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Daniel Pipes and Islamic ‘Essentialism’

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/daniel-pipes-and-islamic-essentialism/2013/05/26/

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