PJ Media

Islam Versus Islamism: Inside the Mind of an Anti-Anti-Jihadist

Prayers at Noor Mountain


Recently I was surprised to come across a chapter titled “My Dinner with David” — the David in question being me and the dinner one that continues to produce indigestion for the diner — in a just released book called “Conservative Confidential: Inside the Fabulous Blue Tent.” In this self-published account, Ottawa author Fred Litwin sets out to tell the story of how he became a moderate gay conservative, a voice of reason and sanity in the heated rhetoric of gay liberation and anti-jihad activism. The chapter in which he distinguishes his own apparently sensible views on Islam from the apparently toxic views of various anti-jihadists uses me and some of my close friends as hateful foils to his enlightened position.

The book received several glowing endorsements from such heavy-hitters as Daniel Pipes, who praises its handling of the ongoing dispute between what Pipes calls “anti-Islamist sophisticates” and “anti-Islamic simpletons.” (More on this later.) Litwin’s mischaracterizations and temper tantrums, applauded by Pipes and several biggish names who give the book their imprimatur, got me thinking once again about the much-belabored subject of the hypothetical difference between Islam and Islamism.

Allow me to set the scene since it has now become part of the public record. I have known Fred Litwin for five or six years. An associate and occasional dinner guest, fellow member of the Civitas “think tank,” CEO of a Canadian Indie music company and director of the Ottawa-based Free Thinking Film Society, Litwin had earned my respect. Until, that is, we fell out over the ongoing controversy regarding the essential nature of Islam. Influenced by Bassam Tibi’s 2012 book “Islamism and Islam,” and taking a page from Daniel Pipes’ political texts, Litwin insisted that broad-brush criticism of Islam would succeed only in driving moderate Muslims into the arms of the extremists. Litwin emailed me during the course of our growing dispute that “it is not to our advantage to be adversarial.” We must, rather, support the legions of peaceable, democratically inclined Muslims engaged in a heroic struggle against the radicals. That these myriads resembled something like dark matter in the universe, presumably ubiquitous but wholly undetectable, did not seem to trouble my interlocutor.

Litwin was fond of quoting Pipes’ cheerful mantra — Pipes calls it his “watchword” — that “radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution.” Anyone who demurred from this confident prediction, either by suggesting that many soi-disant moderates were actually quite radical in deed or thought, or by asserting that true moderates were not really Muslim in the authentic sense and therefore in a tenuous position to reform their religion, was branded by Litwin a member of the “counter-jihad movement, a poisonous far-right subculture…unhinged and venomous.” Clearly, I am one of these manic agitators, irredeemably unhinged and venomous. Of one of my political articles, he sniffs “that could have been Osama bin Laden talking.”

From any rational perspective, as I reiterated to Litwin to no avail, it is ludicrous to affirm that an army of moderates would offer any pushback to the fanatics, since moderates are exactly that — moderate. The only meaningful resistance entails an engaged electorate, or a substantial cohort of, let’s say, fanatical non-fanatics, carnivores, not herbivores. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens — whether Muslim or non-Muslim “moderates” — is generally indifferent to the revolutionary activities of those who would subjugate them.

Additionally, the anti-Islamist thesis that the extremists constitute only a tiny proportion of the mass of Muslims and are therefore not to be unduly feared is distressingly moot, if not dangerously deceptive. History shows that revolutionary factions generally form only a fringe minority of a given population. In 1910 Russia, as Richard Pipes (Daniel’s father!) points out in “The Russian Revolution,” the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks together had fewer than 10,000 members, which reduces to an infinitesimal segment of the overall population. Similarly, the Nazi party, which developed out of Anton Drexler’s Free Workers’ Committee, constituted a rump organization of little significance. Joachim Fest’s “The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership” provides the relevant statistics: Hitler delivered his first speech before 111 people; in 1928, the party polled only 2.6 percent of the vote. We know the rest of the story.

When it comes to the percentage of Muslims in a host nation, as Peter Hammond in “Slavery, Terrorism and Islam” and Raymond Ibrahim on the website Islam Translated have painstakingly chronicled, 10 percent of the census is the pivotal number that signals social and cultural destabilization. Even France’s 7.5 percent is sufficient to generate over 750 no-go zones — a real, not mythic, number that interested parties have contested. Meanwhile, 4.5 percent in the U.K. has led to the proliferation of Sharia schools, no-go zones, sundry beheadings and a national grooming scandal in which thousands of young girls have suffered rape and forced prostitution at the hands of Muslim gangs, with a see-no-evil compliance by British civil authorities.

