"Islamism is fascism"

Daniel Pipes says leading American Muslim groups want Islamic law to rule the U.S. -- even if they won't admit it -- and must be carefully watched.

Published November 10, 2001 1:03AM (EST)

For Muslims in America, the rhetorical war of words continues to escalate at home. Two weeks after sparring publicly with Jewish advocacy groups over the accurate number of Muslims living in the U.S., the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Thursday issued a call to stop the "Islamophobic smear campaign" against the American Muslim community and its leaders. CAIR urged journalists and public officials not to "be used as unwitting tools in this campaign or to undermine President Bush's efforts to show that the war on terrorism is not a conflict with Islam."

CAIR angrily pointed to a recent Los Angeles Times article which reported, "Pro-Israel or Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Defense League and the Middle East Forum think tank have provided news organizations with reams of critical documentation on Muslim leaders in recent weeks."

And the group singled out Middle East Forum's Daniel Pipes for special scorn, calling Pipes "one of the foremost proponents of the current smear campaign," which has tied CAIR with Islamic radicalism and even violence.

In an interview with Salon, Pipes answers those charges, and warns that many Muslims in America want Islamic law to rule the land.

What's your reaction to CAIR's claims?

My reaction is that CAIR realizes that the obscurity in which it toiled before Sept. 11 has now ended, and the sort of activities it engaged in and could get away with then [has ended]. It acknowledges in this press release, "On an almost daily basis we have been forced to defend our organization," they say.

But they suggest they're having to defend themselves from stereotyping and smearing, not just scrutiny.

It's not stereotyping. There are Muslim organizations I think are great and Muslim organizations I think are terrible. CAIR is the worst. It's the most aggressive, the most extreme. The most destructive. It's not stereotyping. What's the stereotype? It's typical of CAIR that it pleads this sort of discrimination all the time. Instead of standing up and fighting squarely for what it's arguing, it's hiding behind this smear campaign. I'm saying this is a radical organization that does not belong in the mainstream of American life.

So were you disappointed when President Bush met with CAIR in September?

I think that's a mistake, yes.

You wrote of the Muslim population in this country, "A substantial body shares with the suicide hijackers a hatred of the United States." What percentage of Muslims in America would you estimate share that hatred of America?

The numbers are fluid. There have been a number of polls. There's one cited today on National Review Online that shows really quite a substantial proportion feeling alienated from the country. I can't offhand give you numbers. What I can say on the phone is there is a substantial body of people who are not integrated, who do not feel they are American first. The problem is even more acute in Britain, where really it's become a national issue in the last few weeks with British citizens going off to Afghanistan to [support the Taliban and] fight potentially their own nationals.

But we haven't seen that here.

We've seen a little bit of it. Very little. It has not become an issue as it has in Britain.

What's the percentage of American Muslims who want to see the government, as you've said, "brought to its knees"? Would that be at the same level of those here who share bin Laden's hatred for America?

Well, there are different degrees. Some, a small number, actively embrace the bin Laden ideology. But that is very small. There are a large number who feel an alienation from the country.

Do you think CAIR wants to create an Islamic state in America?

Without a doubt.

Would that include prohibiting conversion out of Islam?

Of course.

Criminalizing adultery, banning consumption of pork and doing away with the equality of the sexes?

Of course. Now, they don't say that in black and white in their writings. I can't prove that to you. I can tell you that there are all sorts of intimations of it. I can tell you I can sense it. I can make this case, but I can't make it specifically for CAIR. But you asked me, do I think that's what they want? Yes.

That seemed to be the most startling part of your writings -- the notion that Muslims in America want to create an Islamic state here and institute Islamic law.

I'm not saying it's going to happen. I'm just saying if we do have a body of people who want this, this is something we should know about. And pay attention to.

But if they're not saying it, how do we know that's what they want?

