Looking for Allies
To the Editor:
With all due respect to Joshua Muravchik (whom I know and admire) and Charles P. Szrom, their effort to identify Muslims who embrace pluralism and tolerance misses the big picture [“In Search of Moderate Muslims,” February]. There are such Muslims, to be sure, and their voices must be heard and promoted. But the authors’ focus on dissecting their authenticity is an implicit confession that Islam itself is a lost cause, and can only be changed by the people on its fringes.
Sadly, they completely ignore the primary driver of Islamic extremism: the destructive Wahhabi ideology that is nurtured and exported by the Saudi government. This ideology lies at the heart of the war on terror, yet it has been dangerously scanted by successive American administrations since 1948. President Bush did speak publicly about Saudi totalitarianism in his first term, but he has since reverted to the pre-9/11 policy of embracing the royal regime—despite the fact that its institutionalized intolerance is the source of bin-Ladenism. (The fact that al Qaeda threatens the Saudi royal family as much as it threatens America does not change this fact.)
What could a handful of moderate Muslims hope to accomplish in the name of pluralism if the same Western leaders who call for them to be brave endorse the likes of the Saudi monarchy, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf? If the U.S. and its European allies put dictators and democrats in the same grouping of “moderates,” what true reformer would want to belong to it?
One way to take religion from the hands of the autocrats in Saudi Arabia would be for the West to help authentically moderate Muslims create a representative Muslim Council that would re-visit Islamic teachings and draw out their pluralistic tendencies. But at the end of the day, the U.S. has to ask itself whether it has the political will to challenge the “friendly” dictators whose grip on power depends on the suppression of democratic values and individual liberties.
Ali H. Alyami
Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
To the Editor:
Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom take exception to my report (with Steven Brooke) in Foreign Affairs of liberal trends inside the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and caution against embracing this historically Islamist group.
Indeed, our article, titled by the editors “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood,” met with a disappointing response from neoconservatives. Some, too young to remember my exposure in the 1980’s of Sandinista extremism, claimed that I was a leftist. None really dealt with the substance of our findings. Mr. Muravchik, an old friend, joined the onslaught. I answered my critics, and Mr. Muravchik in turn conceded a number of points on the COMMENTARY blog contentions and now in the article written by him and Mr. Szrom. I attribute this turnaround to his willingness to face facts after his earlier victimization at the hands of neoconservative fanatics.
The COMMENTARY article pleased me until the end, when the authors sneered at me for interviewing members of the Brotherhood. But is it reasonable to analyze this group without talking to any of them? I had been intrigued by divergent characterizations of the Muslim Brotherhood. Neoconservatives had branded it “a vital component of the enemy’s assault force,” while Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian-born leader of al Qaeda, claimed to the contrary that it had “lured thousands of young Muslim men” into elections instead of into jihad. Research in five languages led me to the conclusions summarized in my Foreign Affairs piece, many of which Mr. Muravchik now apparently shares:
• Contrary to the neoconservative conspiracy theory, the jihadists in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood actually abandoned the parent organization to form hostile splinter groups, often eventually joining al Qaeda.
• The Brotherhood has profound divisions within it. Conservative elders head the management; and liberal ideas tend to come from younger members. Egypt’s government has jailed the moderate leaders, consolidating conservative control in order to discredit the organization in the eyes of Western observers.
• Mr. Muravchik once challenged me to “name one Egyptian liberal who considers [the Brotherhood] democrats.” Now he and Mr. Szrom cite Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “the dean of Egyptian dissidents,” who came away from shared time in prison with Muslim Brothers convinced that the Brotherhood (not unspecified “Islamists,” as the authors slyly suggest) was emerging as a force for democracy.
• We indicated that the Egyptian Brotherhood lacked transparency. Messrs. Muravchik and Szrom take things a step further, writing incorrectly that its “entire structure” is “top-down.” In fact, lower groups elect the higher ones, and before the moderates were jailed, the Brotherhood seemed ready to limit the term of its “Supreme Guide.”
• The authors say that membership in the Brotherhood is “secret.” But if one talks to them, Egyptian Brothers announce their affiliation right away and pass out company business cards.
