Irfan Khawaja is adjunct professor of philosophy at the College of New Jersey, and a columnist for Pakistan Today. The views he expresses here are his own.

A Response to Daniel Pipes

Irfan Khawaja

May 29, 2003

I thank Daniel Pipes for his response to my essay. Here is a link to both my essay and Pipes’s response:

As I said in the last line of the essay, my aim in writing it was to put the burden of proof on Pipes for bearing out a number of controversial claims he’s made. Has he met that burden of proof? The answer, I think, is on every count, “no.” My response, I’ll concede, is a bit long, but the exorbitant length is justified by the complexity of the issues. Let me take them in turn.

(1) Iraq

Regarding Iraq, Pipes says that he “stands by” his 1987 recommendation to support Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, representing that advice as an example of “lesser evil” politics, and comparing it with our alliance with Stalin during World War II. My disagreements here are too extensive to be easily summarized, but here is the summary version.

Not being a military historian, I am not in a position to make counterfactual judgments about the strictly military aspects of our wartime alliance with Stalin. But speaking as a philosopher, I can say that military victory did not require our whitewashing Stalin’s crimes, as defenders of the alliance did, in order to make the alliance palatable. An analogous point holds of our support for the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In both cases, anti-fascist and anti-communist polemicists whitewashed the nature of our “allies” to guarantee support for them.

The same general point applies to Pipes’s erstwhile support for Ba’athist Iraq. It is one thing to say that American national security required us to support Iraq over Iran in the Iran-Iraq war while explicitly acknowledging the nature of the regime we were dealing with. It is quite another to respond to objections to one’s case by finding “moderation” in a regime that was about to commit mass murder, develop atomic weapons, and invade its neighbors, as Pipes and Mylroie did in “Back Iraq.”

As for the “success” of the policy itself, the price of containing Iran by supporting Iraq was the empowerment of Iraq, followed by our having to fight two wars (and institute a military occupation) to contain the Iraqi regime. That doesn’t strike me as success, and a passage from the article makes clear just how far off-base the Pipes-Mylroie prognostications turned out to be:

A more serious argument against a tilt toward Iraq is the danger that a victorious Baghdad would itself turn against pro-American states in the region—mainly Israel, but also Kuwait and other weak states in the Persian Gulf region. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq has a history of anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, support for terrorism, and friendliness toward the Soviet Union.

But the Iranian revolution and seven years of bloody and inconclusive warfare have changed Iraq’s view of its Arab neighbors, the United States, and even Israel. Iraq restored relations with the United States in November 1984. Its leaders no longer consider the Palestinian issue their problem. Iraq’s allies since 1979 have been those states—Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco—most threatened by revolutionary upheaval, most friendly to the United States, and most open to negotiations with Israel. These allies have forced a degree of moderation on Iraq, as Baghdad’s silence about the recent meeting between Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres conspicuously showed (“Back Iraq,” p. 15).
So is Pipes now saying that Iraq was not a danger to Kuwait, Israel, or Saudi Arabia? That its leaders didn’t regard the Palestinian issue as a live one during the first Gulf War (cf. the “linkage” issue)? That its allies were able to restrain and “moderate” it from, say, gassing the Kurds or invading Kuwait? That its response to the Mubarak-Peres meeting was sufficient basis for predicting its future policies toward its neighbors for, say, the next three or four years? I find it difficult to believe that Pipes wants to stand by all of that.

Finally, I apologize to Pipes for my use of the phrase “conspicuously absent.” The adverb implies an intention to conceal, and I accept his explanation for why “Back Iraq” has not yet been posted on his website. It would have been sufficient to say that the article was absent.

(2) Celebrations

Regarding the reports of Islamists celebrating 9/11, I appreciate Pipes’s concession, but I must make a few observations here. Pipes says that when he “wrote of Islamists in New York City celebrating the World Trade Center’s destruction, the air was thick with such reports.” Having done about a year’s worth of research into these reports, I can also say with some confidence that “the air” was a good deal thicker with skepticism about the reports than confidence in them.

We can therefore draw two troubling inferences about Pipes’s approach to the celebration rumors: (a) first, that he spread the rumors not only while ignoring the widespread skepticism about them, but after accusing the skeptics of a cover-up; (b) second, that he saw no need, in a year and half’s time, to rectify what he himself saw as an error, until explicitly challenged.

