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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Your intellectual odyssey is very interesting, and this is a part of the world and a religion that is going to be of paramount concern to the United States in this century. If students were to watch this tape, how would you advise them to prepare for the future? Obviously, study Islamic history. What else?

Yes, I do think history is the way to approach it, with all due respect to the other disciplines. History is a very fine way of reading the morning newspaper. It gives you the context in which things take place. I would also say that the pre-modern history in the Muslim world has a vividness, an importance, that is quite unusual. If you go into a bookstore in Cairo, say, you will find that a significant proportion, 10%, 20% of the books come from the medieval period. Imagine that! One cannot imagine things like that here. What's called the turah, the legacy, is powerful, and it shapes minds today. So, becoming familiar with the religion, language, culture, history is vital if one wants to make a serious go at these issues. It's not enough just to read the paper.

What about this transition from the ivory tower to the bully pulpit, what advice do you have for students? I would imagine intellectual power helps a great deal, but also a kind of courage and willingness to take the bite of criticism that must come to the bully pulpit in a way that it doesn't in the university -- or maybe they're the same.

That's a temperamental matter; that depends on what each person wants to do. But I would think that the key to having a public audience is developing one's writing skills. That's what it all boils down to, is being able to write -- finding topics and then being able to write on them in a way that is of interest to a general public. The demands of a public writer are much greater than an academic writer. An academic writer will tend to get read because he has information, analyses, that are important to the selection of people who need that, whether it's well presented and timely or not. Of course, it helps, but it's not as important as in public writing, where writing is the key to a career when one is in a think tank, or a columnist, or other position, because it boils down to what you have written. What you say is less significant, ultimately, than what you write, because what you write is the finest, most complete formulation, and you go over and over and over it again. So I'd say my advice would be to write well.

Dr. Pipes, on that note I want to thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.

Thank you.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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