Liberty is hard

I've been "flooding the zone" about Tariq Ramadan recently, and here's a brief recap. Tariq Ramadan is a respected Muslim moderate in Europe who advocates assimilation of Muslims into the Western mainstream, and has authored a book advising European Muslims on asserting their Western identity (and links the western and muslim identities into a cohesive whole). Ramadan has explicitly denounced muslim anti-Semitism, and urges muslims to take heed of the moral lessons of the Holocaust.

Recently invited as a guest lecturer at the University of Notre Dame, he found that his visa was suddenly revoked by the Department of Homeland Security.

Daniel Pipes is a commentator on Islam who had built a reputation for honesty. However, after 9-11, he descended into outright bigotry against Islam, and while he claims he wants to promote and encourage the moderate muslim (which would make him a natural ally of Tariq Ramadan), his prescriptions for doing so invariably require muslims to reject Islam's basic tenets and become watered-down (and religiously sterile) secularists. Pipes was appointed by President Bush to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, ostensibly charged with formulating policy towards the Muslim world. To get a sense of where Pipe's convictions lay, he recently argued for the need of a "strongman" in Iraq, to replace Saddam Hussein.

via Thomas Nephew, I see that Daniel Pipes has responded to (and essentially confirmed) Tariq Ramadan's suggestion that Pipes influenced the decision to revoke Ramadan's visa to the US. Daniel Pipes lays out a case, linking largely to French-language sources, that the denial is justified because of alleged ties to terrorists. Scott Martens, who speaks French, takes the time to exhaustively visit each of Pipes' links and systematically demonstrates the low regard Pipes has for his readers, as well as Pipe's own intellectual laziness. Martens concludes,

Daniel Pipes thinks we�re all either to stupid or too scared to actually question the nonsense he passes off as scholarship. He relies on an American audience that is unable to check his sources, because when they do, they find out that Daniel Pipes is an empty suit.

This isn�t just about whether or not Tariq Ramadan is okay. It is about Daniel Pipes and his allies and how, should someone arise who might actually express themself in English and offer a counternarrative to their blantant hate speech, they feel compelled to slander them.

Pipes doesn�t just dislike Islam. He doesn�t just think that he is right and Muslims are wrong. There is a prospect for reconciliation when both sides merely think they are right. Pipes doesn�t like Muslims. He is a bigot. And for my American readers, don�t forget, this man has been appointed by your government to a public office.

Monolingualism has costs. Eugene Volokh, for example, has posted a link to Pipes� piece but says that he does not know the facts of the case well enough to judge. Ted over at Crooked Timber makes the same claim to uncertainty. But, a cursory look at the French articles cited makes Pipes� case worse than contestable - it�s embarrassing. There is no need to actually investigate Ramadan to know that Pipes cannot be trusted here. And remember, Pipes is George Bush�s man on Middle Eastern policy.

Never underestimate the value of knowing a foreign language. It might be the only way to know you�re being sold a bill of goods, or that a so-called scholar is a complete fraud.

The bottom line is that Tariq Ramadan's alleged ties to Osama bin Laden are weaker than George W. Bush's. Daniel Pipes has absolutely zero credibility - he is a bigot, whose monomania on the issue of Islam has reduced him to an embarrassment.

Though, as Thomas mentions, the damage is already done:

Glenn Reynolds thinks "Unless there's more to this story than we know so far, I'd say that it's not a good idea." Martens and Reynolds both point to separate Volokh posts about Ramadan; Volokh says that the government is right to bar aliens "simply on suspicion of connections with terrorists," and should not have to obtain "proof in court of criminal conduct" to do so -- and thus illustrates the power of the Pipes smear.

And that brings me to my larger point - though American Muslims must not ally themselves unthinkingly with the Left (whose concept of secular fundamentalism is antithetical to our values and our freedom to practice our faith), there is a compelling argument to vote against Bush in 2004 from a strictly Muslim-American self-interested perspective.

I've previously argued that Muslims should not vote on the basis of an idealistic "good of the Ummah" rationale, because I feel that such a concept is an illusion and often counter-productive to our own interests as American Muslims. It arises because of the false division of the world into "Dar ul-Islam" - which Tariq Ramadan has spoken eloquently against:

The concept of Dar al-Islam is a hindrance today within the Muslim world. [...] It does not allow us to feel that we are part of the Western societies, that we are sharing with others our values and belonging.

Bush's appointment of Pipes to the USIP betrays his high-flying rhetoric about freedom in Iraq. It suggests that the true agenda of the Bush Administration towards the muslim world, speeches on primetime television aside, is a return to proxy states ruled with an iron hand by "our son of a bitch".

Will Kerry be any different? There's at least a 50% chance, especially since one of Kerry's advisers is Gary Hart, whose new book The Fourth Power speaks explicitly of using true American values of freedom as the basis for our foreign policy abroad. While Kerry has thus far largely avoided the rhetoric of democratization as foreign policy in his speeches, he has committed himself to security and stability within Iraq (and frames his critiques of Bush's policy along those lines). Meanwhile, Bush speaks a great deal about freedom, but by how own admission "miscalculated" the commitment in terms of manpower and post-war planning required to bring it about. Only upon a foundation of stability can the delicate tracery of liberty be erected.

