Fueling a Culture Clash
"Mosques are proved to be the planning grounds for militant Islam so this is where we should look"
The Washington Post
Saturday, April 19, 2003
Many Muslims received the news that the White House had nominated scholar Daniel Pipes to, of all places, the U.S. Institute of Peace as sort of a cruel joke. The institute is a quasi-governmental think tank dedicated to international "peace and conflict resolution"; one of its latest projects is the Special Initiative on the Muslim World, begun after Sept. 11, 2001, as a bridge between cultures. Mr. Pipes has long been regarded by Muslims as a destroyer of such bridges. And it takes only a glimpse at the latest column posted on his Web site to see why. The column, written for the New York Post, is about Hasan K. Akbar, the U.S. soldier in Kuwait charged with throwing a grenade at his fellow soldiers: "No one yet knows Akbar's motives, but ignoring that it fits into a sustained pattern of political violence by American Muslims amounts to willful self-deception. When will officialdom acknowledge what is staring it in the face?"
Mr. Pipes denies charges by U.S. Muslim groups that he lumps them all together. He defended himself recently by saying, as he has before, that he has "always distinguished between moderate Islam and militant Islam." But then he talked about the "gray area: The source of this violence is militant Islam and only Muslims are supporters of militant Islam," he said. If we were hunting for rapists, he argued, we wouldn't look at everyone but focus on "certain attributes. Mosques are proved to be the planning grounds for militant Islam so this is where we should look. This is something people would rather overlook, but it's a matter of being frank."
This gray area is a bit too large, implying as it does that any U.S. Muslim, no matter how outwardly assimilated, should be treated as a potential Akbar, a point Mr. Pipes argues in his New York Post column: "Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism," he writes. At best there seem to be two Mr. Pipeses, as a Washington Post review of one of his books pointed out: a "brilliant" analyst of Muslim intellectual history and a man who seems to harbor a "disturbing hostility to contemporary Muslims."
The Bush administration has spent the past year and a half trying to dispel paranoia that the fight against terrorism is a clash of cultures between the Western world and Islam. It has gone to particular pains to calm the nerves of U.S. Muslims, who are ever anxious that they are being singularly scrutinized. As long as there is an operational Justice Department actively investigating terrorism, this outreach campaign will never work perfectly. But the Pipes nomination is salt in the wound. If the White House doesn't rescind it, Congress should have the good sense to turn it down.