Monday, July 27, 2015

Introduction to ‘Nothing Abides’ Perspectives on the Middle East and Islam


By Daniel Pipes
27 July, 2015
New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers
May 2015

The English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) fortuitously captured two themes in his phrase that serves as my epigraph, "Nor peace within nor calm around."[1] To be sure, Shelley wrote of his inner turmoil in this poem, "Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples," and not his reflections on the Middle East and Islam; but he also succinctly made the two key points, about internal and external unrest, that recur throughout the following study and so might serve as this book's catchphrase.
My title, "nothing abides" derives from a lecture on the philosophy of history by the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). He said of Muslim polities: "In its spread, Mohammedanism founded many kingdoms and dynasties. On this boundless sea there is a continual onward movement; nothing abides firm (nichts ist fest)."[2] Almost two centuries later, instability, volatility, and perpetual motion continue to characterize Muslim communities.
Samuel Huntington (1927–2008), the eminent political analyst, coined a phrase in 1996, "Islam's bloody borders,"[3] that captures the external dimension of this phenomenon, namely the ceaseless wars waged by Muslims against non-Muslims, from the Christians of Iberia to the Hindus of Bali. Together, these three phrases convey the topic of the following chapters published over the quarter century between 1989 and 2014.
My inquiry during this period has concentrated on the Middle East as understood from a historical point of view and on the role of Islam in politics. The book contains five sections.
I. The Arab-Israeli Conflict
The Arab-Israeli conflict is the single most enduring as well as the most intensely scrutinized topic of Middle Eastern politics in the past century. Diplomatically, it compares to the Eastern Question concerning the future of the Ottoman Empire that earlier haunted European statecraft: both endured for more than a century, engaged a large cast of regional and international players, and consumed a disproportionate amount of attention. I consider my ideas about resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict as one of my two most significant contributions to American foreign policy (the other being how to deal with Islamism).
The first chapter, "Peace Process or War Process?" argues for three points needed to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict: realizing "that past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed; that their failure resulted from an Israeli illusion about avoiding war; and that Washington should urge Jerusalem to forego negotiations and return instead to its earlier and more successful policy of fighting for victory." Victory is the key concept: only when one side wins a clear victory can the war end. And that side must be Israel. This approach dismisses the diplomacy that began with Kilometer 101 in 1973 as irrelevant at least and counterproductive at worst.
The Jewish claim to Jerusalem is well known, but what of the rival "Muslim Claim to Jerusalem"? A historical review suggests that Muslims value the city only when it has political significance to them and lose interest when it does not. "This pattern first emerged during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century. Since then, it has been repeated on five occasions: in the late seventh century, in the twelfth-century Counter crusade, in the thirteenth-century Crusades, during the era of British rule (1917–48), and since Israel took the city in 1967." Such consistency over so many centuries and under so many diverse circumstances challenges assertions that Jerusalem has vital religious importance in Islam.
A striking contrast exists between the viciousness of most Palestinian discourse about Israel, such as, for example, comparing it to Nazi Germany, and the diametrically opposite, sober, and appreciative statements Palestinians make about Israel as an actual place to live. I focus on the latter in "The Hell of Israel Is Better than the Paradise of Arafat." Part one reviews the Palestinian preference to remain under Israeli rule and part two contains praise for Israel in contrast to Arab regimes. These outspoken statements friendly to Israel offer more than tactical ammunition for the Jewish state; they provide the potential basis for a resolution to the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. For if the Muslim Arabic speakers most affected by and knowledgeable of Israel understand and communicate its considerable virtues, the ear-piercing toxicity of their colleagues could one day find itself without a constituency.
I argue in "The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine" that, contrary to widespread belief, the idea of a Palestinian nation between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea does not reach back into hoary antiquity but rather "its origins can be traced with surprising precision to a single year—1920. In January 1920, Palestinian nationalism hardly existed; by December of that critical year, it had been born." This change in the space of one year nearly a century ago has had many implications for the Palestinian national movement, foreshadowing "some abiding themes, such as the potential for rapid change and the major role of the Western powers" and providing insight into "the most widely supported but possibly the least successful nationalist cause" of our time.
