Seeing Through Daniel Pipes
By Brother Shadee Elmasry
Although there has been much compassion towards Muslims post-9/11, the opponents of Islam have begun to focus their attack. The time has come that such people cannot go unanswered; for their articulations not only threaten a fringe few, but now pose danger to the average Muslim in America. This article will focus on the head of this vicious campaign: Daniel Pipes. We will define exactly what he is saying. It is important for all readers, Muslim and other, to see through his chestnut techniques of association, selectivity, and a supposed objectivity which is nothing other than a façade, and to realize that what he and his cohorts are doing is no less than a character assassination of the mainstream Muslim community in America.
Pipes is to be reckoned with. He holds a PhD from Harvard, has taught there, and has served in the State and Defense Departments. But he is to be reckoned with, because his influence ranges widely. Articles by him are published in assorted newspapers from the Jerusalem Post, to the tabloid New York Post, to the white collar Wall Street Journal (Leonard Getz, Lifestyle Magazine, June 2000). His media campaign desires to usher in a transition of American panic from the overseas radicals, not representative of traditional Islam by any length of the imagination, to the domestic mainstream Muslims, who are in no way violent or radical. Almost without exception, his essays not only insinuate, but directly state, that what are thought to be mainstream Muslims in America are in fact as dangerous as terrorists; not because of the use of violence, but in that they harbor the identical intent to "conquer America." He has recently presented his argument in a piece entitled The Danger Within: Militant Islam in America (Commentary Magazine, November 2001), in which he may be among the firsts to mention by name, the Muslim community's most recognizable personalities: the late Professor Ismail al-Faruqi, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, and Zaid Shakir. CAIR, ISNA, and the MSA are only on the surface legitimate in his eyes. They too receive his condemnation by name as underhanded Muslim efforts to take over America and deny Americans their prized rights and freedoms. As wide as his imagination sways, he is considered an expert on Arab affairs and is therefore given the Western ear.
Overall, his argument may be deemed weak. He uses Osama bin Laden and Shaykh Omar Abdel Rahman as symbols of terrorism, pivot points around which America's new enemy rotates namely what he calls "Islamism," or the violent fundamentalist approach. He has then cherry-picked statements and comments made by the Imams in America and fit them in the fields of the above two or their followers. By that simple case, the reader is supposed to assume that the latter and their followers are just as much a threat to the nation.
Although his argument is not directed at them, Pipes adds to his own discredit by misrepresenting bin Laden and Abdel Rahman when he says that they "desire, ultimately, to transform it [America] into a nation living under the strictures of militant Islam" (TDW). As for the former, he clearly indicated in his address, which Americans viewed on October 9th courtesy of Aljazeera, that his campaign was against American presence in the Arabian Peninsula, and not the continent of America, as much as he loathes it. As for Dr. Abdel Rahman, Pipes imagines that "bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 was part and parcel of this revolutionary strategy to 'conquer the land of the infidels' by force" (ibid). He chooses to continue sans any hard support for this statement, which is crucial to his thesis, save for an obscure quote from El Sayyid Nosair which he cites as "words…found in a notebook kept by Sayyid Nusayr." Those who know anything about Dr. Abdel Rahman are aware that his focal point was reform in Egypt, not America.
Finally, he wants to inform his readers that the first Muslims "who arrived here from abroad in the 1920's, unblushingly declared, 'Our plan is, we're going to conquer America.'" Who said this? And where did he find it? By this point, Pipes abandons documentation altogether. His un-buttressed claims and lack of citation is frustrating considering the implications of his argument, and rather peculiar for an accomplished academic.
Yet, this will continue to go unnoticed due to his eminence. Furthermore, his pieces appear largely in newspapers that go without documentation or support. As such, he finds it easy, after conjuring largely untrue imagery of wild and ferocious Muslim terrorists out to get America, to link the Muslim leaders of North America to this representation. By simply being mentioned in the same article, much less the same paragraph, mental associations are made. Skimmers and quick readers of magazines and newspapers do not search for a thesis or argument, nor do they check documentation. They just plain read, and when they read "Siraj Wahhaj" and "conspiracy to overthrow the government" in the same paragraph---as in TDW---the former is negatively classified, consciously or subconsciously. Not that readers will remember, but all they will leave with is the simple link: "Siraj Wahhaj"---"something bad." Pipes is using guilt by association to character-assassinate. Ismail al-Faruqi and Zaid Shakir are among the "educated Muslim leaders" who share "fanatical zeal" for "Islamism." Pipes is worryingly obsessed with Zaid Shakir, mentioning him in 2 of 3 November articles. He repeats the same quote from the Connecticut Imam, this time as proof that the Imam is not traditional but militant (Fighting Militant Islam without Bias , City Journal, November 2001). It may go without say that Pipes is far from an "expert" on Islam. Shamim Siddiqi, Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, and Ahmed Nawfal are also used to show how the vast majority of Muslim Americans are to be cautioned.