The number of Muslims residing in the U.S. is debatable, but as violent incidents multiply, Islamic organizations and front-groups like CAIR, ISNA and the Muslim Students Association solidify their influence, while “terror mosques” preaching jihad are allowed to operate freely. According to a meticulous study conducted by Mordechai Kedar and David Yerushalmi, approximately 80 percent of such mosques promote violence. The prognosis for the future is dismaying. The country has imported 3,000,000 Muslims since 9/11, creating, as American Thinker correspondent Carol Brown notes, “insular communities that become breeding grounds for terrorists” — a warning certified by the Senate Immigration Subcommittee.

On the global front, no one can accurately compute the fraction of jihadists vis-à-vis the Muslim ummah, but Pipes himself has proposed a figure of 10 to 15 percent, which yields at minimum a 150,000,000-strong militia out to get us. On the Muslim scale, a meager distribution is not inconsiderable and is cause for genuine alarm.

Such conclusive numbers do not resonate with “apologist-centric” non-Muslims (to cite Bill Warner’s term) or selective innumerates like Litwin and his allies, and there was little use in tendering them. The actual sticking point in my Dinner with Fred—there were in fact many lunches, dinners, drinks and informal meetings—which grew less and less collegial over time and put an end to our tabletalk, involved the visit to Canada of British lawyer and so-called “mosque-buster” Gavin Boby, who specializes in zoning by-laws.

As I wrote in an article titled “Saving the Neighborhood,” Boby “believes neighborhoods have the right to maintain existing zoning legislation and to resist city-council changes to the law which would facilitate the building of mosques.” Boby does not believe in banning all mosques wholesale, but in looking at proposals to build mosques on a case by case basis. “There are just too many violent, Sharia-ruled, Muslim palatinates spreading throughout Europe, from Malmo to Paris and Marseilles to Amsterdam to Luton and Manchester and so on.” What would Litwin think of the residents of Sterling Heights, Michigan, cheering the recent decision of the city’s planning commission to ban the construction of a mosque? It must be Boby at his dirty work, cleverly deluding the multitudes.

Litwin submitted a letter, co-authored by his Muslim sidekick Salim Mansur, to the Ottawa Citizen vehemently protesting a talk that Boby would deliver at the Ottawa Public Library on the subject of neighborhood-despoiling mosques and the legal means of resisting the blight. My letter rebutting Litwin’s logically challenged and poorly sourced argument was rejected by the editor of the daily. Plainly, there was to be no debate on the issue, no weighing of opposing viewpoints and no recognition of evidentiary claims. Litwin’s letter helped to provoke a gaziya of aggrieved Muslims who descended on the library, milling in the foyer and giving a skid of splenetic interviews to a sympathetic press. The damage had been done. From that point on, Litwin and I ceased to have anything to do with one another.

Thus, we come to the book and its assorted puffers. Of the book itself and certainly of the chapter under the loupe, there are a number of internal contradictions that any alert reader would easily recognize: some blatant falsifications both large and small, grand abstractions offered without corroboration and a lot of tumescent self-justification. I do not have the space here to expose in detail and dismantle the damning list of these solecisms. But virulently trashing good people like Boby, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, Vlad Tepes, Andrew Bostom and the editors of “rabble rousing” PJ Media is sufficient to catapult his book beyond the bounds of decency.

But there is more. Revealing not only a blue streak of vindictiveness, but also the mycelial extent of his discipleship, Litwin goes on to say, recycling Pipes, that “Islamism is a modern invention” and that the exponents of Islamism “were greatly influenced by the rise of European fascism.” (“Islam had no obsession with Jews” and “anti-Semitism is essentially an import from Europe,” Pipes bizarrely remarks.) The reverse is undeniably the case, as Bat Ye’or, writing under the pseudonym Yahudiya Masriya in “Les juifs en Egypte,” has authoritatively established. (See also her book “Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide.”)

Similarly, one of the major scholars of Islam of our time, Andrew Bostom, whose archival research is painstaking and thorough, has conclusively shown in articles, interviews and most emphatically in his encyclopedic “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” that the Nazis learned from Islam and not vice versa. “The primary, core Antisemitic motifs were Islamic,” Bostom writes, “derived from Islam’s foundational texts, onto which European, especially Nazi elements, were grafted.” Ye’or’s and Bostom’s analyses are irrefutable, as any close reading of the Koran, Sira and Hadith would substantively confirm. I would not be surprised to find that Litwin has not studied the canonical texts with attention, assuming he has any familiarity with them at all. In his chapter attacking the anti-jihadists, he succeeded only in producing a piece of self-praising fiction embellished with generous quantities of anti-anti-Islamist material.