Finally, I take issue with Messrs. Muravchik and Szrom’s notion that members of the Muslim Brothers must pass an entrance test in order to qualify for a “constructive relationship” with us. They are not applying to a country club or political party. The neoconservatives are too permissive when it comes to immigrants entering into our country, but too picky about who may enter into an alliance with us. The apposite question is: do they oppose our enemy? The division between the Brotherhood and al Qaeda merits deepening.
In these pages, Norman Podhoretz has invoked FDR, Churchill, and Reagan in arguing for a “strategic offensive” against radical Islam. But if those leaders had only gone on the “offensive,” their totalitarian enemies might still be ruling today. Many of our allies in World War II and the cold war could not have passed the authors’ test for Islamists. And the Muslim Brotherhood certainly scores higher than Stalin or Mao.
Robert S. Leiken
To the Editor:
Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom are entitled to their positive view of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, although it houses fundamentalist Muslims who dubiously present themselves as moderates. They are within their rights to criticize Daniel Pipes’s judgments about the moderation and extremism of various Muslim entities, although Pipes enjoys far greater credibility on such matters. And they are perfectly welcome to state their doubts about Pipes’s public support for the organization of which I am executive director, the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP).
They are incorrect, however, in describing the CIP as “largely a one-man operation” run by myself. The CIP has a president, Kemal Silay of Indiana University, who is among the most eminent Turcologists in the West; an international director, Irfan al-Alawi, who is an esteemed scholar and an outspoken critic of cultural vandalism in Saudi Arabia; and regional directors in the U.S. and Canada. The CIP maintains websites in three countries, with texts in eight languages, and other operating groups or correspondents, while also issuing grants, in France, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and elsewhere. I need not go into further detail, considering that our activities are prominently catalogued on the Internet.
Still, to cite one example, the CIP co-published an Indonesian edition of my book The Two Faces of Islam (2003), the first major exposure in the West of the Saudi Wahhabist ideology. The volume has an introduction by Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia and ex-leader of Nadhatul Ulama, the largest Islamic (not Islamist) movement in the world. The English edition of my book is now included in the curricula of various Islamic faculties and educational programs around the world, and has been “answered” by pro-Saudi academics and journalists. In January 2008, it was banned by the Malaysian government for its critique of Saudi fundamentalism.
Mr. Muravchik is at least marginally aware of this reality, since in the aftermath of last year’s public response by the CIP to criticisms he leveled at Pipes, he addressed private communications to several CIP leaders. “I was surprised,” he wrote,
to see your name as a signatory to a statement issued on June 14, 2007 by the Center for Islamic Pluralism that criticizes the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and Carl Gershman, the President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and me. I was not surprised that Stephen Schwartz might pen such a thing. He has an obsession with me, and attacks almost whatever I write on any topic. But I was surprised to see the signatures of serious scholars appended to the statement. Therefore I wonder if you did in fact sign this statement, if it represents your considered opinion. Or perhaps Stephen Schwartz is using your name.
I am pleased to note that the recipients of Mr. Muravchik’s letter reaffirmed their support for the CIP statement defending Pipes, and repudiated the implication that I would misuse their signatures. The presumption that I am “obsessed” with Joshua Muravchik in any manner is merely amusing.
There was a time when Shachtmanism, Mr. Muravchik’s erstwhile socialist affiliation, was derided as a “one-man operation,” and many visible activities of moderate and dissenting Muslims are likewise individual efforts. But the CIP is well past that stage, and will continue in its program of promoting good will in a world threatened by Islamist extremism.
Center for Islamic Pluralism
To the Editor:
As a contributor to COMMENTARY since 1979, I write unhappily to defend myself from Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom’s arguments against me in “In Search of Moderate Muslims.”
In broad policy terms, there are three kinds of Muslims. Violent Islamists, we all agree, are the enemy; moderate, pro-Western, anti-Islamist Muslims, by contrast, are unarguably allies. Non-violent Islamists represent the murky in-between. Policy battles-royal have already taken place over them, and no doubt there are many more to come. The writer Tariq Ramadan is the prime example: prohibited from entering the U.S. on account of his support for terrorism, he is employed by the British government in its “roadshow” to dissuade Muslim youth from embracing terrorism.