(3) Zayed Yasin on Jihad

Regarding Zayed Yasin’s speech on jihad, I don’t think that Pipes has addressed the issues I raised. Taking the “second oddity” first, Pipes responds to it by saying “simply to quote [Khawaja’s] excerpt in context is to answer his question.” No, it isn’t. My question was: where in Yasin’s remarks does he deny that jihad has a military component? Where is the evidence for “fabrication”? The passages that Pipes quotes do absolutely nothing to answer these questions.

The first quoted paragraph consists of extemporaneous remarks of Yasin’s, interspersed with question-begging editorializations by Pipes. “To connect jihad to warfare, he said, was to misunderstand it.” The quoted sentence comes from Pipes, not Yasin; the phrase “he said” is supported by nothing Yasin actually said. Pipes continues: “Rather, ‘in the Muslim tradition, jihad represents a struggle to do the right thing’.” The word “rather” comes from Pipes, not Yasin, and the rest of the sentence has no bearing one way or another on the issue at hand.

Pipes continues: “His own purpose, Yasin added, was ‘to reclaim the word for its true meaning, which is inner struggle.’” The internal quotation is taken out of context. In his speech, Yasin had said that spiritual jihad was its “the truest and purest form.” This was a clear allusion to the Islamic doctrine that spiritual jihad is the “greater jihad,” while military jihad is the “lesser jihad.” The doctrine doesn’t say that military jihad doesn’t exist; it says that the spiritual version is more to be esteemed than the military one. In the sentence Pipes quotes, then, the phrase “true meaning” need not mean “only possible meaning”; taken in context, it more plausibly denotes “highest meaning” or “noblest meaning.” To be sure, Yasin said nothing in his speech about military jihad, but a fortiori he said nothing to deny its existence, either; what he did instead was to focus all of his attention on the spiritual form while simply ignoring the military one (except to deny that 9/11 was in any sense a legitimate expression of jihad).

Should Yasin have discussed the military form of jihad? Should he have discussed the conditions under which jihad takes a military form? Should he have acknowledged the historical consequences of military jihad in Islamic history? Perhaps—but this was a one-page graduation speech, not a scholarly treatise. The fact remains: an omission is not an assertion, and where there is no assertion, there can be no “fabrication.” Precisely because Yasin didn’t discuss military jihad—whether to justify it or to deny its existence—he cannot be guilty of “fabricating” anything about it.

For all of the preceding reasons, I stand by the claim of “inconsistency” I made in noting the “first oddity.” It’s true that unlike Yasin, Abdul Hadi Palazzi explicitly acknowledged that jihad has a military component, but that’s a matter of emphasis, not a difference in doctrine. The fact remains that Yasin and Palazzi endorse precisely the same conception of jihad. The following passage from Palazzi’s article conveys the point:

In traditional Islam, military jihad and all other forms of material jihad constitute only the external aspect of jihad, while the inner dimension of jihad is the struggle that a Muslim undertakes to purify his soul from mundane desires, defects, and egotism. Jihad is not limited to the military arena but denotes striving hard toward a worthy goal. According to some sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), ‘the best jihad for women is performing a valid pilgrimage,’ while ‘the jihad for someone who has elderly parents is taking care of them.’ According to a well-known tradition, after coming back from a military expedition, the Prophet Muhammad said, ‘We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad’ (raja‘na min jihad al-asghar ila jihad al-akbar). The Prophet was asked, ‘O, Messenger of Allah, what is the greater jihad?’ He answered, ‘It is the jihad against one's soul.’” (“The Islamists Have It Wrong,” Middle East Forum, Summer 2001, footnotes omitted).
Note that while Palazzi acknowledges the existence of military jihad, he clearly subordinates military to spiritual jihad. If as the prophetic tradition attests, non-military jihad is the “greater jihad,” (indeed, the phrase jihad al-akbar could in principle mean “greatest jihad”) then Yasin’s claim was perfectly right: spiritual jihad really is the truest and purest form of jihad. And if so, Palazzi and Yasin are agreeing with each other. The difference is merely that where Palazzi has discussed both applications of the doctrine, Yasin has confined himself to discussing its “higher” application. But there is nothing in Yasin’s remarks to indicate that he is “pretending” that the lower applications don’t exist, much less “fabricating” anything to that effect.

