Last Monday, Daniel Pipes, a presidential appointee to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, explained to an audience at Stanford's Tresidder Union that the war on terror was just the latest phase of a war against militant Islam, dating back to 1979. Mr. Pipes, a noted scholar of Middle East studies, slammed the media and the federal government for not publicly recognizing our enemy.
The Oak Room was packed with an estimated 400 students, alumni, and local residents at Mr. Pipes' speech on Monday, October 20. Joe Fairbanks, President of the Stanford College Republicans, introduced Mr. Pipes to the audience.
Mr. Pipes began by talking about the history of militant Islam and anti-American terror. He traced the roots of militant Islam, or "Islamism," to the 1920's, when some Arab academics borrowed secular, totalitarian ideologies such as Communism and Fascism from Europe. In the seventies, secular totalitarian regimes began to be replaced with Islamic totalitarian regimes, the first being the rise of the Ayatollahs in Iran in 1979.
The hostage incident at the American embassy in Iran, said Mr. Pipes, was also the beginning of the Islamist war against the United States.
Subsequent large scale attacks against America a the bombing of the marines in 1983, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and the bombing of American embassies in 1998 a were all symptoms of the growing profile of radical Islam.
Throughout this period, as opposed to acts of war, "each of these episodes was seen as a crime," said Mr. Pipes. The offenders were "seen as perpetrators to be tried under a penal code." Although "1993 was said to be a wake up call - there was no serious change in policy," and anti-terrorism efforts remained in the province of law enforcement.
On 9/11 "we declared war on terrorism," using not only the civilian authorities, but the military and intelligence community as well. The war in Afghanistan was our first attempt "to go after the force that caused the crime," and our transportation and immigration laws have undergone significant reforms.
Mr. Pipes, however, feared the changes were not enough. He lambasted the Bush administration and the media for being too politically correct to properly identify America's enemy.
"The enemy is not terrorism. It is not Islam. It is militant Islam, an ideological Islam. Everybody knows this [but] for a variety of reasons the media is reluctant to say this." Said Mr. Pipes: calling this conflict "the war on terrorism - is like calling World War II the war against surprise attacks."
Mr. Pipes compared Islamism to two other ideologies America had to fight in the twentieth century: "[Islamism] is a totalitarian movement, dating back to the 1920's- It has more in common with Fascism and Communism than with other radical religious movements."
He estimated that the international appeal of Islamism was similar to that of the other "isms," estimating that "ten to fifteen percent of Muslims in the world are attracted to militant Islam." With more than a billion Muslims worldwide, that's nearly 100 million people. Mr. Pipes said Islamism was growing, emerging as a powerful force in such places as Nigeria, where it was a recent phenomenon. He also pointed to the obvious presence of militant Islamists in Europe and America as an example of the movement's reach. "Militant Islam is a powerful force globally - in the west the Islamists are running virtually all the academic discourse." Because of its vast appeal, Mr. Pipes said that radical Islam must be fought militarily and ideologically.
He said, "We must strengthen moderate Islam. They're not strong, not well-organized." But just as in 1945 we looked for "good Germans," Mr. Pipes urged the audience that the US should foster "a good neighborly Islam- because this is ultimately not a war of civilizations, it is a clash between Muslims of different persuasions."
"Now is the most radical moment in 1400 years of Islamic history," said Mr. Pipes. "It must be our goal to reduce this threat to one that is not important to us."
Mr. Pipes reserved the coda of his speech for a criticism of Middle Eastern studies. He tracked the change of the field from a government-supported attempt to help Americans deal with the rest of the world, to a field dominated by Islamists and post-colonial theorists ideologically opposed to American foreign policy.
Mr. Pipes had several major criticisms of MESA, the Middle Eastern Studies Association. "First, MESA gets it wrong: they dismissed al Qaeda, [they believed] the coming to power of Arafat would lead to the flowering of Palestinian democracy."
He also criticized MESA for refusing to accept scholarships from the federal government, citing an anti-American atmosphere, so that a Hamas member could fit right in "as an employee of Florida University." He also brought up an incident where conservative students were asked to drop out of a Middle East studies class, calling this intolerance an abuse of instructor powers.
His largest criticism was his allegation that MESA professors were largely apologists for Islamic regimes. "On the harder questions they are silent: repression under Saddam Hussein; chattel slavery in Sudan; Islamic anti-Semitism."
After his speech, the audience asked Mr. Pipes a series of questions, some sympathetic, others highly critical of his ideas. In response, Mr. Pipes touched on the definition of jihad, the Arab-Israeli wars, and Saudi relations.
Mr. Pipes was also asked what would convince him to return to Stanford next year. "Just invite me back."