Swimsuit extras: Pipes Dreams

Reading your last post , Haim, I suspected that you’ve been hacking into my thoughts. Not about swimsuits per se , but about Daniel Pipes’s curious belief that swimming in mixed company is a democratic duty.

Strangely, I spent a day once with Pipes. A dovish friend of mine with an interest in the Middle East was then active in the Middle East Forum (MEF), Pipes’s organization. I’d recently published my book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount , and my friend arranged for me to give two talks for the MEF – a lunch in New York, a dinner in Philadelphia. We took the train together between the two cities. Pipes was polite, energetic, intense. His eyes moved quickly when he talked. Did I say he was intense? He reminded me, strangely, of Bassam Jirrar, a Hamas-linked sheikh whom I’d interviewed for the book, and who’d been amazingly hospitable while explaining numerological hints in the Quran that Israel will be destroyed in 2022.

Sometime during the day, as I remember, Pipes gave me an article of his to read, in which he argued that Islamicism is essentially a politically ideology, despite its religious roots. Islamicist activists, he said, compare Islam to communism and democracy, rather than to other religions. When they say, “Islam is the solution,” they mean the political solution. In itself, that’s a worthwhile point. It’s somewhat reductionist – it presumes that a set of beliefs is either religion or politics – but it did fit the thinking of at least some of the Islamicist activists I’d interviewed. (Actually, it also fit the thinking of some of the far-right Jewish activists with whom I’d conducted long interviews, though the sages they wanted to put in control were Jewish ones rather than Muslim ones.)

This was in 2001. My friend later gave up on MEF, given the gap in his views and Pipes’s. In 2003, I spent four days as a scholar-in-residence for a Jewish group in Pennsylvania. I taught about fundamentalism. My hosts told me that a previous guest was Pipes, and that he proposed that Islamic fundamentalism would have to be defeated as Nazism was, by force. I found this curious, to say the least. Which country would be invaded, and why would Islamic fundamentalism vanish after the capital was taken?

Yesterday – before reading Haim on swimsuits – I read Andrea Elliott’s New York Times article , “Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School.” The piece describes the campaign that prevented Arab-American educator Debbie Almontaser from realizing her vision of creating a New York City charter school in which students would learn Arabic together. Yellow journalism and a campaign by anti-Islamic activists – Pipes prominently among them – painted the moderate, pro-peace Almontaser as an Islamic extremist. Before the school opened its doors, she was forced to resign as principal.

Pipes said that any school teaching Arabic would turn into a madrassa , a school of Islam, which for him meant it would teach radical Islam and threaten American values. His objections led to a campaign called “Stop the Madrassa.” The campaign is of a piece with his objections to separate hours at swimming pools. He thinks those invidious Islamicists are now trying to impose sharia by lawful political activism rather than terror.

Mr. Pipes and others reel off a list of examples: Muslim cabdrivers in Minneapolis who have refused to take passengers carrying liquor; municipal pools and a gym at Harvard that have adopted female-only hours to accommodate Muslim women; candidates for office who are suspected of supporting political Islam; and banks that are offering financial products compliant with sharia…

“It is hard to see how violence, how terrorism will lead to the implementation of sharia,” Mr. Pipes said. “It is much easier to see how, working through the system – the school system, the media, the religious organizations, the government, businesses and the like – you can promote radical Islam.”

Pipes’s thinking works like this: Having identified Islamicism as a political ideology, he has taken the next step and identified every manifestation of Islam, or of Arab cultural identity, as expressions of that political ideology, which is seeking to subvert America as assiduously as the communism that his Cold Warrior father, Richard Pipes, warned against. A bank that offers investment instruments suitable for Muslims is subversive. A swimming pool that lets women swim without showing themselves to men is serving Teheran. A school that makes halal food available to students – as rumors said that Almontaser’s school would do – is part of the conspiracy. Headscarves are dangerous. Beards are OK, though. Pipes has a beard. Or maybe he’s also part of the conspiracy.

Besides the absolute rigidity of thinking this reflects, the utter failure to understand varieties of thought within a religion, the bigotry, and the incomprehension of the dynamics of religious responses to modern culture, Pipes is also rather dangerous to Jews.

Banks can’t cater to Muslims? Is the republic threatened by food producers getting kashrut supervision to cater to Jews? Maybe those Jews seek to impose halakhic rule on America. If a public school offers Hebrew as a foreign language, maybe it is promoting (heaven forfend) Judaism. It’s becoming a beit midrash . Out in the West Bank, there are some batei midrash (the study halls in yeshivot) where the teachers have extreme, even violent political ideas. By Pipes’s reasoning, every beit midrash is therefore suspect, and every Hebrew class is dangerous to democracy. Not to mention those (Orthodox) women who don’t want to wear their swimsuits in front of men. They might as well be suicide bombers. In fact, by Pipes’s reasoning, they’re more dangerous.

If you’re reading this in New York or Seattle or Philadelphia, I suggest to you that the crowning glory of American democracy is tolerance and freedom of religion, and that the real danger to democracy comes from the likes of Daniel Pipes.

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14 thoughts on “Swimsuit extras: Pipes Dreams”

  1. This is an old debate, as we know. However it has to be said that “out there” they are not all like Pipes.

    By the way, thanks for the interesting link to the NY’s article.


