Daniel Pipes Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Militant Islam: Conversation with Daniel Pipes, Director, Middle East Forum, 2/10/04 by Harry Kreisler

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The Post-9/11 World

We had David Frum as our guest, and he emphasized the importance in Bush's speech after 9/11 in saying, "this is a war," as opposed to the way terrorism was dealt with in previous administrations, namely seeing it as criminal activity. What I get confused by in all of this is the extent to which you're talking about a global movement that is a threat. I wonder if in identifying it so closely with the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century, which achieved their power by controlling state power, it then becomes muddled. In other words, by going with your identification of all the problems, or that of the Bush administration, the question is are we building up their power as we confront the obvious realities of the threat they pose?

Let me first say that my view is quite different from the Bush administration's. And, secondly, say that I endorse David Frum's point: when the president on the 11th of September itself, that evening, addressed the nation and spoke about a war against terrorism, that was a profound shift. It had been seen as criminal. We deployed our detectives, our judges, and our jails. We did not deploy our intelligence agencies and our military forces. That started on that day. And, for example, the expeditionary force to Afghanistan showed that we were ready to use military force.

I like to say there's three different eras: One, from 1979 to the 10th of September, the era of eight hundred deaths, but the model is criminality. The second is that of post-9/11, which is the war on terror. And the third will start when it's no longer seen as a war on terror. So, first, it was police action against terror, the second is war on terror, and the third will begin when it becomes war on militant Islam.

As for our enhancing their power, I don't think so. We're defending ourselves and we're trying to defeat them. I don't think in taking them seriously we're enhancing their power.

So how, then, do we fight? What are the best ways to fight in this third phase?

It begins by understanding this is a body of ideas. Criminality and violence and war are manifestations of ideas, and we must grapple with these ideas, we must argue with these ideas, and we must understand them. Of course counter-terrorism is necessary, of course, B-52s are necessary, but there's also a more fundamental level of ideas. Of late, administration officials have begun talking about this, that the problem starts with the ideology, with the schools, with the affiliation, with ideas. That's a very positive development.

I don't have a recipe for victory. What I do have is an orientation saying, "Look at these ideas, look at militant Islam, the ideology," and once we do that then we can begin to figure out the tactics to deploy. All I'm trying to do at this point is say don't focus on terrorism, focus on an ideology.

What do we do in this middle area where we support states that, in essence, are incubators of the very totalitarian enemy that you've identified?

We have all sorts of interesting and challenging questions ahead in relations, for example, with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. We have, historically, quite good relations with the leadership. And, yet, as you point out, there's major turmoil below, large number of students are being educated in ways very hostile to ourselves. This is the sort of issue that we need to grapple with, but it's not about terrorism. This is something much deeper than terrorism. I can't give you the answer to it, but it's a top priority to reassess relations with the regime, to figure out what is most important to us, what are our priorities, and to push for them.

How does Israel fit into this equation? Does it mean that Israel is always right with regard to its policies in that region toward the Palestinians, or do we have to be nuanced in viewing different governments in Israel, different party affiliations, and so on?

It's fair to say that nobody is always right. Certainly, the Israeli government has made its share of mistakes, rather substantial ones. But the thing about Israel is that it has been targeted first and hardest by the forces of militant Islam -- well, I don't know, "first and hardest," but of Western governments, not thinking of India or Algeria or Sudan, the Israeli experience is the one most relevant to ourselves. It's also relevant in a sense that if it works in Israel, if militant Islam succeeds by dint of its campaign of violence, it is all the more likely that we will see it here. If it fails, it's less likely.

So we have a vested interest in the outcome everywhere that militant Islam loses. But in particular in Israel because Israel and the United States are often seen as similar. In the Muslim eye, it's kind of one is the cat's paw of the other. So we're associated in a way that, say, Algeria and the United States are not. So we have a vested interest in the Israelis defeating their enemy, because their enemy is related to our enemy very closely. If they don't defeat them, we will feel the sting all that much more.

You raise the example of Jewish traditionalism in talking about Islam. Is there a challenge for Israel in confronting fundamentalism within Israeli society?

There is a radical trend in Israeli Jewish politics. It has an influence in that they are a coalition government. But it's not one of the priorities that I would think that the Israeli body of politic has to face.

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