|Printed in the Muslim World Book Review, vol. 6, no. 4 (Summer 1986), pp. 17-19.|
In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power. By Daniel Pipes. Basic Books, New York, 1984. Pp. 373. $22.50.
What are the credentials of a good political analyst? A sharp intellect, analytical acumen, robust common sense and an uncanny ability to see into the future, seem to be the obvious requirements. Nay, in this trade all these are dispensable commodities. Political pundits, like other hereditary dignitaries, are born into their métier. Right parentage, proper schooling, sycophancy before power and a brazen tongue are far more important in the making of a political guru than all the above disposable traits. In Daniel Pipes’ case, it is the latter, gratuitous boons that account for his rise to infamy. Son of a career bureaucrat, Pipes went to Harvard to obtain his Ph.D. on a dubious thesis (Cf. Our review of his: Slave Soldiers and Islam, in MWBR, vol. 2, no. 4 (1982), pp. 47-51) and later joined the State Department as an ‘adviser’. His researches into the ‘medieval’ history of Islamic civilization, it was believed, had qualified him for his impudent vocation as an ‘expert’ on the contemporary politics of Islam. Here is a link, if ever it was in need of a demonstration, between the academic Orientalism of Harvard and the grisly Realpolitik of the State Department. The only talent that Pipes really possesses is scurrility and the only argument he knows is calumny. As a tireless crusader of the ideology of Western dominance and as an ardent member of the Lodge of US-Israeli freemasonry, Pipes has wielded his stock invective against Islam and Muslims with considerable skill; nonetheless, his scholarly diatribe, the present work clearly shows, is a monumental exercise in frivolity, banality and paranoia.
Unlike its acknowledged predecessors, notably H.A.R. Gibb’s Modern Trends in Islam, or W.C. Smith’s Islam in Modern History, which analysed Muslim confrontation with modernity in terms of profound, at times even sympathetic, spiritual and religious insights, Pipes’ lengthy work is far too preoccupied with the immediate concerns of US policy makers to be intellectually gratifying.
The introductory chapter, cheeky in tone, impudent in style, shallow in insight and replete with inane assertions is enough to put off any conscientious Muslim reader labouring through this tract. After asserting that the mere fact of adherence to Islam has profound political consequences, Pipes presses home his point with such priceless logic: ‘Were Iranian Buddhists, a religious leader would not have vanquished the Shah; were Lebanese entirely Christian, the civil war would not have occurred; were Israel Muslim, its neighbours would have accepted its establishment.’ One may just as well add: Were Daniel Pipes an ass, he would have grown long ears and would not have written this book; were he a goat, he would have chewed its leaves, and were his father sterile, we would not have heard of him at all!
Pipes’ book is quite transparent. He seems to have laboured frantically to: (1) present a comprehensive theory of current Islamic ‘resurgence’: (2) defend the honour of Western civilization; and (3) dance to the Zionist tune – all at the same time. And he has found handy villains in ‘fundamentalist’ Islam and OPEC. Islamic revival, so goes his incisive analysis, is the product of the oil boom; its principal architects, the wily states of Saudi Arabia and Libya; its natural allies, the abominable Russians; and its ultimate aim, the destruction of the West! Here's how Pipes’ Israeli brand of latter day McCarthyism responds to the Protocol of the Elders of Petroleum: ‘Muslims and Marxists led the assault on European power earlier this century; later, the Muslim members of OPEC and Soviet armed forces presented the main threats to the economic and political well-being of the West. No other religion or ideological group challenged Western civilization so intensively, nor any other watch with equal frustration how the West prospers. Muhammad brought a message claiming to supersede Christianity and Marx thought his theories would bury the capitalist economies of Europe, yet the Christian, capitalist civilization continue (sic!) to prosper, to the annoyance of both Muslims and Marxists. This bond will last s long as the West thrives.’ (p. 157; emphasis added.) Such is the tenor of this study, ‘the first comprehensive look at Islam as a force of public life’, in which, as claimed by the books’ cover jacket, ‘a brilliant young scholar explains the origins and nature of this demanding and all-encompassing religion.’ (my italics). Some brilliance! With such experts in the State Department, who needs a Zionist lobby?
Pipes prediction for the future of ‘Islamic’ fundamentalism reads as grim as his indictment of its self-authentication is fanatical. He says: ‘To the extent the Islamic revival is based on the oil boom, is a mirage.... The confidence that played so large a role in leading Muslims to experiment with fundamentalist and autonomous solutions will be destroyed. The power of Saudi Arabia and Libya will fade as their disposable funds diminish and the two countries return to their former inconsequential isolation.... Iran's moral influence is fated to end as surely as the sheikdoms’ financial power..... The Islamic alternative, once so full of promise, will lose its appeal and many Muslims will again regard their religion as an obstacle to progress..... In all likelihood, Nasserism will again appeal to Egyptian and Arab youth, Atatürk’s legacy will be reinvigorated in Turkey, Pakistan will rediscover its British heritage.... The Arabs will find themselves face-to-face with Israel, without external help, and Israel can be expected to emerge from the crucible of oil boom much strengthened.’
However one may wish to dismiss the prospects of such an ignominious end to such a noble struggle as the product of a sick, Islamophobic fantasy, one would have to be a moron not to pay any heed to the scenario depicted by ‘the brilliant young scholar’ of the State Department. His projections may, after all, represent duplicates of some blue-prints locked in an American or Israeli filing-cabinet. Against all his intent and purpose, however, Pipes’ work will have served some good if it jolts some of us to take the demands of our faith seriously. Only that will count as a firm rebuttal of the kind of psychedelic hallucination pushed by the likes of Daniel Pipes and his mentors in the US-Israeli power complex as reputable scholarship.