Foundation Blog
Islam & Arab US & Global Policy

Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism

Middle East expert Daniel Pipes estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims support the jihadist agenda. How comforting: only 130 to 195 million Muslims on planet Earth are committed to the destruction of Western civilization in general, and of the United States and Israel in particular!

Another expert, Robert Spencer (The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam), offers a pessimistic assessment: “there are indications from various parts of the Islamic world that the actual number of supporters of today’s jihad might be higher.” For example, “American moderate Muslim leader Kamal Nawash said on the O’Reilly Factor in August 2004 that 50 percent of Muslims worldwide supported the jihad.”

If this were not bad enough, Spencer also cites Bernard Haykel, an associate professor of Islamic studies at New York University, who, in February 2005, estimated that 90 percent of the Muslims in the Arab world support Hamas.

So, what would be a realistic assessment of the threat posed by Islamdom, and how should we address this threat?

The above data indicate—if we did not already know—that there are many Muslims who reject jihad, i.e., holy wars, and who are therefore called “moderates.” Pipes therefore warns against stigmatizing Islam per se.

In newspaper articles and TV appearances he repeatedly refers to “Islamists” or “militant Islam,” which, we are given to believe, is a fringe group that has hijacked Islam. Pipes seeks to encourage Muslim moderates to speak out against these jihadists, and rues their general reluctance to do so. He fears that a wholesale denunciation of Islam could turn “moderates” into “extremists.”

The trouble is that, in the context of Islam, the distinction between “moderates” and “extremists” is problematic. The eminent Bernard Lewis writes:

Even when Muslims cease believing in Islam, they may retain Islamic habits and attitudes. Thus, among Muslim Marxists, there have been both ulema [doctors of law] and dervishes [popular mystics], defending the creed and proclaiming the (revolutionary) holy war against the (imperialist) infidel… Even when the faith dies, loyalty survives; even when loyalty fades, the old identity, and with it a complex of old attitudes and desires, remains, as the only reality under the superficial, artificial covering of new values and ideologies.

Olivier Roy points out that the Quran is sacrosanct even among Muslim reformists, that it continues to endow Muslim secularists with cultural pride and identity. He offers stunning proof: “The [1991 Persian] Gulf War showed that even among secular, Westernized, and ‘democratic’ Muslim intellectuals [who reject the Sharia] there was a conscious choice, whether tortured or enthusiastic, in favor of Saddam Hussein, who all agreed was a dictator … a bad Muslim.”

Pipes himself warns that sectarian strife, violence, insurrection, and terrorism erupt repeatedly throughout the Islamic world; indeed, that it makes no difference whether Muslims constitute an overwhelming majority or only a tiny minority, whether they are Sunni or Shi’ite, whether they are Arabs or non-Arabs, or even whether they are “fundamentalists,” “traditionalists,” “reformists,” or “secularists”—the story is the same.

The preceding is not intended to denigrate Islam, but to heighten awareness of the enormous obstacles confronting the United States and more so Israel in their confrontation with what is misleadingly called “militant Islam,” but which, as both Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington have stressed, is a clash of civilizations.

To minimize the appearance of this clash, 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.” To the contrary: as the very subtitle of his book indicates, 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” (my emphasis).

Realism requires the United States and Israel to recognize that, whatever be the percentage of Muslims that ostensibly reject the ethos of jihad, Islam poses the greatest danger to the survival of Western civilization, if not of civilization itself.

Let us bear in mind that the Protestant Reformation was preceded by bloody wars, and that democracy was outgrowth of centuries. There are no quick-fix solutions to religious or cultural conflicts. To establish peace in the Middle East, the United States and Israel had better be prepared for war.

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