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Daniel Pipes and Islamic ‘Essentialism’

Islam expert Andrew Bostom charges that Daniel Pipes' claims about the differences between Islam and Islamism contradict Pipes' past writings on the political nature of Islam.
Muslim Army

Has there been an unexpected “harmonic convergence” regarding Islam between Daniel Pipes, the historian, and unabashed Zionist, and Edward Said, anti-Israeli, Arab polemicist?

Daniel Pipes’ recent essay in The Jewish Press (originally published in the Washington Post) derides “those who focus on Islam itself as the problem”—identifying Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, and Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders by name.

Most of his essay re-affirms (without hard doctrinal and historical facts) the arguments Pipes has discussed before: Islam’s prophet Muhammad was not an “Islamist,” and was not responsible for “Islamism,” which is a “modern extremist variant” of Islam; an “unbearable” discordance between “pre-modern accomplishment and modern failure” caused the “psychic trauma” which engendered “Islamism” in the 1920s; and a mere 10-15% of Muslims support “Islamism.”

Pipes concludes his latest iteration of “Islam Versus Islamism” by attacking those (such as Ali, Sultan, and Wilders) who reject its premises for their ostensibly uninformed “succumbing” to what he terms “a simplistic and essentialist illusion” (emphasis added) of the Muslim creed. Ironically, Pipes’ latter claim of “essentialism” re-packages the post-modern incoherence of Edward Said, as demonstrated brilliantly by Philosophy Professor Irfan Khawaja. As Khawaja observed in 2007:

If Said thinks that Islam is different from other abstract nouns, he needs to tell us why… And yet, as we have seen, he often treats abstract nouns in an essentialist fashion. So it should follow that Islam can be treated the same way. And yet that is precisely what he takes to be the cardinal sin.

Adding insult to irony, Said (a Pipes nemesis, as Said’s comments, extracted here, reveal) accused Pipes himself of “essentialism,” largely, one assumes, for frank comments by the latter on Islam—not “Islamism”—as an inherently, even “immutably” political ideology!

Circa 1983, in his In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power, Pipes noted, “[T]he press and scholarship too often…ignore Islam’s role in politics.” He warned:

Approaching Islam in politics with the Christian experience in mind is misleading. Because the community of Christians shares almost no political traits, there is a mistaken predisposition to assume Muslims do not.

Elaborating on this yawning gap between Islam and Christianity, Pipes highlights, appropriately, the unique impact of Islam’s religio-political law, the Sharia:

Islam, unlike Christianity, contains a complete program for ordering society…Islam specifies exact goals for all Muslims to follow as well as the rules by which to enforce them…Along with faith in Allah comes a sacred law to guide Muslims, in all times and places. That law, called the Sharia, establishes the context of Islam as a political force…Adjusting realities to the Sharia is the key to Islam’s role in human relations…Mainstream Muslims (that is, Muslims whose faith is acknowledged as valid by a majority of other Muslims) follow legal tenets so similar to each other that their differences can be ignored.

Never invoking “Islamism,” Pipes concludes, with this lucid assessment of how Islam, since its advent, has been a creed imbued, singularly, with politics:

[I]n Islam, where, in Max Weber’s view, “an essentially political character marked all the chief ordinances,”…[the] connection to politics has been immutably deep from the very inception of the religion

Great Western Orientalist scholarship, dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, supports Pipes’ 1983 understandings of Islam as indissolubly linking religion and politics. Moreover, these seminal analyses and contemporary polling data debunk his now oft repeated formulations. As elaborated in detail elsewhere:

–Muhammad really was a jihadist—or in Pipes’ current terminology, an “Islamist,” waging aggressive, proto-jihad campaigns to conquer the Jews, Christians, and pagans of the Arabian peninsula and bring them under nascent Islamic law.

–Great Western Orientalist scholars long ago established the inherently political nature of Islam, and also made plain that the modern era Islamic “revival” was evident at least four decades before “the 1920s” advent claimed by Pipes.

–The religio-political totalitarianism of the Sharia—which includes the eternal institution of jihad war against infidels, as well as dehumanizing laws and punishments for non-Muslims and Muslims alike—is well-characterized.

–Contemporary polling data demonstrate the overwhelming appeal of Sharia states to ordinary Muslims—77% of Muslims from the most populous societies, i.e., Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Nigeria, pooled—debunking Pipes assertion that only “10-15%” of Muslims are Islamists.