Official U.S.-government policy since 1992 has been to treat non-violent Islamists (whom I prefer to call “lawful” Islamists) as friends. Liberals have widely adopted this position, as have a number of conservatives, including Grover Norquist, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Robert Leiken, and Messrs. Muravchik and Szrom. But such advocates of dialogue can succumb to whitewashing the records of the Islamists. Thus, the authors dub Kamran Bokhari a “former Islamist.” But a closer look reveals that he is actually a former violent Islamist who has journeyed merely from overt to covert enmity for the West.
Messrs. Muravchik and Szrom also take issue with my term “moderate Muslim,” which for them suggests that to be moderate requires being “not too Islamic.” But that is not what I mean. Moderate Islam is fully Islamic, but not Islamist. It implies not a lesser piety but an Islam at odds with the fundamentalists, radicals, literalists, Salafists, and other extremists. By analogy, moderate leftists—Social-Democrats, Laborites, even Titoites—served as U.S. allies against Stalinism in the cold war.
The authors also dislike my formulation that “mak[ing] a distinction between the mainstream Islamists and the fringe ones [is] like making a distinction between mainstream Nazis and fringe Nazis. They’re all Nazis, they’re all the enemy.” Had there been Nazis “who clearly rejected violence,” they counter, “would they not have been meaningfully distinguishable from Hitler’s crew?” Such Nazis did not in fact exist, but such Communists did, so let us revert again to that analogy. Soviet and French Communists differed deeply in their readiness to rely on brute force, but they shared a common goal and ultimately stood on the same side in the cold war. To invest in lawful Islamists would be as foolish as having helped French “Reds” seize power.
Messrs. Muravchik and Szrom’s gratuitous attack on the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), a three-year-old organization that I helped put together, particularly dismayed me. Establishing the CIP required a full year of due diligence to ensure that it included only true moderates. To dismiss this small but worthy organization as “largely a one-man operation run by Stephen Schwartz, a former Trotskyist,” is inaccurate and offensive. Indeed, Mr. Muravchik well knows its inaccuracy—a previous such swipe of his was subjected to criticism in a letter signed by seven CIP members. His subsequent attempt to pry them away from Schwartz was strongly rebuffed. (The full correspondence can be found on the CIP website.)
Mr. Muravchik’s personal attacks on Schwartz also perturb me, and I offer two facts in the latter’s defense. First, Schwartz’s book, The Two Faces of Islam (2003), was banned in Malaysia, suggesting that he threatens Wahhabism in ways that Mr. Muravchik, his ally Carl Gershman of the National Endowment for Democracy, and their preferred vehicle for moderate Islam, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, do not. Second, around the time that Mr. Muravchik published a wide-eyed account in COMMENTARY of his “sojourn” in Saudi Arabia as a guest of the sheikhs (June 2007), Schwartz was working with the American Jewish Committee to organize two trips of moderate Muslims to Israel.
I hope that Joshua Muravchik and COMMENTARY will re-discover their stalwart and eloquent voices of old and re-enlist in the ranks of those who are fighting today’s ideological enemy. It suits neither to be aligned with the accommodating Left, and their current actions damage what I still hope is our joint cause.
Middle East Forum
To the Editor:
Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom cite the scholar Kamran Bokhari as an example of the kind of moderate Muslim that Westerners should be cultivating alliances with, and they defend him against charges of radicalism made by Daniel Pipes. As evidence, they adduce an article Bokhari wrote in the Muslim Public Affairs Journal in which he strongly urged his fellow Muslims to take stock of the “cancer of extremism” that has grown within their societies.
This journal is a publication of the Washington-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). While MPAC purports to be a grassroots civil-rights organization, one of its chief aims is to serve as a tripwire for any criticism of Islam that is at odds with the airbrushed narrative it wishes to propagate. MPAC also condemns as civil-rights violations such minimal security measures as risk assessment of airport travelers and background checks on Muslims entering the United States.
