ABC Religion & Ethics – April 12, 2018
I am pleased that, in her latest article replying to me, Chloe Patton has been prepared to engage more substantively with what Daniel Pipes had to say while visiting Australia.
I am also pleased that she seems willing to concede many of the points I made in my previous article – or, at least, make no substantive response to them.
I would argue, however, that her latest article also contains a number of misrepresentations and repeats – indeed, amplifies – many of the analytical errors that, in my view, were central to her original article.
This time, I will limit myself to some key points.
First, Patton is simply incorrect when she says the question of “Lawful Islamism” was somehow “the crux of [Pipes’s] speaking tour” in Australia. As I noted previously, I was present for almost all his appearances, and this was by no means the case. It was an important part of his interview with Peta Credlin that Patton cites. It was not more than a small portion of the long interview on The Outsiders that she also mentions.
Overall, the topic was marginal to his public appearances in Australia where, as I previously noted, he focused primarily on five topics: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, U.S. Middle East Policy under the Trump Administration, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Moreover, when he did mention “Lawful Islamism” the focus was definitely not on Lawful Islamism in the West, much less in Australia, as Patton implies. He did talk about how Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Erdogan, who came to power lawfully and peacefully, was both transforming Turkish society in an Islamist direction and destroying Turkish democracy and civil liberties and indulging in foreign policy recklessness. He mentioned both the Morsi regime in Egypt and the rise of Hamas among the Palestinians as additional examples of how Islamists who take power through lawful means become dangerous to the societies in which they arise and to neighbouring societies.
Outside of the Credlin interview, the question of the rise of lawful Islamism in the West barely arose. And with respect to the Australian situation, Pipes was very clear that he knows little about that and would not comment on it.
As for Patton’s claim that if “Lawful Islamism” was not the “crux” of Pipes visit, it was “at the very least what his interlocutors found most compelling,” that statement applies to exactly one “interlocutor” – Peta Credlin – who chose to focus on that theme on her show. So if Patton objects to the discussion there, perhaps her critique is of Credlin, not of Pipes.
Second, Patton seems to have misunderstood my point about the link between her critique of Pipes and Islamist-affiliated American group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). I never said or implied she was linked with them, or was a supporter of theirs. My point was that her critique was and remains very much rooted in material that was developed as a result of CAIR’s campaign, in 1999, to paint Pipes as part of an “Islamophobia Industry,” but which has clearly since been picked up and expanded upon by other Muslim and non-Muslim activists. Patton may believe she was being critical of the CAIR approach, but it is clear many of the examples she cited of Pipes’s alleged sins drew on previous critiques which were very much part of that campaign – including the Center for American Progress report which she used as an important part of her argument.
Third, Patton says she is “very open to public discussions of Islamism.” I would argue that her most recent article very much suggests she is not. In essence, she endorses the original CAIR claim that the term Islamist means “Muslims I don’t like,” accusing Pipes of using it that way. She says that Islamism, when discussed by someone like Pipes, is so “elastic” it includes “instances where Muslims simply benefit from the same level of social esteem afforded anyone else.” She implies that virtually any discussion of Islamism creates “a Manichean good Muslim/bad Muslim distinction” which “restricts the range of legitimate Muslim political viewpoints to those accepted as ‘good’,” undermining “the ability of Muslims as Muslims to project themselves into the future.” She even compares Pipes’s supposedly “socially acceptable mantra” – “Radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution” – to the language of overtly racist anti-Muslim groups like the United Patriots Front. And she says this formulation “restricts the ability of Muslims to elaborate their sense of what it means to be Muslim.”
As I said in my original article, who could object to Pipes’s formulation? The answer is only someone, Islamist or not, who insists there is no such thing as “Islamism,” and that to even talk about the idea is to be an anti-Muslim bigot. Patton’s own words suggest she falls into this category, whatever her claim about being open to discussion of the subject and pro forma condemnation of al-Qa’eda (though interestingly she says she finds its strategy “just as appalling” as that of the United States). She does not seem to want to talk about the idea; she seems to want to condemn those who talk about the idea.
