Daniel Pipes an Islamophobe? Really? Really?

Here is the problem with entering the blogosphere – its hard to be fair and not get some blow back. But we’ll see what happens.

The Council of American Islamic Relations has recently released a report in which it names names of the worst of those who encourage baseless fear and hatred of Muslims and Islam. Not surprisingly Pamela Gellner, Robert Spencer, and Brigitte Gabriel are right up in the top three. All have websites devoted to the dissemination of lies and ceaselessly seek out venues for their particular forms of baseless fear mongering. I’ve tried to address the tirades of all three in this blog.

CAIR has also placed Daniel Pipes in this same category, referring to him as the “grandfather of Islamophobes.” I don’t particularly like Pipes; but he isn’t ignorant and he doesn’t lie so far as I can tell. That already sets him apart from the folks with whom CAIR has lumped him. Sometimes he’s spot on in his analysis of Islamic movements.

CAIR’s listing of him as an Islamophobe says something about not only CAIR’s failure to recognize the sources of Islamophobia, but also their participation in the all-American tendency to be more interested in unconditional approval and ideological purity than listening to and fostering different points of view.

Phobias are irrational fears. Islamophobia is an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims. Such irrational fear are fostered by generalizing about Muslims or Islam, and conflating terrorism, Islam, Muslims, and anti-Americanism. Gellner, Spencer, Gabriel and others provide classic examples of how Islamophobia is fostered and I’ve used this blog to call them on it whenever it raises its ugly head.

There are also rational fears – fears based on an assessment of whether a person or movement is likely to harm one’s self-interests. It seems to me that Pipes at least tries to speak about and from rational fears. A quote from a 2010 blog indicates that he can distinguish between different forms of Islam, and Muslims: “Although I disagree with Wilders about Islam (I respect the religion but fight Islamists with all I have) . . .” This is classic rationality: “I agree with a person on some points, and not on others.”

Pipes has a relatively consistent set of fears: that Islamists wish to intentionally destroy democracy and freedom in the name of Shari’a law, that Muslim political influence will weaken American support of Israel, and that increasing numbers of Muslims (and others) from non-Western cultures will dramatically change the the face of American and European culture.

Considered carefully all these fears are rational. Islamist political parties typically elevate the implementation of Shari’a above all other considerations of forms of government and human rights, since they believe that Shari’a as God’s law is both naturally superior and insures the most equitable and just system of social interactions. (The literature on Islam and human rights is extensive, and even that by Muslim liberals recognizes how entrenched this problem continues to be in Muslim populations. Certainly any close reading of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights will give any non-Muslim enormous cause for alarm, and it is still frequently referenced even by so-called “moderate” Muslims. See the book list below for a couple of non-representative references that give an idea of the scope of discussion.)

In any case Non-Muslims have no reason whatsoever to believe that the implementation of Shari’a law as a governing principle would be good for them. They have ample evidence that contemporary societies that claim to be governed by Shari’a law (Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the Gaza under Hamas, etc.) are in fact highly disfunctional and treat religious minorities (including their fellow Muslims) with vicious violence on a regular basis. So fear of Shari’a-promoting political movements is rational, even if it is misapplied to many or most American and European Muslims and may not apply to parties like the AKP in Turkey.

Polls of Muslims consistently show that they are overwhelming pro-Palestinian. One need not be a knee jerk Zionist to thus see that it is likewise rational to believe that growing Muslim political influence is inimical to Israel’s interests. Anti-semitism in the Middle East is both widespread and actively cultivated, so Jewish fears of Arab anti-semitism are likewise quite valid. Even Muslim leaders recognize this. One may disagree with Pipe’s unbending support of Israel, but that is not the same as Islamophobia.

And of course any increase in cultural pluralism in a society leads to changes that are unattractive to cultural conservatives. I personally like cultural pluralism and believe that cultural change is both inevitable and desirable. But if one is a cultural conservative then any large influx of people of a different culture is something to rationally fear – particularly if the members of that culture are aggressively asserting their right to display their cultural differences in the public sphere. And cultural conservatism is neither irrational nor inhuman.

CAIR would do well to make some hard distinctions between genuine promoters of Islamophobia and commentators like Pipes who, however strident, appear to carry on a rational discussion of the kinds of fears that are shared by many Americans in a rapidly changing world. Political advocacy need not be a zero-sum game in which any slight of apparent Muslim interests or the advancement of every criticism of Islam has to be attacked with immediacy and vigor. Not every crime against Muslims is a hate crime, and not every criticism of Islam or Muslims is a result of Islamophobia.

In the end the best friend of any people or religion is a friend of the truth, and that may include Daniel Pipes: even when he’s wrong.

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Islam and human rights : selected essays of Abdullahi An-Na’im / by Abdullahi An-Na’im ; edited by Mashood A. Baderin.

Freedom of religion, apostasy and Islam / Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed


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