"Mirror Image: How the PLO Mimics Zionism" follows the Palestinian career as Zionism's Doppelgãnger, a German word meaning, roughly, "evil twin." The Zionist movement was unique among national movements (notably, by establishing the Yishuv, a "state in the making," an informal government that prepared the way for the formal state in 1948). In many ways, the Palestinian movement mimicked these features (the PLO is its "state in the making"). For example, the Palestinian emphasis on the centrality of Jerusalem, the global status of Yasir Arafat, and the dependence on foreign backing. I argue that "the PLO can be understood only with reference to its Zionist inspiration. Indeed, imitation offers important insights into the PLO's future course."
"The Road to Damascus: What Netanyahu Almost Gave Away in 1998" contains a scoop about the Israeli-Syrian negotiations of August and September 1998. Completely secret, these talks were conducted by an unlikely pair of amateur Americans—the businessman and former ambassador Ronald Lauder and the editor of the journal Middle East Insight, George Nader. They approached an agreement but were thwarted in the end by the Israeli defense and foreign ministers, whose objections overrode Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's hopes for a deal. Given what has occurred in Syria since 2011, Israel is very fortunate those objections prevailed. This case study remains of interest for the insights it offers into Arab-Israeli diplomacy, Israeli politics, and the man who both then and now heads Israel's government.
II. Middle Eastern Politics
"Understanding Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories" introduces an extensive subject by examining the nature of the conspiracy mentality, the gullibility of the people who hold them, and their leaders, concluding with a case study of Iraq and Iran. This chapter provides the context for the next one, which asks how governments should respond to the irrational world of conspiracy theories. The Central Intelligence Agency commissioned me to explain how these operate, which I later published as "Dealing with Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories." I argue that ignoring the phenomenon of conspiracism, as Washington tends to do, neglects key aspects of the Middle East; therefore, government agencies should devote serious attention and generous resources to understanding this type of thinking. Beyond paying them heed, I suggest developing policies with a specific awareness of the region's conspiracist mindset. This, in turn, leads to an interesting question: should the US government take advantage of vulnerabilities presented by conspiracism, or work to diminish this dangerous attitude? The answer is not self-evident.
Before the Syrian civil war erupted, area specialists generally scoffed at seeing the rulers' Alawi identity as defining their place in Syria, preferring to emphasize their geographic or ideological features. I begged to differ and concentrated instead on Alawi tensions with Syria's majority Sunni community. The centrepiece of my argument appeared in a 1989 analysis, "The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria." I provided background on the Alawis and on their despised place in Syrian society until 1920, then traced their dramatic and unexpected ascent over the course of the next fifty years, culminating with Hafez al-Assad's seizure of power in 1970. The most striking aspect of this analysis is that Alawis are not Muslims, which in itself led to their consequently terrible relations with Sunnis over the centuries. Two mid-nineteenth-century observations about the Alawis capture their longstanding characteristics: "They are a wild and somewhat savage race, given to plunder, and even bloodshed, when their passions are excited or suspicion roused"; and Alawi society "is a perfect hell upon earth." Westerners remained largely oblivious to these tensions through forty-five years of Alawi rule, from 1966 to 2011, only to watch them erupt in the horrific conflagration of the most vicious civil war in the modern Middle East.
First presented as my testimony to the House Committee on Government Reform, "The Scandal of US-Saudi Relations" describes a pattern of American obsequiousness—both public and private—in the areas of energy, security, religion, and the treatment of Americans in the kingdom. Example after example demonstrate how weakly the American side behaves when confronted with Saudi will. Contrary to the usual logic, Riyadh sets the terms of this bilateral relationship; a change has taken place, "with both sides forgetting which of them is the great power and which the minor one." This chapter documents that claim, explains it, and offers a specific policy recommendation to correct the problem.
I wrote "Obituary for Nizar Hamdoon (1944–2003)" for two reasons. First, I've never met a diplomat quite like him when he served as Saddam Hussein's ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Washington in 1984–87, just as full diplomatic relations between the two countries were reinstated, and as the Iraq-Iran war reached its apogee. Hamdoon took seriously his task to develop American support and did so most impressively, even as he worked for a monstrous tyrant. Second, he contacted me in May 2003, a few months after the fall of Saddam and just weeks before his own death. I did not manage to ask him the barrage of questions I had prepared but I did get some valuable information while sitting with him in a New York City Starbucks, some of which I record in this obituary.