Moreover, even while MPAC has condemned Muslim extremism, it has also insisted that the violent actions of Islamic militants have to be understood in the context of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly our support of Israel. Maher Hathout, the senior political adviser to MPAC since its founding, has praised Hizballah as a group of freedom fighters. Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, Salaam Al Marayati, the executive director of MPAC, suggested that we should look to the Israelis for blame. Attitudes like these call into question MPAC’s credentials as a venue for moderate Islam.
Thousand Oaks, California
To the Editor:
Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom cite Muhammad Dajani, founder of the Wasatia party in the Palestinian territories, as a voice of moderation in the Islamic world. They adduce the fact that he has recognized Israel’s “right to exist,” characterized the idea of a Palestinian “right of return” as impractical, and argued strongly against the violence practiced by Hamas.
Perhaps Dajani is as good as it gets among the Palestinians, and we should be grateful that his voice exists at all, but he has also given utterance to some troubling notions. To cite just one example: in an article that appeared in the Palestine-Israel Journal, Dajani wrote that
a two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants . . . to renounce violence and terror, to recognize each other, and to respect the right of the other to live in peace. However, this cannot be achieved unless both parties resume negotiations and the Israelis accept the fact that Hamas is an integral part of the Palestinian social fabric.
So Israeli and Palestinian “terror” are morally equivalent, and an organization whose mission is to destroy Israel is vital to Palestinian society. If this is the kind of rhetoric that can be expected of moderate Muslims, we are at a sorry pass indeed.
Middletown, New York
To the Editor:
Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom would have us court “moderate” Islamists. But is their notion of moderate coherent? Consider the two sub-groups offered as our most promising “assets” within the larger category of moderate Muslims—secular liberals and moderate Islamists.
The secular liberals, we are told, stand for a “belief in the separation of mosque and state analogous to the practice in most of the West.” This presumably means some form of society in which government upholds individual rights to liberty. The moderate Islamists, by contrast, are Muslims who “hope and pray for the eventual recognition by all mankind of the truth of Muhammad’s message” but who wish (so they say) to achieve this by non-violent means.
What, however, can the latter ideal mean politically, if not a society shaped by the tenets of Islam and a government informed by Islamic law? Whatever the authors’ two groups of “moderates” have in common, they seek entirely different political ends, and are fundamentally dissimilar. To include the second group among the moderates is to blur a crucial distinction between advocates of a basically free society and those sharing the jihadist aim of wielding power in the name of Islam.
Ayn Rand Institute
To the Editor:
Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom formulate several questions to be asked of a given group of Muslims in order to ascertain whether it is one with whom America might pursue a constructive relationship. I would have the questions probe a bit deeper:
• Does the group emphasize those sections of the Qur’an that call for peaceful coexistence and does it attempt to influence fellow Muslims to follow those sections and shy away from sections calling for violence and intolerance? (I think many of the groups discussed by the authors would fail this question. The mere statement that violence against innocents is un-Islamic should not be considered sufficient.)
• Has the group actively and strongly condemned past terrorist incidents, including ones in Israel? (It should not be enough to condemn terrorism in the abstract.)
Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom write:
Ali Alyami is an American patriot and an indefatigable campaigner for human rights in his native land, and we salute his work. We agree that the Wahhabi ideology is a great source of Islamic extremism, with all the baleful effects that flow from it. But it is not the only source. There is also the Muslim Brotherhood, born and developed in Egypt, and to which Osama bin Laden’s partner in crime, Ayman al-Zawahiri, traces his roots. And there is the Islamic revolution of Iran, the main sponsor of global terrorism.
We do not know whether Mr. Alyami’s idea for a Muslim Council is a good one, but we doubt that Westerners could help call it into being. By the same token, it is certainly not for us to say that Islam is a “lost cause.”
The core issue of friendly dictators has always been a vexing one. We favor unremitting pressure for liberalization but we are wary of toppling regimes, especially friendly ones, because experience teaches that revolutions are at least as likely to make things worse as to make them better.
Gloria Stewart may be right in her comments about the Muslim Public Affairs Council, for which we hold no brief. We wrote only about Kamran Bokhari, citing one of several writings by him that are crystal-clear in their opposition not only to terrorism itself but also to the familiar apologias for terrorism.