Well, CAIR is a Washington lobby group, and if it wants to be invited to the White House it has to be somewhat cautious about saying this. There is an environment in which such ideas are fairly common. So they're not specific to CAIR. It is what anyone who is an Islamist [an Islamic fundamentalist with extreme political views] wants. It goes almost without saying. If you're an Islamist you want Muslims in power and application of Islamic law. There was a nice quote in the San Francisco Chronicle in a story about the American Muslim Alliance convention that took place a few weeks ago, quoting a man saying, "I want to see a Muslim president by 2020." He didn't say "I want the application of Islamic law," but what's the point of having a Muslim president?

Well, what's the difference in somebody saying I want to see a Jewish president by 2020?

Don't compare Judaism and Christianity with Islamism.

But the person you mentioned who said he wanted a Muslim president by 2020, he didn't say he wanted he wanted a fundamentalist Muslim president.

It's like saying I want a fascist president.

Are you equating Islam with fascism?

No, I equate Islamism with fascism. And the person quoted by the Chronicle was at an Islamist conference. Assume anyone at an Islamist conference is an Islamist and wants Muslims in power. Granted, you can use the language and in the mouth of somebody else it would be as innocuous as wanting a Jewish or Mormon president. In this case, in the mouth of an Islamist it's not innocuous. One has to have different filters. Islamism is a totalitarian ideology. An Islamist is a danger in the same way a fascist is a danger. I don't advocate locking them up. I do advocate keeping a close eye on them. Those people can make real trouble.

Saying Muslims want to create a Muslim state in America, does that strike you as alarmist at all?

How could that be alarmist when I can see signs all around?

Well, I'm just asking you.

Look, I have a filter. I've studied Islam and Islamism for 30 years. I have a sense of how they proceed and what their agenda is like. And I see it. You don't. You haven't spent the time. Most Americans haven't. So what I think I can do that's of value is say look, "I recognize this pattern, I've seen it before in Indonesia, in Iran. And now I see it here." I'm not saying it's going to happen soon, or at all. I see elements that 15 years or 10 years ago I didn't see.

When CAIR protests to CBS that it should not have Budweiser advertisements when the U.S. soccer team is playing the Iranian soccer team, out of respect for Iranians who don't drink alcohol, that itself is minor, right -- who cares? But it is part of a larger picture -- first prohibit advertisements, and then alcohol -- which is part of the Islamist agenda. There is no end of small things, each of which is not terribly important. But together is a different ordering of society.

CAIR used a quote of yours in its press release: "At a minimum it would have to entail the vigilant application of social and political pressure to ensure that Islam is not accorded special status of any kind in this country." I guess the question is what's the difference between special status and acceptance?

I believe our Constitution does not allow for special status for members of a religion. I don't want to see bias or prejudice against Muslims and I endorse their full rights as American citizens. I just don't want them to have special status.

I'm sure they would argue they simply want acceptance within society.

But their acceptance would go beyond what I consider normal acceptance. They want the rules to be rewritten for them. They want a whole host of ways that Islam and Muslims have special status.

The other quote that caught my attention from your writing was "Officials need to scrutinize the speech, associations, and activities of potential visitors or immigrants for any signs of Islamist allegiances and keep out anyone they suspect of such ties." To some that might sound an awful lot like old anticommunist rhetoric.

What's wrong with that?

Well, that's my question. Was that by design?

Our policy for decades has been based on a benign view of visitors and would-be immigrants. That's foolish. And if Sept. 11 couldn't persuade you of that, nothing will. There are lot of people out there who dislike this country and want to do harm to it. And our immigration procedures have done nothing to protect us from that. They have looked at ordinary criminality and they have not looked at ideas and beliefs and I believe that they should. We do have laws dating back to the '50s and I think they should be made operative.

Look, I like this country as it is and I don't want it to turn into something quite different. What I'm advocating is a means to protect, roughly speaking, the status quo. If you want to see an Islamist country, then you will have the opposite view from mine and more power to you. The danger is within. If we don't wake up to that now, we will have further attacks and blows that will wake us up later. I would like to wake us up now.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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