The president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who took office in June 2014, remains a mystery; does he fundamentally differ from Hosni Mubarak, or is he but a younger clone of the long-time dictator? I look at a student paper written by Sisi in 2006 when he spent a year in the United States, to determine the answer to "What Egypt's New President Really Thinks." He turns out to be "a work in progress, a fifty-nine-year- old still trying to discover who he is and what he thinks even as he rules a country of eighty-six million. On-the-job training is literal in his case." This means he can be influenced, which offers opportunities for foreign governments.
III. Islam in Modern Life
The final three sections take up my other central interest, the role of Islam in public life. Two themes recur here: a recognition that the dream of applying Islamic law looms over Muslim life, giving it similar rhythms regardless of time and place; and the need to take Muslim experience into account, which means noting changes over time, rather than simply assuming the static authority of scripture.
"Islam currently represents a backward, aggressive, and violent force. Must it remain this way, or can it be reformed and become moderate, modern, and good-neighborly?" Against the growing and vocal body of analysts who answer that the Muslim faith cannot advance because its features are immutable, I argue that change for the better is possible in "Can Islam Be Reformed?" In it, I contend that Islam does not have an essential and unchanging core; Muslims and non-Muslims alike should work toward the reformation of the religion by building on the "medieval synthesis" that made Islam a flexible faith until two hundred years ago.
A great debate exists between those who argue that becoming modern requires emulating the West and those who disagree, saying alternative routes to modernity exist. As its title "You Need Beethoven to Modernize" implies, I come down on the side of the importance of Westernizing. To be fully modern, I find, "means mastering Western music; competence at Western music, in fact, closely parallels a country's wealth and power." I establish this point by looking at two civilizations, Muslim and Japanese. "Muslim reluctance to accept Western music foreshadows a general difficulty with modernity; Japanese mastery of every style from classical to jazz help explain everything from a strong yen to institutional stability." Beethoven's music is not in itself functional, but unless you master it, you cannot enter the inner sanctum of modernity.
I delivered "Denying Islam's Role in Terrorism: Why?" at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel. In it, I document and explain a curious pattern: the Establishment in the West (including politicians, the police, the press, and the professorate) routinely denies that Islamism represents the leading global cause of terrorism, even though it and everyone else knows otherwise. About five daily assaults in the name of Islam since 9/11 notwithstanding, Islamic motives are rarely noted. While euphemism, cowardice, political correctness, and appeasement all contribute to this pattern, I argue that two other, quite respectable reasons are paramount: not wanting to create even more trouble by offending Muslims and a widespread awareness that implicating Islam implies a major shift away from how secular Western societies are presently ordered. Unless the number of casualties of Islamist terrorism increases substantially, I predict no changes to the current state of denial.
Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 edict against Salman Rushdie stands out as one of the most original and consequential political developments of recent times. Ignoring international boundaries and established freedoms, the Iranian despot sentenced to death the author of a novel called The Satanic Verses "and all those [knowingly] involved in the publication." While Westerners offered respectable resistance to this Diktat, I argue in "The Rushdie Rules Ascendant" that the passage of time has weakened their will, and especially that of liberals. That's because, now, "defenders of Western civilization must fight not just Islamists but also the multiculturalists who enable them and the leftists who ally with them." This augurs badly for the continued maintenance of traditional freedoms in the West.
IV. Islam in the United States
In a sociological survey, "Faces of American Islam: Muslim Immigrants," the late Khalid Durán and I cover a range of topics: demography, geography, history, motives, religion, socioeconomics, children, sex, and institutions. We conclude that immigrants, not converts, are the key Muslim protagonists in the United States; that developing a distinctly American form of Islam will be a great challenge; and that "both the United States and Islam are likely to be deeply affected by their mutual encounter." These being two of the most powerful cultural forces in the world (along with the Chinese civilization), the result of their interaction are not only unpredictable but also very consequential.