It is apparent that Pipes is well aware of the American Muslims' activities. For that very reason, one may wonder why the name Hamza Yusuf never appears in any of his 30-odd articles on Muslim Americans and their danger. Doubtless, he's heard of the most popular educator in Islamic circuits, and doubtless, he can discover a line or two on which to make his play from amongst Yusuf's dozens of tapes sold at any Islamic bookstore or website. So why no mention? The reason is two-fold. One: Hamza Yusuf is Caucasian. He is dangerous because he appeals to white Americans, and that is the last thing people like Pipes and his cohorts want to unearth. It is altogether surprising that the Washington Post would run a story on Yusuf, because no matter how positively or negatively it portrayed him, it was good, for the simple reason that when you have no press, bad press is good press. This is the second reason Pipes will never refer to Hamza Yusuf in his rants on American Muslims. He is too smart not to know that to register a personality negatively is better than not registering them at all, for some people may give them an ear. He finds no problem with African Americans and immigrants; perhaps he believes that the average white American will brush them off because of their race. How true that is, only the future can tell.
By posing definitions for Islam vs. Islamism, Pipes assumes a type of knowledge on the religion, trying to show that he is an objective scholar, whose warnings should be heeded. He defines traditional Islam as a personal relationship with God, with the government not involved (FMI). Any political or social activism renders one---not a Muslim---but now, an "Islamist."
What Muslims should realize, is that he is tainting the concept of dawa---the calling to goodness and condemning evil. He interprets all dawa efforts as "non-violent Islamism." In other words, even when they are not violent, Muslims are bad. Says he: "Practically speaking, there are two main prongs to the non-violent strategy. The first involves radically increasing the number of American Muslims…Islamists are not so unrealistic to think that these numbers can be substantially altered any time soon by large-scale immigration or by normal rates of reproduction. Hence they focus most of their efforts on conversion." Such a mentality, continues Pipes, has been taken up "by leading Islamist organizations like the Muslim Students Association" (TDW).
In conclusion, he is trying to blur the lines, displacing Muslims' efforts to make a niche for themselves socially and politically, into the militant category that recalls trade towers collapsing and "America's New War." There is much else that can be written about Daniel Pipes' campaign against Islam, and this article could use further polishing. However, a summation will do: he is setting us up. Just as the Meccans spread that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ruined kinship bonds, Pipes is also creating a panic. He urges "[every] responsible public official, and every American of good faith…[to draw] a broad distinction between terrorists operating in the name of Islam and ordinary Muslim 'moms and dads'": in other words, Muslims who have no activist tendencies. And what has he used to support this? Nothing but a few quotes from leaders like Siraj Wahhaj and Zaid Shakir, with which he has repeated himself. But what have such people actually done? Imam Siraj, for one, has done what no "Say No to Drugs" program will ever do in the eradication of drugs and prostitution from blocks on end in Brooklyn. What is Imam Zaid actually doing? He's making possible community life in a run-down area of Connecticut, which, without him, would have amounted to a series of vacated buildings, and would undoubtedly have been used for regretful causes. And what does Pipes conclude from this? "The preservation of our existing order can no longer be taken for granted; it must be fought for" (TDW).
That the Muslims must bear with individuals like Daniel Pipes is an unfortunate reality. His misinformation spreads far and wide in over a dozen publications. Ostensibly, this briefing on him will reach a Muslim publication or web site; thereby, while not defeating the purpose altogether, not achieving the entire goal---to disclaim to a non-Muslim audience that neither the American Muslims nor their leadership intend for this country harm. This article also intended to expose an increasingly apparent preparation by Pipes for a future "hit," if we may call it so, upon Imams such as Siraj Wahhaj and Zaid Shakir and organizations such as the MSA.
It is intended that a version of this be made for a non-Muslim readership, in whichever media would accept it.