I recently had an opportunity to do a phone interview with Middle Eastern expert Daniel Pipes. He’s the author of 11 books, has lectured in twenty-five countries, and has appeared on shows like ABC World News, CBS Reports, Crossfire, Good Morning America, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Nightline, O’Reilly Factor, and The Today Show.
John Hawkins: Almost a year after 9/11, how popular is Osama Bin Laden in the Islamic World?
Daniel Pipes: Considerably less popular than in the immediate aftermath of September’s atrocities, but still a major figure to contend with.
John Hawkins: When you say, “considerably less popular” is that because of the lack of success al-Queda’s had since 9/11?
Daniel Pipes: Right, the collapse of the Taliban regime, the lack of any particular success with the one exception of attacking a synagogue in Tunisia, for a year’s work. He’s a smaller figure than he was but should he come back and effect some major disaster his popularity would soar higher than ever.
John Hawkins: Survey after survey of the Middle East after 9/11 showed that the people there did not believe that Osama Bin Laden and al-Queda were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Why do you think that is?
Daniel Pipes: The Middle East and the Muslim world more broadly have had a very difficult time coming to terms with modern life. You will find a bewildering range of conspiracy theories and alternate realities to explain what’s going on. This is just one more example of that. I wrote a whole book on conspiracy theories in the Middle East. There are legions of theories about whatever subject you touch. There is a reversal of reality, appearances deceive, everything is topsy-turvy, friends are really enemies, and enemies are really friends. If there’s good evidence Bin Laden did it then it must be the opposite of Bin Laden. It must be the Bush administration or the Israelis or whatever. It’s endemic on almost every political subject.
John Hawkins: Some people are speculating that Bin Laden is/was gunning for the title of caliph. What do you think of that theory?
Daniel Pipes: That’s a possibility. The caliph has been gone for seventy-five years. Another thesis is that he is conspiring to the roll of Mahdi, the person who brings in the end of days. I’m not too certain what his goals are.
John Hawkins: Saudi Arabia has started to drift into the crosshairs lately. What should our long-term policy goals be with Saudi Arabia?
Daniel Pipes: The key thing to understand about US/Saudi relations at this point is that it’s a very private affair. The American electorate, think tanks, Congress, lobbyists, and others have had no say over it. It’s been a very cliquish affair for decades now. The change in the last year has been the opening of the relationship. The President has invited the Saudi ambassador to visit him at his Crawford Ranch as a way of saying, “we’re sticking with you.” It’s a clear response to the vehement anti-Saudi feeling. The government assumption has been all these years that Saudi Arabia is our close ally. The populist response since last September has been, “Saudi Arabia is our enemy.” My own take is in-between. Saudi Arabia is our rival, not an enemy, not a friend, a rival. Although it’s a small state it sees itself as the leader of a very large Muslim population and it has ideological and religious goals it needs to propagate. Saudi Arabia is actually more like China than it is like Iraq or Canada. It’s in-between an enemy and a friend.
John Hawkins: Do you think the level of anti-semitism in the Muslim world today can legitimately be compared to the level of anti-semitism in Nazi Germany?
Daniel Pipes: Yes it can, it’s quite similar. The difference of course is that there is no substantial Jewish population in the Muslim countries and there is no Hitler. But, the fervor and the conspiratorial nature is distinctly reminiscent of the Nazi period.
John Hawkins: Why do we so seldom seem to hear from Muslims who are opposed to militant Islam? It seems as if almost everyone we hear from in the press is either pro-militant Islam or is an apologist for practitioners of militant Islam.
Daniel Pipes: It’s true that the voices of moderate Islam are scarce, they’re intimidated, they’re disorganized and they’re in retreat. I think therefore there are two goals we need to pursue in our current war. One is to destroy militant Islam as we destroyed Fascism in WW2. The second goal, more subtle but no less important, is to build up and guide moderate Islam.
John Hawkins: Some people have compared Conservative Christians to militant Islamists. How similar are those two groups in your mind?
Daniel Pipes: I think there is no similarity whatsoever. I believe the useful way of seeing a militant Islamist is not in comparison with Christians, Jews, or other members of religious groups. It’s more useful to compare the militant Islamists with the Fascists or Communists and their radically utopian ideology. Yes its wellspring is religion, but its final form is ideology. There is no comparable Christian radically utopian ideology or Christian totalitarian ideology, nor Jewish, nor Hindu, nor any other religions.