In contrast to the grand sweep of the last chapter, "CAIR: Islamists Fooling the Establishment," written with Sharon Chadha, examines in close detail the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the most aggressive and arguably the most effective of American Islamist groups. Our exposé reveals CAIR's connections to terrorism as well as its efforts to stymie counterterrorism, its ties to non-Muslim political extremists, the irregularities about its funding, its real goals, and its reliance on intimidation. Chadha and I conclude this 2006 analysis asking, "How long will it be until the Establishment finally recognizes CAIR for what it is and denies it mainstream legitimacy?" Nine years later, that recognition has yet to be conferred, so our data retains its pertinence.
In "Barack Obama's Muslim Childhood," I establish that Barack Hussein Obama was born and raised a Muslim, provide confirming evidence for this from recent years, survey the perceptions of him as a Muslim, and place this deception in the larger context of Obama's other autobiographical fictions. In brief, the record points to Obama being "child to a line of Muslim males, given a Muslim name, registered as a Muslim in two Indonesian schools." Further, "he read Koran in religion class, still recites the Islamic declaration of faith, and speaks to Muslim audiences like a fellow believer. Between his non-practicing Muslim father, his Muslim stepfather, and his four years of living in a Muslim milieu, he was both seen by others and saw himself as a Muslim." This deception points to a deep character flaw.
V. Individuals and American Islam
US promoters of Islamism, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have great importance shaping the future of American Islam. Will they manage to keep radical interpretations dominant, or will they lose ground as other Muslims reclaim their faith?
The press lavished praise on an Egyptian-born professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles as a moderate, but I sensed otherwise. In "Stealth Islamist: Khaled Abou El Fadl," I establish that the media's darling is in fact an Islamist, and all the more dangerously so for misleading potential critics. That he got away with this duplicity despite a long bibliography available in English, "points to the challenge of how to discern Islamists who present themselves as moderates" and the need to do serious background work before anointing anyone as a reformer. "Failing proper research, Islamists will push their way through Western institutions and ultimately subvert them." How many more individuals are like him, burrowing into the system?
"Waging Jihad through the American Courts: Iqbal Unus" tells how a nuclear physicist of Pakistani origin living in the Washington, DC, area with close links to many Islamist organizations thwarted counterterrorism work through his legal challenge to both the US government and a private counterterrorism researcher, Rita Katz. Although his legal case never had a chance of success and was, in fact, dismissed with prejudice by the presiding judge, it nonetheless brought a raft of benefits to Unus and his colleagues, from gumming up the works to gleaning information to winning public sympathy. In response, I call for changes in the legal system to prevent such predatory legal tactics.
My connection to the third individual began with a crudely written summons for me to appear in federal court in Texas. To make the crazed legal proceedings more endurable, I researched the plaintiff with the intent of publishing what I discovered about him. I held off, however, until a key ally of his switched sides, bearing important information. The result is "A Palestinian in Texas: Riad Hamad," a cautionary tale of "immigrants who bring with them the bad habits imbued by tyrannical politics and radical ideologies."
Finally, I look at an Islamist fellow traveller, an eight-term congressman from Cleveland, in "Lefty for Radical Islam: Dennis Kucinich." In his 2004 presidential effort, Kucinich set a number of precedents in his appeal for Muslim votes—claiming to keep a Koran in his office, rousing audiences to proclaim Allahu Akbar, and visiting Muslim organizations Introduction xvii during his campaign travels. Although "seeking the Islamist vote in 2004 was a sure way not to reach the White House," his tender treatment of Islamists offered innovative methods that other Democratic Party politicians will likely adopt.
Editorial Practices
These chapters appear essentially unchanged from their original publication: I have corrected typographical errors and other minor mistakes, and added clarifications to once-familiar references that have become obscure. Further, some texts reflect the original work that the author submitted rather than the final publication. Where I have updated a text, an elevated, hollow dot, °, indicates the beginning and end of the new information.
© Transaction Publishers.
[1] Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind and Other Poems (New York: Courier Dover, 2012), p. 15. I thank Anne Mandelbaum for pointing out this poem as well as for her generous help with the editing of my writings.
[2] Lectures on the Philosophy of History, trans. into English by J. Sibree (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), p. 454. In German: "Viele Reiche und Dynastien hat der Mohammedanismus bei seiner Ausbreitung begründet. Auf diesem unendlichen Meere wird es immer weiter, nichts ist fest." Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1970), p. 431.
[3] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 254.