One must ask, why is Daniel Pipes now making charges of “essentialism” at Muslim freethinkers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan, as well as the stalwart Dutch politician Geert Wilders, for rejecting his notion of “Islamism.”

About the Author: Andrew G. Bostom, M.D., is the author of the highly acclaimed The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History, and, Sharia Versus Freedom—The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism. Dr. Bostom has published numerous articles and commentaries on Islam in the New York Post, Washington Times, The New York Daily News, National Review Online, The American Thinker, Pajamas Media, FrontPage Magazine.com, and other print and online publications. More on Andrew Bostom’s work can be found at his blog: www.andrewbostom.org.


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10 Responses to “Daniel Pipes and Islamic ‘Essentialism’”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Rising anti-Semitism in Europe is fueled by three main sources: the extreme right, largely boosted by concerns about the economic crisis and growing migration; the extreme left, which refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist; and those Muslims who espouse hatred for Jews and Israel. Apropos, a recent study in Belgium found that nearly half of Muslim teenage students held anti-Semitic views. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rising anti-Semitism in Europe is fueled by three main sources: the extreme right, largely boosted by concerns about the economic crisis and growing migration; the extreme left, which refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist; and those Muslims who espouse hatred for Jews and Israel. Apropos, a recent study in Belgium found that nearly half of Muslim teenage students held anti-Semitic views. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  3. Anonymous says:

    anti-SEMITISM IS ALIVE AND WELL. The message below was a comment on my complain t against the holocaust claims conference. We need the J.D.L. Rabbi Meir Kahana was correct. Regarding the fellow who called me ****, bring it on you gutless mamzer. I will not go to the gas chambers without a bloody FIGHT. THIS HAS BEEN REPRTED TO THE POLICE AND F.B.I. AS A BIAS THREAT. Do you have the guts to debate me on t.v. or go some rounds in the gym. THIS IS ONE Jew who will knock you out in three rounds. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  4. I feel that Islamism is a rather loose term, as applied nowadays. It covers the "political Islamists", such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and the "terrorist Islamists" (al Qaeda). This clunking terminology gets in the way of the problem – literalist, back to basics, Islam, i.e. Salafism. A terrorist in the West is more likely to be Salafist (Mohammed Merah, the 7/7 bombers, the Woolwich killers) than "Islamist". The Salafists reject all Western politics, unlike Islamists who hitch a lift on western democratic systems until they feel they are in control of it. In Tunisia, an Islamist government has problems from the less compromising Salafi activists. I think that the term "Islamist" has always been vague, and is becoming as meaningless a term as as "Islamophobe". Perhaps those who try to gain power "politically" should be termed Islamists, and those who try to use terror and threat to subdue societies should be called Islamic terrorists, as they claim (with more cause) to be acting purely upon the principles laid down in the Koran and Hadiths than the "political Islamists" who often compromise on their way to achieve 'supremacy'.

  5. Abu Faris says:

    In Egypt, however, MB (who are Islamists) have repeatedly used Salafists. A common tactic is to encourage the men in vast beards and nighties to demand extreme measures be passed that MB would themselves rather like to see on the books but are too savvy to introduce themselves. Morsi and MB then cave into the entirely contrived and manufactured Salafi pressure – and both MB and Salafi are quietly content.

  6. Jon Barmak says:

    Golden Dawn a la Morgan. Dirty old fartknocker. And not an artist I see

  7. You are so full of class. I suggest a therapist to do with your comprehension problems and your obsessive compulsive issues, and Heck, I don't need care about the opinions of armchair art critics.

  8. You are so full of class. I suggest a therapist to do with your comprehension problems and your obsessive compulsive issues, and Heck, I don't need care about the opinions of armchair art critics.

  9. Jon Barmak says:

    your very flat, faux-naif (?) depictions of flora and fauna are very unimaginative in their tediuos use of colour Adrian, but I won't knock your sunday hobby (unless you've packed it in now – one can hope). You were raised in the incest capital of Europe I see. Interesting. Anyway you hateful ****, you and your kind are an irritation in life to be dealt with but thankfully it is you who are the armchair critics. Your fawning over the beast Burchill is amusing however, and it is a shame she defriended me. Dissenting voices must be silenced!

  10. Jon Barmak says:

    go on – correct my grammar why don't you

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