US: From nation-building to
religion-building By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - One thing that can be said about
United States neo-conservatives is that they do not lack
"We need an Islamic reformation,"
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz confided on the
eve of the US invasion of Iraq last year, "and I think
there is real hope for one".
Echoing those views
one year later, another prominent neo-conservative,
Daniel Pipes of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum
(MEF), recently declared that the "ultimate goal" of the
war on terrorism had to be Islam's modernization, or, as
he put it, "religion-building".
Such an effort
needs to be waged not only in the Islamic world,
geographically speaking, added Pipes, who last year was
appointed by President George W Bush to the board of
directors of the US Institute for Peace, but also among
Muslims in the West, where, in his view, they are too
often represented by "Islamist (or militant Islamic)"
Pipes is currently seeking
funding for a new organization, tentatively named the
"Islamic Progress Institute" (IPI), which "can
articulate a moderate, modern and pro-American
viewpoint" on behalf of US Muslims and that, according
to a grant proposal by Pipes and two New York-based
foundations, obtained by IPS, can "go head-to-head with
the established Islamist institutions".
adroit media activity and political efforts", says the
proposal, "advocates for a supremacist and totalitarian
form of Islam in the United States - such as the Council
on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR], the Islamic
Society of North America [ISNA] and the Islamic Circle
of North America - have effectively established
themselves as the spokesmen for all Muslims in the
"This situation is fraught with
dangers for moderate Muslims as well as for
non-Muslims," the proposal continues, adding, "Islam in
America must be American Islam or it will not be
integrated; there can be no place for an Islam in
America that functions as a seditious conspiracy aimed
at wiping out American values, undermining American
inter-faith civility, and, in effect, dictating the form
of Islam that will be followed in America."
Leaders of the three groups named by Pipes
strongly deny his characterizations of their views, and
stress that they, like Catholic, Protestant and Jewish
groups in the US that promote the interests of their
members, are neither more nor less radical or
chauvinistic in their political or theological views
than their non-Muslim counterparts.
non-sectarian," said Sayyid M Syeed, ISNA's secretary
general, who added that his group has had leaders from
both the Shi'ite and Sunni currents of Islam and whose
current vice president is a woman. "If we were
Saudi-oriented, we would never have a Shi'ite president
or a woman in such a role," he said, adding that his
group is also actively engaged in many "inter-faith
CAIR's spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper,
said his organization strives to represent the views of
all US Muslims, and pointed to a new survey of the views
of mosque leaders and congregants in Detroit, which has
one of the largest Muslim populations in the country, as
an example of the fundamental moderation of US Muslims
and those of his group.
The survey, carried out
by the Michigan-based Institute for Social Policy and
Understanding, found that only about eight percent of
the leadership and members of Detroit's 33 mosques
described themselves as adherents of a fundamentalist,
"Salafi" approach to Islam - the kind that is identified
with the "Wahhabi", or "Islamist" views of concern to
Pipes and other neo-conservatives, who have said that as
many as 80 percent of US mosques preach Wahhabism.
The vast majority of both mosque leaders and
participants, according to the Detroit survey, were
registered to vote and supported active engagement in
the political process; wanted to engage in civic and
educational activities with people of non-Muslim faiths;
and even took part in public school or church events
designed to teach others about Islam.
mosques are not isolationist ... and very few mosque
participants hold Wahhabi views," said Ihsan Bagby, who
conducted the survey and teaches Islamic studies at the
University of Kentucky.
Pipes, who has written
four books on Islam and taught Islamic studies at
several leading universities, came to national
prominence after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New
York and the Pentagon. While he has long insisted that
there is nothing inherently violent about Islam,
"moderate Muslims", in his view, have been intimidated
by radicals both in the Islamic world and in the US.
"While Muslims in some Muslim-majority countries
(like Turkey) have demonstrated a commitment to moderate
Islam," he writes in his grant application, "Muslim
communities in the United States, Canada and Western
Europe are dominated by a leadership identified with
Wahhabism and other radical trends, such as the Muslim
Brethren and Deobandism ... they seek a privileging of
Islam and intimidate their critics."
United States, "all Muslims, unfortunately, are
suspect", Pipes wrote in a recent book, which called for
the authorities to be especially vigilant towards
Muslims with jobs in the military, law enforcement, or
Last year, he cited as evidence of
this insight the arrest on suspicion of espionage of
Muslim chaplain James Yee at the Guantanamo Bay
detention facility that houses hundreds of prisoners
from Bush's "war on terrorism". The Yee case later fell
Pipes is also the founder of Campus
Watch, a group that monitors university professors of
Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and exposes them for
alleged anti-American or anti-Zionist views. That
effort, which has been denounced by leading Middle East
scholars, has become the basis for a far-reaching bill
pending in Congress that would provide unprecedented
government oversight of regional studies programs in
Pipes has also criticized Bush for
meeting with, and thus he argues legitimizing, the
leaders of major Islamic organizations, including CAIR
and ISNA, which he believes are pursuing radical, if
partially hidden, agendas that he attempts tirelessly to
expose on his personal website. CAIR has called him "the
nation's leading Islamophobe".
Like many of his
fellow-neo-conservatives, Pipes has also been an
outspoken supporter of positions taken by the governing
Likud Party in Israel, to the extent even of opposing
the US-backed "road map" designed to lead to an
independent Palestinian state.
"moderation" among Palestinians, he has written, "the
Palestinians need to be defeated even more than Israel
needs to defeat them".
In his grant proposal,
Pipes writes that he is working on launching the Islamic
Progress Institute, IPI, with "a group of anti-Islamist
Muslims", whom he does not identify. Contacted about the
proposal, Pipes told IPS, "I can't confirm anything. MEF
doesn't talk about its proposals. We don't talk about
projects that have not been announced. We don't talk
about internal matters to the press."
In a trip
to Cleveland in February, Stephen Schwartz, a writer and
former Trotskyite activist who claims to have converted
to Islam in the mid-1990s, and Hussein Haqqani, a former
Pakistani government official now with the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace, unveiled plans for a
new "Institute for Islamic Progress and Peace", of which
Schwartz identified himself as executive director.
Schwartz, who has praised Pipes' work and claims
to be personally close to Wolfowitz, has published
articles in "The Weekly Standard" and other
neo-conservative publications, where Pipes' writings
also appear regularly. Schwartz was quoted by the
"Cleveland Jewish Press" as saying that the new group
would serve as a "platform" for "people who view Islam
as a private faith".
"This is a unique chance to
change the position of the Muslim community in America,"
he said. "If we don't do it, no one else will." Schwartz
and Haqqani also did not return messages left at their
Muslim leaders say they are not worried
their membership will desert them for either new group.
"There's a big difference between organizations
that emerge organically from a community in response to
the demand of their constituencies and one which is
manufactured for political reasons by people who dislike
what the consensus views of that community are," said
Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee, which has also been a target of Pipes.
"For Mr Pipes to create an organization that
purports to represent the community that he makes a
living systematically defaming demonstrates an amazing
degree of effrontery."
"It's a free country,"
said Hooper of the Council on Islamic-American
Relations. "If Pipes and his friends think they can gain
legitimacy in the Islamic community, good luck, but I
wouldn't hold my breath."