Middle East Transparent - The Challenge of Islamism in Europe & the Middle East

Middle East Transparent

07 October 04

شفــــاف الشــــرق الأوســــط

 

 

The First International Coptic Symposium

The Challenge of Islamism in Europe & the Middle East

Speech by Dr Daniel Pipes, USA

 

Zurich, Marriott Hotel, Thursday, September 23, 200

 

"Thank you so much, Mr Adly Youssef, and I'm particularly relieved after hearing the last introduction of Michael Meunier, I made it through without a very colorful introduction, just a warm one, thank you very much.

I am delighted to be here. Let me start by saying that I lived in Egypt for three years and it was a key experience in my life. I developed an interpretation of Islam and of the Middle East and in fact I have been drawing on now for some 30 years. I learned Arabic - I had some wonderful experiences with Copts, members of the Coptic community in Egypt and so I am particularly pleased to be here today. I think this meeting is important and it's an inspiration. Mr Adly Youssef is to be congratulated on taking this initiative, the Coalition for the Defence of Human Rights, the Christian Solidarity International and Jubilee Campaign are all path breaking in their work to protect Human Rights around the world, in particular with a focus on Christians in Muslim countries.

I think it is particularly telling that the organisation, the voice of the Copts is coming from outside the country. As you have already heard today and will hear no doubt again and again the Copts who live in Egypt do not have the freedom to speak and more than that don't have a history of speaking out. It takes coming to the West, understanding that there are means and goals that can be achieved if one speaks up, and that there are friends who are ready to come to the assistance, that there are principles that can be applied, and that's what can be done from here and then transferred back to Egypt. My talk today will not be specifically about Egypt. The rest of the conference looks at the specifics of the Coptic condition. My topic is something of a background briefing on the larger question: The issue that stands behind so much of the Coptic problem today. That is the question of Islamism or militant Islam.

I would like to begin by noting the striking contrast that exists in the world today. There are some 30 million Christians who live in countries with Muslim majorities. The largest number live in Indonesia, some 50 millions, followed by the Egyptian population, who knows exactly what, but somewhere between 6 and 12 million. 3 million Christians live in Pakistan and at the other end of the scale there are a few dozen individuals in the Maghrebs. These are by and large ancient Christian communities. We heard earlier about the coming of Christianity to Egypt in the First Century. And yet they have increasingly found themselves an embattled minority, with dwindling rights, trapped in poverty and uncertainty, despised and distrusted as second class citizens, facing discrimination in education, jobs and from police and the courts. Often they are the victims of brutality. This is not a condition unique to the Christians of Egypt, it applies in many countries with a Muslim majority. As circumstances steadily worsen, Christians are packing and leaving their ancestral lands, to find a more hospitable environment in the West. The remaining Christian population in the Middle East are increasingly aged, poor and marginalized.

In striking contrast to this dismal picture, consider the Muslim minority living in the West, in historic Christian countries where they number about 22 million. This is a population that mostly consists of immigrants who have arrived in the last generation, increasingly is established with growing affluence and protections, and acceptance as full citizens with all rights. It is winning new prerogatives, in schools, the work place and the legal system.

Some of the Muslims in the West openly advocate applying Islamic Law and transforming the West into a Muslim majority area. Others engage in terrorism towards this end. Put in symbolic and religious terms: As churches are coming down in the Muslim countries, mosques are going up in the Christian ones. And I actually personally watched in Cairo when the Anglican cathedral which was on the Nile corniche was torn down to make way for the bridge. It just had to be right there, that bridge, couldn't be anywhere else, had to be right, smack, where the Anglican cathedral was, and it is no longer. In contrast I have noticed how government agencies in the West from Buenos Aires to Boston have sold land at discount prices specifically for mosques to be erected. And on similar lines observe how the bells in churches in majority Muslim countries are silenced, may not ring, but permission for the "adhan" - the call to prayer - from the mosques are now allowed in such towns as Hamtramck,

Michigan or Oslo, Norway. This contrast between the dying Christian communities in Muslim countries and the assertive Muslim communities in Christian countries has many causes including demography and what one might call traditional verses post-modern understandings of religion.