R. Steinberg damns Muhammad Dajani with the faint praise that he is “as good as it gets among the Palestinians.” We think this puts too negative a spin on his position. Dajani has distanced himself from Fatah and Hamas and all the other radical factions in order to advocate peace and freedom. This requires courage and principle. That he advocates a different approach to Hamas from ours seems to us immaterial, as does his failure to acknowledge Israel’s moral superiority.
Elan Journo conflates two issues. One is whether any moderate Islamists can ever be trusted to mean what they say. The other is whether it is imaginable for some Muslims to seek a system that offers a degree of deference to Islam and yet is also free and democratic. There are democracies that pay deference to Christianity and there is one democracy that pays deference to Judaism. We do not think it inconceivable that there could be the equivalent vis-à-vis Islam, and it is certainly imaginable that some well-intentioned Muslims might have such a vision.
We thank Doron Becker for his cogent points.
The letters from Robert S. Leiken, Stephen Schwartz, and Daniel Pipes are awkward for us to answer as a team since each builds on earlier arguments with one of us (Muravchik). We leave those to be answered by him alone.
Joshua Muravchik writes:
Robert Leiken claims that I participated in a neoconservative “onslaught” that failed to “deal . . . with the substance of [the] findings” of his article in Foreign Affairs boosting the Muslim Brotherhood as a “moderate” organization. I think he means by this that I failed to agree with him. In the blog entry to which he refers, I challenged him and his co-author, Steven Brooke, on several points, arguing
(1) that the Brotherhood’s advocacy of democracy was not to be trusted because the group did not practice democracy internally and because its top leader had denounced “Western democracy”;
(2) that the Brotherhood had not convincingly renounced violence because it advocated terrorism in some places even if not in others;
(3) that a distinction Messrs. Leiken and Brooke drew between holy war and war for land was meaningless to the Brotherhood’s own spiritual leader.
Whether I was right or wrong, these points went directly to the content of Mr. Leiken’s defense of the Brotherhood. Thus it is not I but he, in his present letter, who has tried to dodge substantive argument. He does so by bandying about the term “neoconservative” as an epithet, without ever specifying to whom he is referring or to which writings. Since neoconservatives are at the moment unpopular, he apparently feels he can score points by invoking this bogeyman to demonize those who demur from his analysis.
Mr. Leiken’s claim that he answered my criticisms and that I “in turn conceded a number of points in . . . contentions” is delusional. I did post a second entry on this subject, in which I attempted to refute his reply, and—rightly or wrongly—I did not concede anything. Readers may examine the exchange on the COMMENTARY website to verify this and to judge who got the better of it. But a simple indicator of whether I conceded anything is this: my reply to Mr. Leiken was followed by a second rebuttal from him; mine was 900 words and his was 3,400 words, all of it furiously polemical. If I had conceded anything, he neglected to note it at the time. To the contrary, he took me to task for having refused to “forthrightly acknowledge error.”
Mr. Leiken now claims that I renewed my phantom concessions in the COMMENTARY article under discussion here, and that I now “apparently share” a good “many” of his “conclusions.” But he neglects to say what these concessions were or which of his conclusions I share and to explain why such concessions and shared conclusions should evoke from him such an angry letter.
In fact, Mr. Leiken says that Charles Szrom and I “sneered” at him “for interviewing members of the Brotherhood.” This is false. We criticized his conclusions about the Brotherhood, not the fact that he spoke to them. As he well knows, I have interviewed various members of the Brotherhood myself.
Mr. Leiken, a specialist on Latin America, attempts to project an aura of expertise on the Muslim Brotherhood by claiming that his work is based on “research in five languages.” I have no idea what this means, but as he and his co-author told me themselves, neither of them speaks Arabic. (I hasten to add that I do not speak Arabic, either.) Moreover, Mr. Leiken did not travel to Arab countries to do this research. Having a limited grant for research, he chose, for reasons best known to himself, to travel only to Europe to interview such Brotherhood members as he could find there. Brooke, his research assistant, went to Egypt and Jordan alone.
When Mr. Leiken’s letter finally turns to substance, he reveals just how little he has learned about the Brotherhood. He writes: “the jihadists in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood actually abandoned the parent organization.” But the Brotherhood’s official credo remains this: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” In short, some “jihadists” may have left, but jihad is one of the basic goals of the Brotherhood.
