One thing that can be said about
U.S. neo-conservatives is they do not lack for ambition.
"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 (USIP),
but also among Muslims in the West, where, in his view, they are too often represented
by "Islamist (or militant Islamic)" organizations.
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."
"Through 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 (ICNA) – have effectively established themselves
as the spokesmen for all Muslims in the country."
"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 interfaith 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 United States 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.
"We are nonsectarian" said Sayyid M. Syeed, ISNA's secretary
general, who said his group has had leaders from both the Shi'a and Sunni currents
of Islam and whose current vice president is a woman. "If we were Saudi-oriented,
we would never have a Shi'a president or a woman in such a role," he said,
adding that his group is also actively engaged in many "interfaith partnerships."
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 of 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
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.
"Detroit 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
Sept. 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 United States.
"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."
Within the 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,
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 apart.
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 universities.
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 U.S.-backed "road map" designed
to lead to an independent Palestinian state.
To encourage "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 IPI with "a group of anti-Islamist Muslims," whom he does not
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" (IIPP) 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 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 offices.
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 CAIR's Hooper. "If
Pipes and his friends think they can gain legitimacy in the Islamic community,
good luck, but I wouldn't hold my breath."
(Inter Press Service)