George W. Bush, Islamic Scholar
Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website is http://www.danielpipes.org.The U.S. government wants you to know that the Taliban, who yet rule part of Afghanistan, are bad Muslims. Instead, it should be showing that they are totalitarian thugs. There's a big difference.
When the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhist statues in their country early this year, Washington repeatedly decried this demolition as un-Islamic. It contradicts"one of Islam's basic tenets - tolerance for other religions," intoned the State Department spokesman. It is"an act of intolerance, which . . . has, in our view, nothing to do with Islam," declared one of his colleagues.
The Sept. 11 atrocities prompted Imam George W. Bush to declare that these"violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith." His wife issued a fatwa deeming the repression of women in Afghanistan"not a matter of legitimate religious practice."
More broadly, a State Department Fact Sheet asserts that the Taliban"misuse Islam" to justify their"illegal and dishonorable" policies. American officials even have the nerve to instruct Muslims on how to live their faith.
"We accept that Islam is the religion of most Afghans. They can practice it in the way they want," the acting assistant secretary for South Asian Affairs conceded. But, he added, their Islam"should be in a spirit of toleration, in a spirit of acceptance of other faiths and creeds."
Not surprisingly, the Taliban hotly reject these admonishments. Two days after Bill Clinton in 1999 had called their treatment of women"a terrible perversion" of Islam, they replied:"Any criticism regarding Afghanistan's Muslims and women's rights should come from a Muslim. This Clinton is not a Muslim and does not know anything about Islam and Muslims."
Likewise, President Bush's peculiar statements about true Islam being"nonviolent" spurred a Taliban representative to reply:"I am astonished by President Bush when he claims there is nothing in the Koran that justifies jihad or violence in the name of Islam. Is he some kind of Islamic scholar? Has he ever actually read the Koran?"
The Taliban have a point, for it is very strange for U.S. government officials to proclaim what is or is not true Islam. Who are they - neither Muslims nor scholars of Islam but representatives of a secular government - to instruct Muslims about their religion? And, realistically, which Muslims accept spiritual guidance from the White House?
Interestingly, U.S. policy in principle agrees that this hectoring is unacceptable."Don't presume to lecture Muslims on Islam," reads an internal State Department memo that bore the secretary of state‘s personal endorsement. The former top State Department official in charge of Afghanistan, Karl Inderfurth, agrees that it is not"appropriate for non-Muslims to presume to give instruction" about Islamic faith and the Koran.
Bernard Lewis, the leading American scholar of Islam, puts it less diplomatically:"it is surely presumptuous for those who are not Muslims to say what is orthodox and what is heretical in Islam."
This is good and sensible advice. Rather than initiate a quixotic and unconvincing campaign to delegitimize the Taliban (or any other instances of militant Islam) on religious grounds, Washington should stick to its knitting - politics. The oppression, poverty, violence, and injustice of Taliban rule offer plenty of evidence to indict it, without having also to contest the regime's Islamic credentials.
Life in Afghanistan has been a living hell. Beatings and arbitrary executions are commonplace; for example, eight boys who dared to laugh at Taliban soldiers were shot dead. In 1998, the Taliban massacred 600 Uzbek villagers in the west; in early 2001, they followed with a massacre of 200 civilians in the center. To prevent defections to the Northern Alliance, the Taliban have taken thousands of families of their own soldiers as hostages and some 400 of those soldiers were just massacred to prevent their changing sides.
The United States government has a powerful message for the world, a message of individualism, freedom, secularism, the rule of law, democracy and private property. But it should have nothing to say about the proper practice of Islam (or any religion).
It's right for President Bush to condemn Taliban rule for the fact that women are"beaten for wearing socks that are too thin. Men are jailed for missing prayer meetings." He just shouldn't give his opinion on whether or not these punishments constitute genuine Islam.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Post.