Next he says that “Egypt’s government has jailed the moderate leaders, consolidating conservative control in order to discredit the organization.” This is sheer concoction. When was the Brotherhood under less conservative control? Mr. Leiken himself says that it used to be more extreme and more violent, and that the more liberal members are the younger ones. The government has indeed jailed many Brothers, but where is the evidence for the ideological manipulation that he claims?
Then Mr. Leiken writes that Saad Eddin Ibrahim “came away from shared time in prison with Muslim Brothers convinced that the Brotherhood (not unspecified ‘Islamists,’ as [Messrs. Muravchik and Szrom] slyly suggest) was emerging as a force for democracy.” I am tempted to retort that it is Mr. Leiken, not I, who is sly. But I think that in this instance he is not being sly, just revealing his ignorance. Ibrahim’s jailhouse discourses were with all manner of Islamists, not exclusively or even primarily members of the Muslim Brotherhood. As Ibrahim put it in an interview upon his release, in prison he had
immediate rapport with everybody else. But with the Islamists there was a very special relationship. . . . One way of communicating with them was through the few micro-enterprises that they were allowed to have in prison . . . . The group that tried to assassinate [the novelist] Naguib Mahfouz had a tailor’s shop; the laundry people were the ones that killed the tourists at the Egyptian Museum. And then you have the assassination-of-Sadat people.
Mr. Leiken claims that the Brotherhood has a representative structure in which “lower groups elect the higher ones.” This comes as news to me, as it would to most observers. When and where are these elections held? He denies that the membership is secret on the grounds that some publicize their membership, but so did some members of the Communist parties in democratic countries. Others, however, did not. In fact, most of the Brotherhood’s membership is not announced.
Finally, after paragraphs of personal abuse and factual error, Mr. Leiken’s concluding paragraph offers a substantive argument. Just as we allied with Stalin against Hitler and with the People’s Republic of China against the USSR, he says, so we should ally with the Muslim Brothers against al Qaeda.
There are a few obvious fallacies in this reasoning. First, allying with Stalin was a great shame and pity, for which we paid afterward with millions of other people’s lives and tens of thousands of our own. Allying with the PRC was no less shameful, although it has been much less expensive—thus far, at least. These were strategic moves made in extremis and excusable only on that ground. Does Mr. Leiken believe that we are in an analogous situation today vis-à-vis al Qaeda?
Second, the reward for our shameful bargain was that Stalin brought an immediate 200-plus divisions to the war against Hitler. Later, the PRC put a million fighting men on its border with the USSR, placed intelligence stations across the border, and brought many other assets to our struggle. What exactly will the Muslim Brotherhood bring to our battle with al Qaeda?
Third, the Soviets after they were invaded by Germany, and the PRC after it felt threatened by Moscow, sought alliances with us. What reason is there to suppose that the Muslim Brotherhood feels threatened by al Qaeda or wants to ally with us to fight it?
I am relieved to accept Stephen Schwartz’s assurance that he is not obsessed with me. I had gleaned the contrary impression from the fact that he had written four diatribes against me in the last couple of years—this is the fifth—on an array of subjects. Some are as obscure as my neglect, in a review of the film Borat, to acknowledge the rich history of Kazakh philo-Semitism, and some so over-the-top as to brand me “the new Walter Duranty” (a notorious 1930’s Soviet stooge).
I would feel even more relieved if Mr. Schwartz had not added the jibe about me as a “Shachtmanite.” I have made clear in print several times that I was never a Shachtmanite or any other kind of Trotskyist or Bolshevik, all of which would be of no interest to anyone, not even me, were it not for false stories that are put about on the history of neoconservatism. Mr. Schwartz happens to be as deeply steeped in leftist sectariana as anyone I know (my deficient knowledge in this area being the occasion of one of his screeds), so I can only believe he is misrepresenting me knowingly.