I would like to focus on the angle that I think has particular importance for us here namely the role of Islamism or militant Islam in both arenas of the traditional Muslim countries and the traditional Christian countries. In the Muslim world Islamism leads to profound intolerance of Muslims who disagree with this approach to Islam. Think of the hundred or more thousand deaths in Algeria, and of course it leads to a lack of tolerance towards non-Muslims. Their presence is no longer welcome in the West. In contrast Islamism leads to an assertiveness and an attempt to dominate. My talk is entitled "Challenge of Islamism in the Middle East and in the West" and as you can see the challenge is similar, but opposite in those regions. During my time with you this evening I like to dwell here on three topics: The nature of Islamism, its role in the Middle East especially vis--vis the Christian minorities and its role in Europe.

Now Islamism is called by many names. In English its called militant Islam, radical Islam, fundamentalist Islam, political Islam, they all refer to the same thing. And it is an interpretation of Islam and I believe it's a mistake to either use a euphemism like CAIR or to see Islam the religion as the problem. It is not terrorism, which is a tactic, which is our problem. It is not Islam, a personal faith, which is our problem. It is Islamism, an ideology that is our problem. This ideology is in many ways familiar to us because we in the West have encountered two prior versions of Islamism - in the sense that it is a radical utopian ideology

that derives from the writings of books, I don't mean the Koran here, I mean 20th Century interpretations which devoted countries then try to use as a basis to take over states. In the process of taking over states they are brutal in their methodology, totally intolerant of those who disagree. Once they take over the state they acquire total power over their subjects and immediately try to export it so they can achieve a global hegemony.

In short this is the third of the totalitarian movements, the first and second being the Fascist and the Communist. The details are very different, but the approach is similar, using all means to acquire power in the hopes of world hegemony. In the Islamic case there is a focus on the Islamic law, the mechanism by which the Islamist ideology attracts adherents and fulfils its mandate is by emphasising Islamic law. Islamic law is a massive legal system that the Islamists have extended to areas that had not existed before. The classic Islamic legal code dealt with a limited number of issues. The Islamists have extended it so that for example there is an economic philosophy, there are details for governance, there are details of education. All life falls under the Islamists' control. The most perfect example of this can be seen in Afghanistan under the Taliban, where every aspect of life from amusement to sexuality, to raising children, to economics, to foreign policy was interpreted in the light of how they understand the Koran and Islamic Law. It is an ideological version of Islam. It is a transformation of a personal faith to a system for ordering power and wealth. It derives from medieval sources. There are certain writers like Ibn Tamiya (spelling?) who hold these ideas today. But in its modern total form, it is modern and it dates back to the 1920 when simultaneously in India and in Egypt various thinkers and activists like Hassan al-Hanna began to respond to the totalitarian moment in the West. It was in 1920s when the Nazis were growing in power, the fascists were already in power, in Italy coming to power, in Japan, the Soviet model was at its peak. And so it was a time when many people, many intelligent people thought that the totalitarian way is the way forward. They didn't know the horrors that would come. They didn't even know the horrors that were taken place then. And these Muslim thinkers and activists responded to that belief and hope that totalitarian methods would succeed. They were coming up with their own version and they developed it over the subsequent decades. They sought power and finally, 50 years later in 1979 they finally came to power in Iran, the first time the Islamists controlled the government. And immediately they tried to expand without great success. There have been other successes however in Sudan, since 1989 and Afghanistan from 1996-2001. One can argue that there are strong Islamist tendencies in many other countries, but none have the revolutionary, totalitarian party quite of those three.

