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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Q&A: Remaking a Religion

Daniel Pipes founded the Middle East Forum in 1994. The author of 12 books, with a Ph.D. in medieval Islamic history, he is the most prominent American scholar of radical Islam; even CBS said he was "years ahead of the curve" in identifying the radical threat.


Many people associate Islam with terrorism, but you also examine a long-term threat that would be peaceful but transformative. In this country, mostly because of 9/11, we focus on terrorism, but in Europe the discussion is much more about immigration and culture. They say, "Unless we make changes, our civilization will disappear." Demographics, culture, and religion may make Europe an extension of North Africa, with attractions like the Mosque of Notre Dame in Paris.

In part that's because non-Muslim Europeans have few children, Muslims have many? There are three factors. First, demography: Women on average need to have 2.1 children to maintain a population, but in Europe right now it's about 1.4, one-third fewer children than are needed. The second factor is religion: the weakening of Christianity. Factor three is multiculturalism: no sense that your own culture is special, something worth fighting for and defending. Muslims have many children. They also immigrate. They have a distinct sense of the superiority of their civilization.

Do you agree with those who say Europe is finished? I disagree. Non-Muslims still constitute 95 percent of Europe and have it within their means to say no to Islamization—and that's what they're doing. Parties that did not exist or had insignificant existence 10-20 years ago are now potently saying no. There are two options: Eurabia, or "No." Which way? It's too early to predict.

How exactly do they say no? That's the question, I don't know how exactly, but I would expect protracted civil conflict, expulsions, use of force. It's not going to be pretty. I can't give you precise scenarios, but Europe has within its history and its potential the prospect of pretty nasty treatment of Muslims.

Would the Netherlands be the leading edge of "No"? Yes, that is the country to watch. It looks like one-third of the government will be made up of an anti-Islamic bloc. What impact do they have? How will others respond? This is all to be seen.

How do the cartoon wars play into this? Were Islamists showing they would prevent anyone from speaking out against them? In 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini put out an edict against Salman Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses, in which Rushdie made fun of various Islamic sanctities. There was strong rejection of the edict: The U.S. Senate voted unanimously for a resolution asserting the right to write whatever you want. Well, 21 years later, people are being threatened and the Senate is not responding. Before 1989 anyone could write or draw whatever they wanted about Islam. Now if you do this, you are taking your life in your hands. If those of us who critique Islam and Muhammad are not allowed to speak or are intimidated from speaking, Islamists prevail: Islam walks in and who's to stop them? The real issue here is: Are we allowed to defend our civilization or not?

If current trends in the United States continue, what will be the situation in 2020? Increased deference to Islamic law. Look at Britain: Polygamy is legal so long as you contract the polygamist marriage in a place where it's legal (say, Morocco). The legal codes accommodate multiple marriages. Welfare and inheritance legal codes separate what wife No. 1 gets and what wife No. 2 gets. That has not happened in the United States, but about four years ago, in Brooklyn, two husbands with multiple wives, and a number of the wives and children, were killed in a fire. The mayor went to pay condolences—it was routine. No one blinked an eye about these polygamists in New York. Contrast that with American treatment of Mormons in the 19th century: furious rejection of polygamy.

So will we have polygamy in the United States by 2020? The debate over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque saw the emergence and mobilization of a resistance to Islamization that hitherto I haven't seen. It could well mean the beginning of a pushback.

Should we accept small accommodations—say, faucets outside an airport terminal for Muslim cab drivers to wash their feet—as an example of American pluralism and tolerance? Yes. We have chapels on military academies, with the ground given by the government and the chapel built with private money. It's an arrangement that works. Why not the same here?

What about the cab drivers and passengers with alcohol? The Minneapolis Airport had another initiative: Cab drivers were refusing to transport anyone carrying liquor. The airport solution was to create two lines, one where liquor is OK and the other where it's not. That might seem like an acceptable accommodation, but think about what this implies: liquor today, but maybe a ham sandwich tomorrow, or a woman with a sleeveless dress. If it's cab drivers today, it could be bus drivers tomorrow and then air captains the next day . . . so the whole plane doesn't take off because someone has a ham sandwich? No. This is U.S. application of Shariah law. I'm happy to report that the airport authorities told the cab drivers that if they wanted to drive taxis they would have to take whoever came along.

You've written that radical Islam is the problem and that "modern Islam" is the solution.* What is modern Islam? Modern Islam is an anti-Islamist Islam. I'm told that modern Islam is like the unicorn, much discussed but never seen—but its supporters do exist. You see Muslims all over arguing against Islamism, but they're not a movement and they're not coherent or organized with a follower and money. It needs deep thinkers—interpreters of the Quran and other sacred scriptures—along with activists and politicians.

So, defeat Islamism with secularized Islam? Work toward a form of Islam that is modern, moderate, neighborly. That is something that only Muslims can do, but we who are not Muslims can help by encouraging the anti-radicals and discouraging the radicals.

Comparing Islam and Christianity—Christianity is a religion of peace with a founder, Christ, who is clearly a person of peace. In Islam, though, Muhammad was often a warrior. Is the basis of Islam naturally warlike after its founder? The basis of Islam is warlike, but that doesn't mean it has to be warlike.

Is the "modern Islam" you want a move away from the core of Islam? It is reinterpreting Islam. The Islamist interpretation that's so dominant now was barely visible when I got into this field in the 1960s. Now it's dominant. If it can grow, then it can get smaller. We need to help it to get small.

In Christianity, you can always point to the person of Christ. In Islam, you can't move toward peace by pointing to the person of Muhammad. Fair enough, but the person of Muhammad for Muslims is not the equivalent of Jesus Christ but the equivalent of Saint Paul. Muslims have made him into almost a Jesus-like figure but that is not inherent in the religion.

But people in the United States can readily draw cartoons of any kind in relation to Christ, or Paul. If it is not a part of Islam to make Muhammad so significant, why is any criticism of him a capital crime in some places? Yes, in Pakistan regulation 295-C asserts that if you assault the prophet, you should be executed. It is a reality, but it doesn't have to be that way. Over the centuries the idea took hold that Muhammad was a perfect man—but we can rethink this. This is what I was getting at about reinterpreting the scriptures—it doesn't have to be that way.


* DP note: This should be: "that radical Islam is the problem and that 'moderate Islam' is the solution."

http://www.danielpipes.org/9252/remaking-a-religion