Monday, April 23, 2007


Daniel Pipes at Brandeis

This evening I went to Brandeis to listen to a short talk by Dr. Daniel Pipes, on the subject of "The Islamization of Europe". The event was well attended -- the Shapiro Campus Center auditorium was pretty full -- and, while there was security present, complete with uniformed Newton policemen and metal detectors, there were no incidents or demonstrations.

The talk itself was interesting. I arrived late, I'm sorry to say -- work does intrude sometimes -- but I did hear him discussing the creeping encroachment of Islamism in Europe for a half-hour or so. He discussed the current slow rise of European conservative political parties (e.g. the British National Party, the bright prospects of Nikolas Sarkozy in the race for French Prime Minister, and others), which he saw as a positive sign -- nonetheless, he said, 5% of British Muslims endorsed the terrorist bombings of July 7th, 2005, and all across Europe we see Europeans unwilling to defend their national institutions against those who would impose Sha'aria on them.

He concluded by wondering aloud if we would see the Islamization of Europe, or some sort of adaptation of both sides to one another (which he considered unlikely, since no progress in this direction is being made), or a protracted civil war across Europe. Which is the most likely scenario? His answer was that "the events to determine this have not yet taken place", and added that, within a decade, we are likely to see events that will answer the question one way or the other.

(One conclusion with which I find myself disagreeing: he said that the situation in Europe was "unprecedented", in that a civilization had never surrendered on such a grand scale before, and as such, we had no idea what to expect -- "Europe marches us all into terra incognita". My feeling is that we've seen this many times before -- in the decadence and eventual fall of the Roman Empire, in the fall of the Holy Roman Empire to the Muslims, and so on. The lesson, it seems to me, is clear -- the West will not be conquered by Islamism, but it may well commit suicide, right after welcoming its successors with open arms, just as Rome did. Still, Dr. Pipes is the historian, not me.)

Then there was an open-mike question-and-answer session. It was orderly; only once did the moderator have to cut off a questioner (who was not really asking a question, but giving a speech); but Dr. Pipes answered all questions thoughtfully and at length. Questions included: "Why can't European Muslims assimilate into Europe the way American Muslims assimilate here?" (answer: among other reasons, the United States has much more of a history of immigration than most of Europe; and one-fourth of American Muslims are converts, which is practically unknown in Europe); "Are there any European efforts to 'reach out' to Moslems and include them in European society?" (answer: no, nothing serious; Muslims are seen by many Europeans as victims in need of welfare assistance, but not citizens worthy of being treated as equals; he gave Sweden as an example, where getting asylum, citizenship, and welfare is easy, but competing with Swedes for a job is hard).

In response to other questions, he addressed the difficulty of Europeans in expressing a sense of national identity. Some countries have an easier time of this, he said; the French understand pretty well what it means to be French. But what does it mean to be a Swede? To what degree can someone from a different culture, with a different skin color and different dietary habits, still be a Swede? The Swedes are struggling with this, as are others -- and, in the process, Dr. Pipes said, they are losing ground against an Islamist ideology that has no trouble at all identifying itself. (The problem, of course, is that a nation that can't define what it stands for will have great difficulty defining what it stands against. And so we see a growing problem with European acceptance, not just of casual antisemitism, but of Muslim polygamy; of Muslim "honor killings"; of Muslim female genital mutilation. These things should evoke horror, and a Europe willing to stamp such things out in its midst; but they don't.)

My own question, toward the end, addressed his point on the crucial distinction between moderate Muslims and Islamists, and the need to include the former while excluding the latter; I asked him how we can tell the difference? He agreed that this was an important and difficult question, one very much in need of public discussion. He offered several potential litmus tests -- treatment of women, feelings toward Israel, and such, and wryly added that sometimes he himself is a useful litmus test. (I agree -- if someone froths at the mouth when the name Daniel Pipes is mentioned, a rational discussion is not likely to follow.)

Frankly, one litmus test I'd like to see used -- which Dr. Pipes did not mention -- is a willingness to denounce terrorism. Part of the problem, you see, is not just that Islamists claim to speak for all Muslims, and moderate Muslims do not contest this, making distinctions difficult; rather, Islamists have a vested interest in blurring the line as much as possible, and they do so at every opportunity. (CAIR* is a good example of this.)