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Tristan Traviolia - 12/7/2001
I have not heard persistent, unequivocal public condemnation of Bin Laden's actions by Muslim clerics. A website or a luncheon meeting is not public condemnation. The leaders of Islam should be on CNN broadcasting to the world, and especially the children in the Muslim world, that suicide bombing is against the teachings of the Koran. Anything short of that is balderdash.
aisha sobh - 12/6/2001
This is yet another bit from Mr. Pipes that will lead us down the road to a monolithic Islam that is essentially violent, and where all Muslims are potential terrorists (including in America). He and Mr. Lewis speak for a polemical and sectarian viewpoint that is only too well aware of the political disadvantages to Zionism if articulate and educated Muslims got public coverage that would promote an alternative to their interpretations. Look up the websites of (CAIR) the Council on American Islamic Relations, the magazine Washington Report on Middle East affairs, and works by John Espositio, Joel Benin, Juan Cole (to mention but a few). And do not think that Pres. Bush has not consulted with Muslim leaders and scholars in the U.S. about Islam either. The majority by far of Muslims adhere to normative (and diverse)understandings of Islam-this is nothing new. The kind of 'islam' Pipes promotes has more in common with Hindutva, the Kach party, the World Church of the Creator (go look at their websites!)than with anything Muslims are familiar with. Rather, we must ask ourselves, how did these people come into power? What kind of situations were created for them to thrive? Why is it that in the Muslim World legitimate, moderate Islamic practices are repressed? Who benefits? I liken it to a 'pressure cooker'. Repression breeds oppression, which eventually explodes into very inappropriate responses. The majority of both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars of Islam have been writing and speaking publicly about the realities of life for Muslims-yet their story is not one of sensationalism, but the historical record. This is what Pipes and Lewis fear most.
Drew Keeling - 12/6/2001
This article makes a good point (although I also agree with the critique by Ryan Stanley): it is, for example, hard to imagine U.S. politicians making such remarks about Christianity or Judaism. At the same time, it is also difficult to conceive of a suicidal mass murder being advocated and committed in the name of Christianity or Judaism without a resulting and resounding chorus of unequivocal denunciation echoing across the leadership of those religions. When President Bush said (I paraphrase perhaps slightly) "those who commit evil in the name of Islam blaspheme the name of Islam", my thought was: why haven't I already heard this same powerful and no-nonsense statement come out of the mouths and the pens of leaders in the Moslem faiths ? I am also no scholar of Islamic history but am curious as to what those with expertise in this area might say about the seeming reticence of moderate Moslems to vigorously oppose the lunatic fringe.
Kent Huffman - 12/5/2001
Ryan Stanley is surely correct when he points out that President Bush's comments regarding Islam are designed for domestic consumption. But it seems to me there is an international relations dimension to his comments as well. We have obtained the tacit support of several Middle Eastern nations, the populations of which are Islamic. Therefore, we can hardly attribute to Islam the propensity for violence and terrorism that characterizes the terrorist groups. Hence, the need for the President to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic Islam. It would hardly do for him to imply that our Islamic "allies" in the war against terrorism harbor the same hatreds as the Taliban and bin Laden.
Ryan Stanley - 12/5/2001
Daniel Pipes is a smart man, and he's right to say that in a perfect world U.S. leaders would remain silent on the Islamic credentials of their terrorist enemies and would stick to condemning them on secular, political grounds. Of course non-Muslims and/or politicians have no business telling Muslims how to practice their religion. But that's not, fundamentally, what they're trying to do, and Muslims are not even their main intended audience. It's obvious that Bush and other Western leaders are trying hard to counter the impression which exists, even if only in latent form, among many non-Muslims in the West that all Muslims are fanatically hostile to the West, and that this hostility and its associated violence are somehow inherent to the Muslim faith. Western leaders see such a campaign as necessary, I suspect, because they fear that any display of Muslim-baiting at home will damage their chances of retaining the already-shaky acquiescence of governments in the Muslim world to the war on terrorism. In short, Bush has to talk about politics AND religion in the same breath because so many Americans see them as linked, at least for Muslims.
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