Jewish World Review April 28, 2003 / 26 Nisan, 5763
Ambuscade at scholarly frontier
A little learning, it is said, can be a bad thing. At this very
moment a controversy is bubbling in Washington to prove
that a lot of learning can be even worse. Daniel Pipes, one of
the most learned of Middle Eastern scholars, is at the center
of the controversy, and it is his vast and recondite learning
that has entoiled him in controversy. Mr. Pipes knows about
the complexity and nuance of ancient religions and long
historical evolutions. His knowledge has left him prey to those
who insist on simple-minded exegeses of complicated
matters, for instance, the 1,400-year-history of Islam.
Mr. Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum in
Philadelphia, has been nominated by President Bush to the
U.S. Institute of Peace, a foreign policy think tank funded by
government and focused on how peace is forged in the
world. It is all very academic, and that the Bush
administration would nominate a man of Mr. Pipes'
scholarliness to such a think tank heaves yet another stone at
the Democrats' canard that the administration is philistine or
cowboy or oblivious to ideas. Yet certain very partisan
Islamic organizations want his nomination rescinded because
Mr. Pipes' writings do not hew their party line.
As a scholar he has said things that defeat simple
sloganeering. Just the other day he said that simply
characterizing Islam as a "peaceful" religion is inadequate.
Well, of course, he is correct. Islam has had a long life and its
stance, for instance, on bellicosity has changed through the
centuries. As professor Bernard Lewis, perhaps the West's
pre-eminent authority on Islam, writes in his new book, "The Crisis of Islam." (TO BUY, CLICK ON LINK) "one of the basic tasks bequeathed to
Muslims by the Prophet is jihad," which comes from an
Arabic root that has the "basic meaning of striving or effort."
In classic Islamic texts, jihad has the "related meaning of
struggle, and hence also of fight."
Let your voice be heard! To express your concerns about the attack on Dr. Pipes' nomination, you may contact
President George W. Bush by fax: (202) 456-2461, (Andrew Card, Chief of Staff)
or by e-mail.
Dr. Condoleeza Rice, National Security Advisor, FAX (202) 456-2883, PHONE (202) 456-9491
United States Institute of Peace
1200 17th St., NW
Washington, DC 20036 or by e-mail form:
or, FAX (202) 429-6063, PHONE (202) 457-100
In the Prophet's early period when he lived in Mecca and
was part of a minority struggling against the pagan minority,
he used jihad frequently in the sense of "moral striving," and
so it appears in the early chapters of the Koran. This is the
sense of the word that modernist Islamic exegetists often use
to explain jihad.
Unfortunately that is not the end of the story. In the last
chapters of the Koran, after the Prophet had become the
head of a government and of an army, jihad took on the
military meaning that Islamic fundamentalists employ today
with such violent consequences. Consider this from the fourth
chapter of the Koran: "Those of the believers who stay at
home, other than the disabled, are not equal to those who
strive in the path of G-d with their goods and their persons.
G-d has placed those who struggle with their goods and their
persons on a higher level than those who stay at home. G-d
has promised reward to all who believe but He distinguishes
those who fight, above those who stay at home, with a mighty
reward." Now by the time the Prophet was talking like that it
sounds to me as though he had come a long way from mere
In fact, throughout most of the history of Islam jihad has
meant war, war to defend and advance Islam. Not only is this
clear from the later passages of the Koran but also from the
hadiths, or the traditions associated with the Prophet.
Consider two examples: "A day and a night of fighting on the
frontier is better than a month of fasting and prayer" or "He
who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a
kind of disbelief." The Prophet was no Quaker.
"I never say Islam is this or Islam is that," Mr. Pipes
recently declared, and from the above permutations in the
word jihad, I think we can understand why he is so fussy
about simple declarations of Islam's nature. Today in a world
made dangerous by Islamic radicalism, it is crucial that
government have access to knowledgeable minds such as
Mr. Pipes'. That his knowledge gets him into controversies
with those who want to say Islam is all good or all bad is
unfortunate, but controversy is to be expected in times of
The United States is, through no fault of its own, at war
with international terrorists who spout religion as their moral
justification. Scholars such as Mr. Pipes can tell us what the
terrorists' spoutings really mean and how widely they are
adhered to. I am glad he is around and may soon be at a
think tank that fashions plans for peace, though my favorite
peace movement remains the U.S. Marines.
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JWR contributor Bob Tyrrell is editor in chief of The American Spectator. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Creators Syndicate