Daniel Pipes, for whom I have high respect, tried to distinguish Islam from Islamism, and tried to make the latter into some kind of modern political construct. He then attacked Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali as “essentialists”, people who held that Islam, not some modern deviation from it, is the probblem. His is a well-argued position. I do not believe it for a moment. He writes:
Islamism accurately indicates an Islamic-flavored version of radical utopianism, an -ism like other -isms, comparable to fascism and communism. Aping those two movements, for example, Islamism relies heavily on conspiracy theories to interpret the world, on the state to advance its ambitions, and on brutal means to attain its goals.
Supported by 10-15 percent of Muslims, Islamism draws on devoted and skilled cadres who have an impact far beyond their limited numbers. It poses the threat to civilized life in Iran, Egypt, and not just on the streets of Boston but also in Western schools, parliaments, and courtrooms.
Our killer question is “How do you propose to defeat Islamism?” Those who make all Islam their enemy not only succumb to a simplistic and essentialist illusion but they lack any mechanism to defeat it. We who focus on Islamism see World War II and the Cold War as models for subduing the third totalitarianism. We understand that radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution. We work with anti-Islamist Muslims to vanquish a common scourge. We will triumph over this new variant of barbarism so that a modern form of Islam can emerge.
1. I do not propose to make Islam my enemy; Islam has made me its enemy; I have no choice in my heretical and subordinate status under Mohammed’s religion.
2. While Islamist ideology is attractive to some 10-15% of Muslims, we do not know at any time which 10-15% are atracted to it. A man might go through his jihadist period and renounce it in later age, as he matures. Neither is the distinction denominational. Muslims do not segregate themselves into Islamist mosques and Islamic mosques. Even to say so exposes the fact that the distinction is something adjectival, something we feel the need to make, not something inherent in the religion.
3. I think we gain greater clarity about Islam when we frankly admit its doctrines call for our suppression, enslavement, and eradication. It is like rabies; where we know the population is susceptible but we do not know which of its victims has been bitten. We know for sure that, having joined the Party, so to speak, they are more inclined (statistically) to violent rejection of their non-Muslim surrounding society than others.
4. At a basic level of male behaviour, non-Muslims adolescent and young men go on a tear, wrap a car around a tree, drink themsleves into oblivion, rob a store, do drugs, join ludicrous protest groups, but, on the whole, do not seek to destroy the society around them with explosives and massacres. Muslim males have before them the ready-made excuse and legitimation of jihad.
I do not think there is much difference between me and Daniel Pipes in terms of actual measures we would take to suppress the jihaddicts, oops, jihadists in the world. But, my lingering concern with people such as Pipes is that they would seek to suppress frank discussion of Islam in the name of social peace.
And this is a key point: if Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (both, not incidentally, ex-Muslims) are right that there is a “consistency from Muhammad’s life and the contents of the Koran and Hadith to current Muslim practice,” and they most certainly are, as Daniel Pipes apparently acknowledges when he says that “certain continuities do exist, and Islamists definitely follow the Koran and Hadith literally,” then attempts to prescind from Qur’anic literalism in order to reform Islam and create a more peaceful version of the faith will always be challenged by the literalists (who are and have always been the mainstream in Islam) as heretics and apostates.