But even when radical Muslims speak quiet, American-accented English on public television, in my experience they've been unwilling to denounce terrorism unequivocally. (Since terrorist organizations have a vested interest in redefining terror to suit themselves, a definition must be given bluntly as well. For example: "Do you support the right of an organization, or a people, to murder civilians randomly, without warning, in order to further a political objective?" I'd be suspicious of anyone who refuses to answer "no", even after discussion and elaboration.)

But as Dr. Pipes pointed out, other litmus tests are certainly possible. (I still remember listening, on morning talk-radio, to Mike Gallagher interviewing Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR. Mike asked Mr. Hooper bluntly: "Do you think the State of Israel has a right to exist?"... and Hooper refused to answer, claiming it was "a very complicated question", even after being asked the question several times in different ways. As soon as Hooper was off the air, Mike said: "My blood just ran cold.")

All in all, a good talk. I'd never heard Dr. Pipes speak before, and I was impressed with his gentle and soft-spoken manner, his slow and careful delivery, and his insistence on recognizing different points of view. His viewpoints may be controversial, but his delivery is scrupulously fair. (It was this evening, at any rate. Perhaps I should try to attend one of his talks when violent demonstrations are expected!)

UPDATE: Dr. Pipes has helpfully pointed me to a 2003 article of his, Finding Moderate Muslims, in which he discusses the difficulty of making the distinction -- or, at any rate, the lack of success thus far. For example, he discusses the strange case of Abdurahman Alamoudi, and concludes:
Distinguishing between real and phony moderation, obviously, is not a job for amateurs like US government officials.

Obviously this is a crucial issue; the ability of the United States to defend itself from jihadist Islam depends on knowing who the players are, whether they assume false colors or not. Dr. Pipes lists several categories of questions that might be useful in separating the sheep from the goats -- and links to several others with their own lists. (Dr. Pipes also admits that "no single reply establishes a militant Islamic disposition".)

Personally, I get impatient with the laundry-list approach. I'm not concerned with a scholarly list of what characteristics might, or might not, point to Islamist tendencies; that's useful for a public discussion of the issues, perhaps, but that's not what I'm after. We can't stop people in airports and demand that they fill out a three-page questionnaire.

We need some simple, quick identifiers, specific to the job at hand. If your job is security at airports, we want to dismiss moderate Muslims as quickly as possible (and send them on their way), and focus our attention on serious candidates for Jihadism. If your job is a quick screening of people in line to meet your Governor, on the other hand, you'd want the opposite -- identify and get rid of the jihadists as quickly as possible.

And, as Dr. Pipes points out, even some of the most useful identifiers are frustratingly ambiguous. You can't just ask a Muslim how he feels about Israel, for example; many non-Muslims hate Israel with a passion.

We definitely need more work on this subject. Right now, we seem to be in the same dilemma that the U.S. Supreme Court famously identified with respect to pornography -- "I can't define it, but I'll recognize it when I see it".

Paradoxically, this may be an advantage... because the first responders to terrorism, more often than not, have lately been ordinary citizens. (Remember Richard Reid? Remember who sounded the alarm over the six flying imams?) And ordinary citizens, I think, can be depended on to know terrorism when they see it, and not be hampered with nit-picking definitions.

UPDATE II: Dr. Pipes was kind enough to reprint this blogpost, in full, at CampusWatch. You can find it here.

* In re CAIR, by the way, most people seem to pronounce it "care". (I'm sure that CAIR would prefer that it be pronounced that way!) But I don't see them as a particularly caring organization -- they don't seem to care much about anyone but themselves -- and so I prefer my wife's pronunciation, "ka-EAR". This has the added advantage of sounding more Arabic -- in fact, it's quite close to the Arabic pronunciation of Cairo.

As many have pointed out before, you hand your opponent a victory if you allow them to frame the debate in their own terms. CAIR is welcome to try to portray themselves as Muslim care-bears if they like; I choose to see them otherwise.

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