Fourth, on a related point, Patton tries to limit the definition of Islamism only to those who support establishing a Muslim caliphate. While I mentioned this is as one example of Islamist belief, this was not the definition I used in my article (and Patton offers no alternative definition of her own). The definition I used, taken from Maajid Nawaz, was “the desire to impose any … interpretation [of the Islamic faith] over everyone else through state law.”
Patton’s “caliphate” definition of Islamism allows her to insist that the only non-violent Islamist group in Australia is Hizb Ut-Tahrir (HUT), which she dismisses as insignificant and uninfluential. She also strangely says the group cannot be considered the “voice of Islam.” Of course, they cannot – they are an Islamist group, one that claims the mantle of Islam for political purposes. Pipes accepts this. I accept this. Patton is the only one who seems to doubt that Islamists are ideologues who do not represent the Islamic religion.
Furthermore, Patton bizarrely insists, based on a single propaganda article, that HUT only wants a caliphate in the Muslim parts of the world. This is just incorrect: the group expects to spread its caliphate to non-Muslim lands once it has been established, as its own website says. Here is what a HUT leaflet from 1999 says:
“In the forthcoming days the Muslims will conquer Rome and the dominion of the Ummah of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) will reach the whole world and the rule of the Muslims will reach as far as the day and night.”
But HUT is far from the only non-violent Islamist group active in Australia. In fact, my organisation’s monthly magazine, the Australia/Israel Review, has an April cover story by Ran Porat about the group Ahl As-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah (“The family of the way of the Prophet, the Sunnah, and his Companions”) or ASWJ, which has mosques and bookstores in both Melbourne and Sydney. In addition to some blatantly antisemitic statements and some past contact with individuals who went on to commit terrorism, the groups’ preachers say things like: “This nation [Muslims] should know that it was … created to spread Allah’s religion and lead the nations, and this could only be achieved by Jihad for the sake of Allah!” They may not mention the caliphate, but they are unequivocally part of the Islamist problem in this country.
Fifth, Patton’s apparent refusal to accept the reality of Islamism is similarly behind her confusing and false analogies on the issue of Islamic Shari’a law and Jewish Halacha. Of course, there is nothing untoward or problematic in Shari’a when it means “Australian Muslims individually structure their daily lives according to Islamic law, and Sheikhs oversee such things as religious marriage, divorce and the settlement of civil disputes for Muslims.” As Patton says, this exists today in Australia and almost every other country in the world, and provided there is no attempt to argue that Shari’a supersedes the law of the land, neither Pipes nor I see any problem with this – nor should anyone else who is not a bigot.
The problem raised by Pipes is that Islamists, as I noted in my definition, want to, violently or non-violently, create a situation whereby state power imposes and enforces the tenets of Shari’a law on Muslims and, in many cases, also on non-Muslims. It is part of their ideology that, because Shari’a law is god-given, any political and legal institutions outside Shari’a are blasphemous, allowing human-built institutions to supersede the divine word.
Furthermore, there is an essential difference between Jewish Halacha and Shari’a. Judaism is not a proselytising religion; it does not seek converts and actually makes conversion very difficult; and Jews do not expect their faith to spread to all of humankind. There are Jews who argue that Halacha should be the sole law in Israel, but there is no one arguing that it should be the law of Australia or any other non-Jewish majority country.
Islam is different in that it is a proselytising faith, and has an inbuilt expectation that it will eventually spread to all humankind. This opens the door to Islamists arguing that Shari’a should be legally enforced in Muslim lands and provided a special position in non-Muslim lands, pending their eventual conversion.
This is why it is certainly neither reasonable nor valid to compare, as Patton repeatedly does, warnings about Islamist intentions to attempt to create Islamist governments enforcing Shari’a with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a wholly fictitious claim about a Jewish plot to control the world. This is not to say that Islamophobia and overblown claims about Shari’a are not real – they are, and they are worsening in many countries, as I made clear in my latest response. But false accusations and ridiculous analogies are not only unhelpful, but counter-productive in the battle against Islamophobia and the rise of anti-Muslim populist groups.