Sure, the Iraqis are free of Saddam, and are grateful for that liberation. But liberation is not liberty. RedState interviewed Zainab al-Suwaji at the RNC convention in New York, and she had many tales of Iraqi gratitude, the proliferation of satellite dishes, etc. But in response to the political question by RS whether she agrees with Kerry's critique that the President hasn�t done enough to reach out to Muslims in America and abroad, she focuses in her answer only on Muslims in America. She completely ignores the issue of Muslims abroad, and the perception of America by muslims worldwide - the immense moral capital that we have squandered and lost. And tellingly, her praise is completely at odds with the reality of Daniel Pipes. Al-Suwaji states: "I think Iraqis are capable of democracy. They have educated, qualified people. And I think they will reach what they wish for." That is the correct attitude and the message of hope. Daniel Pipes, appointed by President Bush, however says:

I hope the Iraqi population benefits from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and can make a fresh start, while I reject the rehabilitation of Iraq as the standard by which to judge the American venture there.

The American military machine is not an instrument for social work, nor for remaking the world. It is, rather, the primary means by which Americans protect themselves from external violent threats. The U.S. goal cannot be a free Iraq, but an Iraq that does not endanger Americans.

I wonder what Zainab al-Suwaji would have said if asked by RedState about this viewpoint, held by President Bush's shosen appointee to chart the course of relations with the Islamic world?

The point here is that liberty is hard. It's not supposed to be as easy as Bush wants it to be. It's not something that can be installed like a software application but something that requires serious commitment. Democrats have demonstrated their understanding of the multi-pole nature of American power. Gary Hart explicitly includes those other poles - our economy, our values, our alliances - into the equation so that any democracy we end up midwifing towards birth stands on as firm a ground as ours does, now over 200 years old and still going strong (as witness: the 2000 election).

Liberty is hard. And it's the hard that makes it great. Bush's appointment of people like Daniel "strongman" Pipes, and the Administrayion's military approach to democracy building has been a failure. We need fresh ideas, both more principled and more pragmatic, to achieve success in the largergoal of showing Muslims worldwide the way to seize freedom for themselves. In so doing, our own long-term security is guaranteed. It's time to give John Kerry the reins and to hope for the best. There are promising signs that a foreign policy under Kerry will be able to more effectively tap into the multipole sources of American power, and thus be able to better meet the challenges of stateless terror networks who seek to attack us - as opposed to Bush, who still remains fixated on missile defense.

There are no guarantees. But we can't reward failure. And we can hold Kerry to the same high standard - with the same accountability in 2008 as we hold Bush in 2004.


Dan said...

Much obliged and very helpful. Added respect for a recognition of secular fundamentalism.

I'll look at the French sources and check around, but thus far this doesn't look too terribly damning. We let Bandar in and out of the US on a regular basis and there would seem to be a far stronger case for keeping him out. Or any number of other Saudi figures who regularly frequent our shores.

Also, from what I'm given to understand even if the worst claims about Ramadan are true (and I take most of what Pipes says with a grain of salt given his past willingness to indulge in some questionable claims), he isn't anything resembling a terrorist leader but is rather an ideologue. If that's the case, then the best solution would seem to be to monitor what the guy says and who he hangs out with while he's here and let him know that if he starts doing the "Death to Kufr"-style rants that we all know and love to let him know that he won't be welcome back anytime soon.

Thomas Nephew said...

I appreciate your mention of what was largely a "(Not Much) Shorter Scott Martens" post on my part.

A quibble would be that I don't quite read Pipes 'essentially confirming' he influenced the DHS decision -- but maybe I overlooked something. Also, given the effort he seems to have spent on compiling the smear, it's certainly conceivable he put it to prior use. I guess I don't have a feel yet for how important or unimportant Pipes is in the official scheme of things.

PS: There are a couple of ghost-links in your piece: "promising signs," "our s.o.b."

Joshua Scholar said...

Bush's appointment of Pipes to the USIP betrays his high-flying rhetoric about freedom in Iraq. It suggests that the true agenda of the Bush Administration towards the muslim world, speeches on primetime television aside, is a return to proxy states ruled with an iron hand by "our son of a bitch". Pipes didn't change his position and calling for the imposition of a strong man in Iraq until a few months AFTER he was appointed to the USIP.

So deducing that his stand, which he changed (or kept hidden) until after his appointment must somehow be "the true agenda of the Bush Administration towards the muslim world" not Bush's actual statements borders on a being a conspiracy theory. Anyway it's hardly conclusive evidence of anything.

By the way I tried posting a letter expressing my deep disappointment in Daniel Pipes on his web page when he first came out with this position, but his comment section is moderated and he declined to post my comment, though he seemed to have no trouble approving earlier comments of mine that were not critical.

I have noticed that he allowed NO comments on that article and on a similar article. I think I must not have been alone in commenting harshly.