It is modern, it is modern, it is important to understand that it is modern. And it is an answer to modern problems. And by and large is modern people who people who pursue this. It was Hassan al-Banna, a school teacher living in a modern part of Egypt, Isma'illiyya. It was not peasants in the country sides. It is modern people who are attracted to this. It is striking to see for example how many of the leaders of the Islamist parties are engineers and are educated in the West, are successful in business and so forth. The summation of this programme is "Islam is the solution" (Islam huwa al-hal). Whatever the questions is, the answer lies in Islam. It is Islamic flavoured totalitarianism. It resembles Communism and Fascism more than it resembles other strains of religious expression. It divides the world into two parts. Those who accept this programme and those who don't. Those who don't of course divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. Both of them are unacceptable. In some ways the Muslims are even worse than the non-Muslims as they should know the truth and they don't and there is on occasions an even more vicious approach to Muslims who reject the Islamist programme. There is an attempt to reject as much as possible from the outside world with the important exceptions of technology, military and medical technology especially. There is intolerance towards those who do not accept this project. And Muslims are the first victims. I mentioned Algeria before. What happens in Darfur, another example of the brutality by the Islamists against the non-Islamist Muslims. There is a hatred of the West especially and most especially in the United States because as in the cases of Fascism and Communism it is the United States predominantly that stands between them and the achievement of their goals. If the United States can be sidelined or drawn in on the Islamist side then things look pretty smooth to get to their goals. Their cosmic ambitions towards the West, and again, here is a similarity with Fascism and Communism, is not an attempt to carve out a piece of territory as a safe haven as one might find in other religions. It is an attempt to go into direct combat with the West, and to defeat the West and achieve world-wide hegemony. It is a cosmic confrontation between the Islamists and the West. Militant Islam, Islamism derives from Islam, but is a misanthropic, misogynist, triumphalist, millennarian, anti-modern, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, terroristic, jihadistic and suicidal version of it. The consequences of Islamist success have been systematically clear. Wherever they take over government, the government is tyrannical and brutal towards its subjects, implies economic contraction, repression of women and non-Muslims, ethnic cleansing and harness for information, military aggression soon follows.

This is not a single phenomenon. There are different strains, the Muslim brethren from Egypt, the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia, the Khomeinis from Iran, the Deobandis from India, these are moderately very different versions with different personnel of the same general phenomenon. The causes of this phenomenon and why it has become so important in the last generation are much debated. The most common explanations given have to do with either American Foreign Policy or the economic and other failures of the Muslim world. I disagree with these. If you imagine either American policy changing or the economies of the Muslim world improving it is hard to imagine that these powerful ideological forces simply disappear. It is much deeper. I don't deny that if American Foreign Policy and economic travails have some role in their superficial reading. What this really is - it's a manifestation of a deep identity issue. To put it briefly, to be a Muslim historically was to be on a winning team. The prophet Mohammed left Mecca in 622 and returned in 630 as the ruler. He fled from Mecca in 622 and returned 8 years later as the ruler. Within a century the Muslim armies had conquered territories from India to Spain. And in the medieval period the Muslim world was the area where there was the greatest health, wealth, power, technological advancement and it grew to be an assumed sense among many Muslims that being Muslim meant to be favoured by God both in a theological sense and in a mundane way. And that was roughly the case for six centuries 600 to 1200.

The next six centuries didn't go very well, but the Muslims were not aware of it. Finally by 1800 came the power, the crushing power of Europe as symbolised by the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt and the Muslim world became aware of how far it had fallen behind in military, economic, cultural and other terms. And the great trauma for the past two centuries is the question of what went wrong and how to fix it. In this light the turn towards Islamism is one form of a solution, to put it again in very general terms. From 1800 to 1920 the general answer for the question of how to fix things was to emulate Europeans, the French and the British, the liberal Europeans. And from 1920 to 1980 the basic reply was: emulate the ethic of Europeans, the Fascists and the Communists. Since 1970 the answer has been "Let's come up with our own anti-liberal tradition and follow it". This is the third attack. It has deep, deep economic implications. Economics has a role but it goes much deeper in terms of what it means to be Muslim and that is shown by the fact that many, many of the Islamists are well off. If one takes as a sample the 19 suicide hijackers of 9/11. They were distinguished by their privilege, affluence and education. These were not poor people who were in despair. These were people who were ideologues, who believed that by carrying out this action they were furthering their cause.