My present argument with him and Daniel Pipes revolves around a statement issued last year by the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) that accused me (and Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy) of coddling radical Islamists. It was signed by Mr. Schwartz and several other individuals who had Middle Eastern names. What I found especially disturbing in the statement was an attack on Abdulwahab Alkebsi, of the Center for International Private Enterprise, calling him one “of the most obnoxious members of the ‘Wahhabi lobby’ in America.” I know Alkebsi well, and I knew this to be utterly absurd. Among other things, I often appear with him on talk shows broadcast to the Arab world on the American-sponsored al-Hurra network, and he consistently articulates pro-American views that are at odds with all radical Arab positions, not to mention Wahhabism.
A look at the website of the CIP showed that the bulk of its content revolved around Stephen Schwartz, who was listed as the executive director. (I am sure it is not a sign of obsession, but the site now contains a section titled “The CIP-Muravchik File.”)
I inferred that the statement in question had been written by Mr. Schwartz, and I wrote to a few of his co-signatories to ask if they had in fact given their names to it and, if so, how they could justify the attack on Alkebsi. While those who replied did affirm their signatures, they also made it apparent that they had taken Mr. Schwartz’s word for the facts alleged. “Hmmm . . . this is interesting . . . I do not know [Alkebsi],” wrote Kaleel Mohammed. Salim Mansour replied, “I have no comments to make. . . . [Y]ou need to be in touch with [Schwartz].”
Daniel Pipes has done great service over the years in battling radical Islam, but I fear he is heading in a direction that will do more harm than good to the cause. For one thing, his sponsorship of Stephen Schwartz—who signs himself “Suleyman Schwartz” before Muslim audiences but not in the pages of COMMENTARY , and who has journeyed from Communism to Trotskyism to Kabbalah to some variety of Eastern Christianity to Islam—makes a mockery of the quest for “moderate Islam.” If this is the answer to our hopes, God help us.
For another thing, the damage Mr. Pipes risks doing to the battle against radical Islam is analogous to the damage Senator Joseph McCarthy did to the cause of anti-Communism. Most of the people “named” by McCarthy were indeed Communists, but if you are going to accuse people of being traitors (or terrorists), it is not sufficient to get your facts right most of the time.
In fact, we have two glaring cases of reckless charges by Mr. Pipes. The first involves Kamran Bokhari, about whom Mr. Pipes writes: “a closer look reveals that [Bokhari] is actually a former violent Islamist who has journeyed merely from overt to covert enmity for the West.” Now, Bokhari was the focus of Mr. Pipes’s original spat with Gershman in which I embroiled myself. According to Mr. Pipes then, Bokhari, as an American college student in the 1990’s, had been a member of a radical Islamist group. Bokhari himself replied to this that the group had become more extreme after he left it, and that in the years since, he himself had ceased to be an Islamist altogether. In our COMMENTARY article, Charles Szrom and I quoted writings by Bokhari addressed to the Muslim community chastising it for excusing or indulging terrorism.
When I found these writings, I e-mailed Pipes, asking if he was confident that Bokhari had not changed from his youthful radicalism. Pipes wrote me several times that he was sure such evidence existed but was having trouble finding it. When I persisted, he tartly responded that “it seems wrong” for me to want proof rather than relying on his authority.
In his current letter, instead of offering evidence, Mr. Pipes ratchets up the accusation. But if Bokhari harbors “covert enmity for the West,” how does Mr. Pipes know this? Several times a week, in his job at the Stratfor website, Bokhari issues analyses of Middle East and South Asian events. If there is any enmity toward the West in them, it is covert indeed. I have never spotted a scintilla of it. Worse still, Mr. Pipes now accuses Bokhari of having been “violent.” I suppose he means that he supported violence overseas, but one would expect Mr. Pipes to be more careful about such a formulation. Even this lesser charge has been vigorously denied by Bokhari, and Mr. Pipes offers nothing to gainsay him.
The second case involves Alkebsi, whom I have discussed above. When Stephen Schwartz et al. made their outlandish charge against him, Mr. Pipes endorsed it in print. Challenged, he has never produced any facts to substantiate it. Mr. Pipes concludes by summoning me (and COMMENTARY) back to “our joint cause.” Having been in the same trench with him for many years, I share the wish that we will be allies again. But he has made a serious misstep in leveling charges he cannot substantiate. I appeal to him to set the record straight.