John Hawkins: You’ve said that militant Islam has a ways to go before it peaks. Why do you believe that to be the case?
Daniel Pipes: I believe militant Islam is getting stronger. For example, look at major countries like Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Indonesia that a decade ago were relatively free of it and now are very much contending with militant Islam. It’s still rising.
John Hawkins: Do you see any sort of possible solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians within say the next decade? If so, how do you think peace could be achieved?
Daniel Pipes: If you asked me that question ten years ago I would have said, “yes by 2010 a resolution to the conflict is possible.” Because of the enormous reverses that resulted from the Oslo process I now think that a full resolution is decades away. The Oslo process set things back by twenty to thirty years.
I believe the historical record shows that closure comes only when there is clear victory or clear defeat and in this case that would mean either the Arab destruction of Israel or the Israelis winning the acceptance of their neighbors. Assuming it’s the second that we’re looking at, that acceptance has been retarded by the Oslo process but it is feasible. It can happen eventually when the Arabs come to the realization that their decades long attempt to destroy Israel has failed, that they better find something else to do with themselves.
John Hawkins: How do you think Israel should proceed from this point? What is the quickest path for Israel to take towards long-term peace in the region?
Daniel Pipes: I think there is no substitute for victory. The only way there can be closure is through victory, either Israeli or Arab. Assuming it’s Israeli victory, it means convincing the enemies of Israel that they cannot win and causing them to despair of their goals and give them up. Any kind of compromise solution is not going to work as Oslo so eloquently showed us.
John Hawkins: Since the only way for Israel to end the conflict is to militarily achieve their goals how do they do that when the terrorists are dispersed within the civilian population of the Palestinians?
Daniel Pipes: I’m not in a position to give the Israelis tactical advice. What I’m suggesting is American foreign policy aimed towards workings with the Israelis, with the moderate Arabs, to convince the radicals that their goals are unattainable, futile, and even counter-productive. What that translates to on the ground I’m not in a position to say.
But the goal needs to be established because it’s a very different goal from the one that’s currently in mind. The general assumption of the United States government is that the Arabs have already accepted Israel and it’s just a matter of working out the details of a resolution. I’m saying, “no, its never been there, it’s not there now, and it must be a goal for the future.”
John Hawkins: If Europe and the anti-war left were to somehow convince President Bush not to invade Iraq, do you think it would encourage or discourage militant Islamists to make more attacks on America?
Daniel Pipes: Well I think they’re separate phenomena. The career of militant Islam is better with a Saddam in power than with him gone and with a United States that is ineffective, rather than with a United States that is effective. So there is a connection although they are separate.
John Hawkins: There seems to be a belief among many Europeans that if they don’t stand with the United States in the war on terrorism, it’ll make them less likely to be hit with terrorist attacks. In the long-run do you believe they’re right or wrong?
Daniel Pipes: Well the United States is the great power and the Europeans have really chosen not to invest in their militaries and are basically secondary powers. The enemies of the West are aware of that and therefore target the United States. It might be true that they would open themselves up to more retaliation if they join us but it’s also true that they’re freeloaders if they don’t. They’re benefitting from our military and financial commitment without carrying their due proportion.
John Hawkins: Let’s say we go into Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. What do you think the effect on the surrounding region is going to be?
Daniel Pipes: I think contrary to the deposing of the Taliban regime with few implications, the deposition of Saddam Hussein will have vast implications on every sort of level. On militant Islam, the energy market, the Israeli conflict, the general problem of the Arab states modernizing, you name it, it’ll be a large event.
John Hawkins: Largely positive or largely negative?
Daniel Pipes: Every single way positive that I can think of.
John Hawkins: Just to finish up, could you tell us a little bit about your new book?
Daniel Pipes: “Militant Islam Reaches America” is just out from W.W. Norton. It’s comprised of two parts. An analysis of militant Islam in general and Islam in the United States. (The tape ran out here & the last 20 seconds or so of the interview was lost. There’s a great description of the book at the link above however and it looks to be well worth a read).