Militant Islam Reaches America
by Daniel Pipes
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. 309 pp. $25.95.
Reviewed by Robert Satloff
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Middle East Quarterly
In the war on terrorism, who is the enemy? Sounds like a trick question—it's terrorists, right?—but Pipes, more than any other public intellectual at the intersection of scholarship and policymaking, has forced America's leaders and leading pundits to think again. As he argues in this insightful and often prophetic set of essays, the threat to American lives, values, and interests that has triggered the war on terrorism does not come from some featureless group of high-tech criminals but rather from a highly motivated, ideologically-driven slice of the world's billion-plus Muslim population, those who subscribe to what Pipes calls "militant Islam." Focusing our rhetoric and our actions on terrorists rather than on militant Islam, he says, is to focus on the tactical threat rather than the strategic danger, akin to saying that German panzers or Japanese kamikaze pilots—rather than Nazism or imperial militarism—were America's enemies in World War II.
Pipes (publisher of the Middle East Quarterly and adjunct scholar of the institute I direct) has been studying Islam in general, and the phenomenon of militant Islam in particular, all his adult life. This book gathers together twenty-three essays (one with coauthor Mimi Stillman), written over a dozen years, on two broad themes: the phenomenon of militant Islam and the evolution of the Muslim presence in the United States. September 11 is the pivot point that makes these two themes frightfully complementary.
Throughout this collection, Pipes plays different roles—variously advocate, analyst, and historian. Conventional wisdom often comes in for blistering attack and withers under the onslaught. Can one usefully discern moderate militants from militant militants? Does poverty make Muslims into militants? U.S. and European governments, as well as legions of academics, have said, yes, to both questions for years; Pipes convincingly argues, no. Bravely staking out a position to the right of President Bush, Pipes calls the commander-in-chief to task for walking the walk but not talking the talk, i.e., for fighting militant Islam in far-flung places around the globe but failing to identify it as the real enemy. To help law enforcement and political leaders at home, he offers a detailed how-to guide to "fighting militant Islam, without bias." Elsewhere, Pipes leavens this mild-mannered but tough-talking policy advocacy with historical vignettes on fascinating but little-known episodes of Islam's growth inside the United States, ranging from the personal stories of Elijah Muhammad and Jamil al-Amin to the Muslim consciousness of African slaves.
Throughout, Pipes is exceedingly careful neither to be, nor to seem to be, anti-Muslim. Given the high percentage of the world's Muslims he believes are adherents or fellow-travelers of the militant creed—10-15 percent of a billion-plus people is a lot of people—it would be easy to slide down the slope of indicting all Muslims for the sins of this (admittedly sizable) minority. But Pipes is both knowledgeable and sensitive enough to know that the religion of Islam is not the problem; rather it is the ideology of militant Islam that we—the United States, free peoples, and non-militant Muslims around the world yearning for a more liberal, humane version of Islam—all have to fight. Those who denounce Pipes for alleged intolerance toward Islam or Muslims have simply never read what he has written. They—and even more importantly, the American political leaders who direct the war on terrorism—should.
Related Topics: Radical Islam | Robert Satloff | Summer 2003 MEQ
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