  2. Time and again these days I’m reminded of Sartre’s brilliant pamphlet “L’Affaire Henri Martin” of 1953 and his reckoning with Jules Monnerot’s “Sociologie du communisme”.

    On James Burnham’s heels, who called communism a “world conspiracy”, Monnerot had the clever and original idea to term it an “ENTERPRISE”, in caps, and Sartre, paraphrasing him:
    “When the ENTERPRISE in the USSR talks of peace, think instantly of the social conflicts IT instigates in France, of IT’s propaganda against the Indochina war, and you’ll see IT desires only evil. (…) Look for the truth of the USSR in France and for the French truth in the USSR, look for the truth of the present in the catastrophes of the future, and for the truth of peace in war; elevate the thesis to a principle that the TRUTH is always elsewhere, and you’ll agree with Mr. Monnerot, writing: ‘The originality of communism, so to speak, is that it’s a multi-dimensional social fact, that it exists on several levels … When it’s one thing, it still doesn’t cease to be another. It always cheats, since it always also plays another game than the one it pretends to be playing.’ The communist is always different: different than his words, different than his deeds, different than the man. And since the USSR claims world history as its own, the whole universe is different than it is. (…)
    With [this] new TRUTH it’s not necessary anymore to [dissolve the Communist Party]: the ENTERPRISE and the Party are now two different things. (…) As Mr. Monnerot explains so brilliantly: the ENTERPRISE is ‘mass organisation and secret society …, parliamentary party and underworld organisation.’ Therefore, without touching the Communist Party, we can arrest all political agitators who follow its command: we respect the members of the big political party and we punish the members of the secret society.”

    (translation (from German) mine, all CAPS in the original)

    I think it’s stunning how you can exchange just a few words (Monnerot -> Pipes (among others, of course), communism -> Islam, Indochina -> Iraq, etc.), and the whole thing remains exactly true today. I had a hard time choosing just these few snippets to quote, as there’s so much more – Sartre goes on about the role of the press, playing on the fears of the public – sounds familiar, too, doesn’t it?

    So I quite agree with Luca, it’s an old debate indeed, older than he probably meant to say.

  3. I am somewhat familiar with this kind of thinking from Pipes and others of his ilk. Basically it’s like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, only for Muslims. How can someone with a PhD engage in such recklessly casual reasoning?

    It’s the same sort of demented logic that leads people to believe that “the Jews” are taking over the world: they list all the jewish CEOs in the entertainment industry and then conclude that it must be a grand jewish conspiracy to control the media.

    Whether one agrees or dissagrees that Harvard should have female only pool hours to satisfy their muslim students, it is simply paranoid stupidity to interpret it as part of a clandestine operation to impose islamic law on America.

  4. I have written a great deal about Debbie Almontaser & the Pipesian attack on her and all Islam over the past yr or so. It is a deeply disturbing phenomenon which the Jewish community, esp. in NY, has largely dealt w. in a terrible way.

    THe NY Jewish federation, for example, is in full-scale retreat from dealing with any of these issues. It signed on last yr as sponsor of The Other Israel film festival devoted to Israeli Arab cinema; and then demanded its logo be removed fr. promotional brochures after the Israeli consulate objected to the festival on the grounds that it singled out only one ethnic group rather than all of Israel. One of the federation’s rabbis signed on to Debbie Almontaser’s support committee and then mysteriously abandoned it. The same rabbi was scheduled as a keynote speaker at a Muslim-Jewish conference in NYC. He cancelled his appearance. I suspect that pressure from both the senior staff leadership & lay leadership was behind this retreat.

    Our Jewish leadership is abandoning its responsibility to lead in a constructive way. That leaves the Pipeses, Horowitzes, (Marty) Peretzes & Dershowitzes, and (Mort) Kleins of the Jewish world to fill the vacuum.

    But yr paragraph above about Islamism as political ideology brilliantly critiques Pipes’ philosophy. Thanks for that.

  5. The problems in Europe, especially in London, point out the problems with gradually conceding rights, or bestowing special rights, upon a Muslim minority.

    The fact that most Muslims are peaceful when they are tiny minority or an overwhelming majority does not lessen the tendency for Muslims to not assimilate, which, when combined with the violence in the Quran and the example of the life of their prophet, eventually leads to balkanization.

    The average American has no problem with an Islamic organization opening a commercial enterprise that serves Muslims. However, when a tiny Muslim minority uses the legal system to foist their religion/culture/political ideology on the majority, hackles raise, especially if tax dollars are involved.

    The liberal, secular, left in America worked long and hard to scrub all traces of Christianity from government, public schoools, and public areas in general, so concessions to Islam in the name of multiculturalism are often viewed as a preference of Islam over Christianity.

    The other problem, in general and at this school in particular, is that often ‘Arabic studies’ or ‘Middle East studies’ involve faculty and textbooks that are drenched with Islamicism. It seems to be difficult, if not impossible, for Arabic and the Middle East studies to disentangle themselves from Quranic and Islamic studies, even though both the language and the region have thousands of years of pre-Islamic history that have essentially been erased from the consciousness of Islam.

  6. Pipes recently visited Australia for a debate on Islam and Democracy. He embarrassed the organisers by agreeding to have a speech he gave to a far-Right magazine published on the hawkish opinion page of a Murdoch-owned newspaper. You can read it here …


    My take on the debate can be seen here …


    Pipes has also verballed an Australian human rights commissioner about guide dogs and taxi drivers in Sydney …



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