I urge readers to read Yasin’s speech and decide the matter for themselves:

(4) James Zogby and the Arab Voice

In my essay, I had said that Pipes mentioned James Zogby’s name in connection with the Arab Voice’s serialization of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion “apropos of nothing at all.” I stand by that claim: Pipes has supplied no relevant connection between Zogby and the Arab Voice to justify having mentioned him.

Pipes defends his decision to have associated Zogby with the serialization of the Protocols by noting that he had said in his column that Zogby was a “featured columnist” in the Arab Voice. On November 5, the very day that Pipes’s column came out, a reader, Paul Kaplan, had asked what exactly Zogby’s association with the Arab Voice was. Having described Zogby as a “featured columnist,” Pipes now said: “All I know is that he writes columns that are published in it.” By November 7, Zogby had written to Pipes’s website to say the following: “For the record: I am not a ‘featured writer,’ whatever that means. My weekly column is syndicated throughout the Middle East. I do not have a syndication arrangement with any papers here in the US, although a number of local community papers apparently pick up my article and run it.” On November 15, I pressed Pipes on this very issue, and he said: ‘As a columnist myself, I know that approval is required for a newspaper to publish one's materials on a regular basis, as the Arab Voice had done with James Zogby’s.’”

If “all” that Pipes knew was that Zogby’s column was running in the Arab Voice, how could he legitimately have inferred that Zogby was “connected” with the decision to serialize the Protocols—or even “connected” with the paper itself? And what becomes of the claim of “connection” after Zogby denied that he was connected? Does Pipes mean that one can be connected to a newspaper without knowing that one is connected—or is he saying that Zogby was lying? The first option seems absurd, but the second option is unsubstantiated. To say that “approval is required” for publication is to say nothing of significance. As a columnist myself, I know that the required approval to which Pipes alludes is consistently flouted, and that unscrupulous editors filch columns all the time.

So what precisely is the “connection” here—“unwitting appearance in an anti-Semitic newspaper by means of copyright infringement by an unscrupulous editor”? Would any reasonable person regard that as a “connection” that justified being associated with what one historian has called “a warrant for genocide”?

One might overlook all of this had Pipes not insisted in his column that Zogby was “complicitous in the prejudice and villainy of this foul tract” until such time as he denounced it. What this says is that in any case in which one can be associated with anti-Semitism, however tenuously, one can be regarded as complicitous in “prejudice and villainy” until proven innocent. Readers should ask themselves whether this is a principle they would be willing to adopt if they found themselves in Zogby’s situation.

As for Pipes’s claim of “vindication” by Zogby’s Nov. 7 statement, I’ll let Zogby speak in his own words: “I deeply resent the fact that Mr. Pipes and the New York Post throw me into the middle of this issue in a clear effort to besmirch my name and make me jump through hoops to clear it.” If that’s a “vindication,” I have to wonder what a condemnation would sound like.

(5) Roxanne Euben on Jihad

With respect to the issue of Roxanne Euben’s lecture, Pipes says that given his concession to Euben in the February Commentary, “I fail to see what Khawaja finds objectionable.” In the next sentence, he writes: “In sum, I have already partially conceded (5),” referring to the Euben issue. What I object to is the partial nature of the concession.

Contrary to Pipes’s partial concession, there is no plausible sense in which Pipes’s claims about Euben’s lecture can be regarded as “technically correct.” To say that his article “accurately portrayed” what an undergraduate newspaper erroneously reported simply raises the question of why Pipes thought that reading an undergraduate newspaper would have been an appropriate basis for commenting on Euben’s (or anyone else’s) views. Regardless of the restrictions of scope in the footnote he mentions, I insist that the procedure itself was inappropriate. And the ultimate outcome, I think, amply bears out my contention.

As for my confusion regarding his nomination date, Pipes is correct, and I was in error. The correct nomination date was April 1, not April 4. But that is hardly material to my argument. Nor, I might add, is my error to be explained away as “technically correct” because it accurately represents something I read.

In conclusion: I appreciate Pipes’s concession on (2), but regard his partial concession on (5) as insufficient. For all intents and purposes, my positions on (1), (3), and (4) remain what they were. I leave it to readers to judge what the debate as a whole says about Pipes’s suitability for the USIP position.

Copyright © Irfan Khawaja, 2003.

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