps three or four which deal with prayer or with man’s duties towards God, a few on morality, and all the rest have to do with society, economics, law, politics and the state …” Islam, according to Khomeini, “is political or it is nothing.” (See Lewis, Islam in History, p. 403, who adds: “Khomeini was working within the historic and religious traditions of Islam.”)

As the very subtitle of Pipes’ book—Islam and Political Power—suggests, and as its content makes obvious, “However much institutions, attitudes, and customs have changed, the Muslim approach to politics derives from the invariant premises of the religion and from fundamental themes established more than a millennium ago.” (Pipes, In the Path of God, p. 63, emphasis added.)

Pipes’ contention that Islam and the West are not involved in a clash of civilizations is refuted by Pipes himself. On the other hand, in denying the “clash,” is Pipes being cautious or disingenuous?

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