Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Understanding the Threat"

Arlene Kushner

Tomorrow eve ushers in Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance before the Almighty. We begin with the Kol Nidre prayer before the sun is down, and end after dark the next day with a single shofar blast and the cry "Next year in Jerusalem!" Here in Jerusalem, everything stops and an other-worldly quiet sets in. Worshippers come and go in the streets, dressed all in white.

I doubt that I will post again until at least Sunday. I extend my wishes and prayers for a gmar hatima tova -- may you, may we all, be sealed in the Book of Life for blessing. And may we emerge from this day strengthened in our understanding of how we are meant to utilize our allotted time on this earth.
Last night I attended a talk by Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia. The organization Hadar Israel sponsored this event. Actually, even better than a talk, it was a spirited dialogue with journalist Ruthie Blum Liebowitz that provided a dynamic format for exploring issues.

Dr. Pipes, an Arabist, is a foremost expert on radical Islam. What he said last night merits attention:

Islam is a religion. Islamism is not -- it is a radical utopian ideology that aims for world-wide totalitarian control. In this, it is parallel to Fascism (Naziism) and Communism (Marxism).

The deeply significant difference between Islamists and adherents of the other two movements is that Fascists and Communists remained static in their approach, but the Islamists have learned from their mistakes. Thus, in many contexts they've moved from an "in-your-face" approach to playing within the system. Their goal -- and this should be noted well! -- is to institute stringent Sharia (Islamic) law everywhere.

This doctrine developed in the 1920s, when Muslims saw their people doing poorly in terms of power and wealth. It was thought that a return to tradition -- actually to the Medieval period and a strict application of Sharia -- would make them strong.


There are people who imagine, says Pipes, that ultimately the Islamists will assimilate into Western societies, in the places where they are now attempting to work within the system. But it's not the case.

Either the process of Islamization will be extended, or the Islamists will be rejected.

The major goal being pursued now is peace, especially here in the Middle East. But victory must come first -- just as the Communists and Fascists were defeated, radical Islam must be defeated.

A major problem is that people are willing to work with Islamists if they are not violent. Their radical ideology is more subtle and harder to see, and so they are embraced within the system. There is inadequate comprehension of how dangerous they are. In particular, the political left doesn't see it as a problem: they make alliances with Islamists and open doors for them.


As we known, this battle is going on to a far greater degree right now in Europe than in the US, but Americans cannot afford to be complacent.

Pipes says that England is already gone. Recently, he told us, a law was passed there permitting polygamy. People shrug it off: If they want multiple wives, so? They fail to comprehend the very deep implications of such a law (which conforms with Sharia) and the process that is at work with regard to overturning the British system.

Make no mistake about it: Radical Islam is antithetical to Western values of liberal democracy. Where Sharia law is permitted to enter, Western values are weakened. The goal is control, not sharing.

Sweden is not far behind England. But in some places in Europe, there has begun to be a backlash -- the law against the hijab (woman's head covering) in France, against minarets in Switzerland, a closer look at immigration policies in other places.

Pipes believes it is guilt that fuels the reluctance to take on the Islamists, the guilt that is part of the legacy of European colonialism. The British, with the history of their major empire and the sins committed in its name, have been particularly vulnerable to this guilt. There is a certain ambivalence on the part of many British with regard to their own history; it follows from this that budding young Islamists (some, second generation British citizens) pick up on this ambivalence and are thus discouraged from adopting traditional British values. Islamist ideology seems to them to offer something strong and positive. The power of ideology is very real.


Pipes didn't mention Glen Beck and his rally. It was Caroline Glick who did recently -- talking about Beck's interest in restoring pride in the American creed. But this issue of pride in creed is enormously relevant here, implicit in what Pipes is saying about British ambivalence regarding what their country stands for.

The US does not have the same history of colonialism (although there was slavery). Guilt is not the issue in the US that it is in Europe. The main thrust right now, however, is multiculturalism, which, it seems to me, has been elevated to the status of creed.

Respect for others is good. But multiculturalism advances the notion that everything is as good as everything else. It is then forbidden to ever judge another's values, or to elevate one's system as superior. Yet some systems and some values ARE superior to others. Everything is not equal. And some systems and some values are inimical to the American creed that promotes the dignity of the human being, inherent freedoms, democracy, etc.

Before it is too late, Americans must understand that when they embrace the tenets of multiculturalism, they sow the seeds of the destruction of that American creed by opening doors to and providing credibility for Islamists. Islamists are not interested in a "you do your thing, I'll do mine" democratic principle. They are after the whole pie and the imposition of a Sharia system that would deprive all these multiculturalists of their rights in time.

What is interesting here is that Pipes believes that the battle over the Ground Zero mosque may be a turning point for America: it has, he says, brought out anti-Islamist feelings.


At the same time that Pipes insists that radical Islamism must be defeated, he says we should be supporting and encouraging moderate Muslims -- providing them with forums, etc.

Admittedly, those moderates are few in number now. They are, in fact, in despair -- feeling weak and very intimidated.

Many who oppose the Islamic radicals point out that their ideas are found in the Koran: that it is indeed Islam itself that is the problem. Pipes' response to this is that it is a question of the interpretation of the texts, and that Islam is not inherently antithetical to democracy. He says there is a history of Islamic moderation from a different time period, and that we now should embrace the thinkers who can reinterpret the Koran -- giving them visibility wherever possible.

Right now we are going about it the wrong way. Every time we legitimize non-violent Islamists, we undermine the potential moderates. (I think of Raheel Raza, who is a moderate Muslim in Toronto, who made a statement regarding the Ground Zero mosque, saying that when people such as Mayor Bloomberg support it they undermine the case of moderate Muslims.)

Not an easy task, as he would certainly agree. Islam has not yet been reconciled with modernity by its theologians and thinkers -- something that Judaism and Christianity have long since done. The moderates are sometimes killed, and sometimes shunned.

Pipes' argument is that there is no choice. There is no answer to radical Islamist ideology other than the fostering over time of a moderate alternative.


Other thoughts that Dr. Pipes shared -- on Iran, Turkey, etc. -- will wait for another day...

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