Now my second topic is the Middle East. Because the bulk of the discussions at this conference is on the Christians of Egypt, I'd like to take a little detour and look at a very timely issue namely the Christians of Iraq. Saddam Hussein foul regime, no matter how horrible the totalitarian rule was, there were some saving graces. And among those saving graces in the case of Iraq was that the Christian minorities had a safe stop, they were not persecuted more than anyone else by the government. With the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime and the uncertain circumstances at the moment the Islamists have grown in power and one of their first actions has been to target the Christians. There have been many episodes, many attacks on Christian installations of various sorts here. According to the Barnabas Fund, at the end of 2003 there was a missile attack on a convent in Mossul, bombs placed but defused in two Christian schools in Baghdad and Mossul, a bomb explosion at a Baghdad church on Christmas eve, and a bomb placed but again defused at a monastery in Mossul. And finally came the last major attack on August 1 of this year, between 6 and 7 pm in the evening which given that Sunday is a work day in Iraq that's the time when Christians of Iraq go to church. There were a series of coordinated explosions in Baghdad and Mossul that killed 11 people and injured 55. The bombings in Iraq are part of a larger pattern of persecution of Christians that has taken the form of attacks on liquor stores, music stores, fashion stores, beauty saloons. They make clear that these particular kinds of establishments are not welcome. Christian women have been threatened unless they cover their heads. Random Christians have been assassinated. These assaults have prompted Iraqi Christians, one of the oldest Christian bodies in the world, to leave the country in record numbers. An Iraqi deacon observes a month ago that on a recent night the church had to spent more time on filling out baptismal forms needed for leaving the country than it did on the worship service itself. Iraq's Minister for 'displacement and migration', an interesting title, he is a Christian himself, estimated that 40'000 Christians left Iraq in the 2 weeks following the August 1 bombings.

Whereas Christians make up 3 percent of the countries population the proportion of its refugee flow into Syria is estimated somewhere between 20 and 95 percent. Looking at the larger picture one estimate says some 40 percent of the community has left since 1987 with a census of 1,4 million Iraqi Christians. Although Muslim leaders uniformly condemn these acts calling them criminal actions this process of attacks appears to be unstoppable and appears to be leading to the decline and possible disappearance of Iraqi Christianity. This seems all the more likely given that this is part of a more general trend of Islamists in the Middle East. Let me mention a few other cases again leaving Egypt aside. Bethlehem and Nazareth, the most identifiably Christian towns anywhere enjoyed Christian majorities for nearly two millenia. But no more, they are now majority Muslim towns. In Jerusalem the number of Christians outnumbered Muslims in 1922. Today the Christian population of Jerusalem is about 2 percent. The same applies to other parts of Israel. There are reports from the Galilee town of Turan quotes a Christian store owner saying: 'Most Christians leave as soon as we can sell our houses and shops. We can't live among the Muslims anymore'. As one report puts it - there are more Palestinians living in Bayt Jala, Chile, than in Bayt Jala on the West Bank, Bayt Jala being a Christian town. Prince Hassan of Jordan has noted that today more Christians from Jerusalem live in Sydney, Australia than in Jerusalem itself. In Turkey the Christian population has numbered 2 million in 1920, now numbers a few thousand. In Syria Christians represented about one third of the population early last century, today they count for less than 10 percent. In Lebanon the numbers went from about 55 percent 70 years ago to under 30 percent today.

So the Coptic predicament is by no means unique. At present rates the Middle East, 12, 15 million Christians, will in a decade have been substantially reduces to the point that it will have lost its cultural vitality and political significance. It bears noting that in this disappearance Christians are recapitulating an earlier exodus some 50 years ago, namely the Jewish exodus from the Middle East. The Jews in the Middle East numbered about a million in 1948 and today, outside of Israel, they number at 60'000. If one takes out Iraq and Turkey they number about 10'000. In combination, these ethnic cleansings of two ancient religious minorities mark the end of an era. The multiplicity of Middle Eastern life is being reduced to the flat monotony of a single religion and a handful of approved minorities. The entire region, not just the affected minorities, is impoverished by this now. For many years the plight of Middle East Christians attracted little attention from the outside world. The early protectors of their interest, the British, French, Russian and Greek governments as well as the Vatican turned away from them and their current problems. Recently however a number of organisations have sprung up including the sponsors of this conference to take up the cause of persecuted Christians around the world and primarily in Muslim and Communist countries. The signs are clear in the United States for example where the Senate has conducted hearings on this topic and the State Department has since 1999 been releasing a survey on religious persecution world-wide. There are many other examples that suggest that the once ignored problem is becoming of interest and this conference is among those healthy signs.