Sixth, Patton also seems to have misunderstood the reference to Saul Alinsky (which was not actually mine but Warren Mundine’s). The point was not the goals Alinsky sought, but the tactics he suggested be employed to attain them. As Mundine wrote, Alinsky’s “Rules for radicals” essentially advised winning political struggles by targeting and discrediting one’s opponent by relentlessly throwing mud until it sticks rather than engaging with their arguments. Thus, his key rule was: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Other rules included: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon”; “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive”; and “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Whether or not she was consciously following the Alinsky playbook, I still believe this is a fair characterisation of the approach taken by Patton in her first article on Pipes and, to a lesser extent, the second.
Seventh, Patton takes Pipes to task for failing to provide “empirical evidence ” for his claim that there is “an alliance between the left and the Islamists,” a claim which she calls a “conspiracy theory.” It is obviously grossly unfair to expect Pipes to provide the “empirical evidence” for this alliance in the short television interview with Peta Credlin Patton cites in this part of her article – there simply was not time. If you look through Pipes’s written work, you will see numerous pieces in which he does provide evidence to back up the claim of an alliance between elements of the Western and third-world left and Islamist groups and activists (see here, here and here, for example). Nor is this alliance an original idea of Pipes; other scholars have also written about it (see here and here).
Indeed, this alliance is actually much in the news in Britain of late. British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, long a stalwart of the radical left in Britain, has recently been under fire for his past links to the Islamist terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, whom he hosted and called “friends” in 2009, and for hosting and praising the virulently antisemitic Islamist preacher Raed Salah in 2012.
Eighth, I am also puzzled by Patton’s reference to the work of Campus Watch, which Pipes founded, and which she again falsely claims has the aim of “harassment of scholars who do not toe a pro-Israeli line in Middle Eastern Studies.” As I already explained, Campus Watch looks at five aspects in Middle East studies: “analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics and the abuse of power over students.” Many, perhaps most, of its critiques of scholars have nothing to do with Israel, but other dimensions of Middle East studies – such as the extent of the terrorism threat, Islamist groups and their goals, and playing down internal repression in Arab countries. The fact that she thinks what it does is “harassment of scholars who do not toe a pro-Israeli line in Middle Eastern Studies” indicates she knows little about it.
But more than this, I thought Patton’s claim about Pipes was that he was an Islamophobe, part of an “Islamophobia industry,” not that he is a Zionist or pro-Israeli. Why did Israel, and criticism of its opponents, suddenly appear in her critique of him? Does she believe that being pro-Israel – or criticising those who “refuse to toe the pro-Israel line” – makes one an Islamophobe? If so, that presents a whole new complexion on her approach.
Finally, I am most puzzled by Patton’s reaction to my explanation about the key assumption behind Critical Race Theory (CRT). Let’s recall that it was not I who raised Critical Race Theory. Patton’s original article was explicitly an analysis of Pipes based on Critical Race Theory. I feel I was more than justified in referring readers to the key assumptions that underlie CRT.
Patton says I accused her of being “influenced by a theory put forward in the mid-1990s by two American taxation scholars who are supposedly the pioneers of my field, but who I have never read nor even heard of.” No, she said she was using Critical Race Theory, and I explained what that was. She may not have heard of the two scholars in question, (by the way, both were law professors, not “taxation scholars”; CRT has its roots in legal debates originally) but I could have cited many other CRT scholars who insist the assumption that “racial subordination is everywhere” is a key part of the field.
I also note that, despite objecting to me associating her with this assumption of CRT, Patton concludes her new piece by talking of the “seeming all-pervasiveness of Islamophobia.” This sounds like a version of the key beliefs of Critical Race Theory to me.
Colin Rubenstein is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Previously, he was a member of the Council for Multicultural Australia and taught Middle East politics at Monash University for many years.