Finally let me talk about Europe, the third of my three topics. Oriana Fallaci declared in her new book "The force of reason" that quote 'Europe becomes more and more a province of Islam, a colony of Islam'. She is right. Christianities ancient stronghold is giving away rapidly to Islam. Bernhard Lewis told "Die Welt" earlier this month: "Europa wird am Ende des Jahrhunderts Islamisch sein" - Europe will be Islamic by the end of this century. Two factors primarily contribute to this world shaking development, extraordinary, huge development. First is the hollowing out of Christianity. Europe is increasingly a post-Christian society. One with a diminishing connection to its tradition or its historic values. The numbers of believing, observant Christians has collapsed to the point that some observers call this the new dark continent. Already, analysts estimate that Britain's mosques host more worshippers pro week than does the church of England. There are other factors, first the hollowing out of Christianity, decline of Christianity, the second is the birth-rate. Indigenous Europeans are dying out, sustaining a population requires that each women bear an average of 2,1 children. In the European Union the overall rate is 1,4 per women and its falling. One study finds should current population trends continue and immigration seize today's population of 375 million will decline to 275 million within 7 years. To keep the working population stable the EU needs 1,6 million immigrants every year to sustain its present workers to retirees ratio requires astonishing 13,9 million immigrants annually. Into this void of declining Christianity and declining birth rates are coming Islam and Muslims.

As Christianity falters, Islam is robust, assertive and ambitious. As Europeans under reproduce and do so at advanced ages Muslims do so in large numbers while young. Some 5 percent of the EU or nearly 20 million persons presently identify themselves with Muslims. Should current trends continue that number will reach 10 percent by 2020. If non-Muslims flee the new Islamic order as seems likely the continent could be majority Muslim within decades. When that happens it is interesting to speculate what will follow. Great cathedrals will appear as vestiges of an earlier civilization where they will be there so long as the Saudi style regime does not transfer them into mosques, or a Taliban like regime blows them up. The great national cultures, Italian, French, English and others will likely wither replaced by a new transnational Muslim identity that merges North African, Turkish, sub continental and other elements. This predictions is hardly new. I'm saying this in 2004. But in 1968 a British politician Enoch Powell gave a very famous speech, the 'Rivers of blood speech' (http://www.sterlingtimes.org/text_rivers_of_blood.htm) in which he warned that in allowing immigration the United Kingdom was heaping up its own funeral pile. His career by the way, a very promising career, came to an end because of those words. In 1973 the French writer Jean Raspail published the "Camp of the Saints", a novel that portrays Europe falling to massive, uncontrolled immigration from the Indian subcontinent. The peaceable transformation of a region from one major civilization to another, which is now underway in this very area, has no precedent in human history, and makes it easy to ignore the fact that it is underway.

My time is up. Let me draw some conclusions from this presentation. Islamism has become one of the central issues in world politics, if not the issue. It is the force behind the violence in the 'War on Terror'. It is the force behind the transformation of the Middle East from what it was a generation ago to what it is today and in particular the decline of Christian populations in the region. It is the force that is moving into Europe and taking advantage of Europe's failures. Unfortunately Islamism is also the new global enemy of civilization. It is the barbarism that must be fought by all civilised people, Muslims and non-Muslims. It is at the core of the problem that the Christians in Egypt face. It is at the core of the problem that the Christians of Europe face.

 

ends

 

Image and text was provided by CSI

 

 

 

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