What is no less deserving of critical response is the over-the-top blurbing contributed by a quintet of well-known political authors, two of whom I have admired in the past, and three of whom I have long regarded with distrust. The attestations of the latter three, the vetted Muslim Salim Mansur, polite leftist Terry Glavin and celebrity Daniel Pipes, can scarcely be believed — for that matter, neither can the praise lavished on Litwin by pundit and biographer Conrad Black and National Post columnist Barbara Kay — a spangled brace, I would once have thought, of implausible supporters.

Pipes’ deposition is particularly notable; it is in my estimation as arrogant and condescending as I have regrettably found his trademark manner to be, and certainly, despite its Twitter-like brevity, far more significant in its implications than Litwin’s entire book. As noted, Pipes extols Litwin’s “first-hand account of tensions between anti-Islamism sophisticates and anti-Islam simpletons,” an expression of identity politics in capsule. Pipes’ word choice is surely telling. As his own research and articles have repeatedly testified, we are involved in a world-historical struggle between a culture of freedom, rule of law, equality and justice and one of tyranny, barbarity and superstition. In such a conflict, seeing clearly, speaking honestly and acting resolutely are far more effective initiatives than attaining a veneer of “sophistication.” Yet, those who manifest such qualities are belittled as “simpletons.” Unlike many of his followers, Pipes is no dummy, but he is lofty and patronizing as well as unrealistic, reminding me of the airborne Socrates swinging in a basket in Aristophanes’ deflationary play Clouds, uttering ineffables like “Mortal, why call’st thou me?”

It is instructive to speculate who would fit into Pipes’ binary categories. Doubtless, the roster of “anti-Islamist sophisticates” would include, among an innumerable multitude, such luminaries as Pipes himself, Litwin (naturally), Pipes’ mondaine confederates whose names glitter on back-cover promotional stock, pro-Iranian Bassam Tibi, Jew-hating George Galloway, John Esposito (whose Middle East center at Georgetown University is funded by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal), former president Jimmy Carter who gave us Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Iranian revolution, Muslim apologist Karen Armstrong (whose “Muhammad: A Prophet for our Time” drastically bowdlerizes the Sira, or life of Muhammad, to present him in the best possible light), former National Post comments editor and editorialist Jonathan Kay, Hollywood dimwit Ben Affleck, fashionable appeasers like Oliver Stone and Gore Vidal, taqiyyah specialist Tarik Ramadan, director of the CIA and bruited Muslim convert John Brennan, the erudite-posing Joe Biden who took it upon himself to harangue Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the benevolent nature of Islam, and of course, President Obama himself, an acclaimed expert on the distinction between Islamism and Islam. (Though even the term Islamism is too inflammatory for Obama, who prefers such laundered sobriquets as al-Qaeda-inspired extremists.)

Nor should one neglect to mention the platoon of Muslim “sophisticates” — Salim Mansur, Tarek Fatah, Raheel Raza, Tahir Gora, Zuhdi Jasser, etc. — who believe that Islam can be reformed or is fundamentally benign, that is, who reject “Islamist” violence, which is demonstrably enjoined in the scripture and proven in the historical register, while somehow managing to retain the putative spirit of the religion intact. But cognitive dissonance is a function of Muslim revisionary thinking, an aspect of Muslim sophistication that consorts readily with the futility of Western anti-Islamism.

Now let us take a partial inventory of the rota of “anti-Islamic simpletons” who repudiate the distinction between Islamism and Islam. Well, there is Robert Spencer, one of our leading authorities on the Koran, reputable authors like Melanie Phillips, Mark Durie, Raymond Ibrahim, Peter Hammond, Andrew Bostom, William Kilpatrick, Diana West, Bill Warner, F.W. Burleigh, Stephen Coughlin, Steven Emerson, Douglas Murray and David Horowitz, ex-Muslims like Ibn Warraq, Walid Shoebat, Bosch Fawstin, Wafa Sultan, Ali Sina, Nonie Darwish, and let us not forget the doyenne of Islamic studies Bat Ye’or (whom Litwin hosted before his turn to the dark side). I may be a simpleton, but it is an exercise in self-indulgent fatuity to dismiss such writers as clowns and dunces.

The sophisticates are precisely those patrician fellow-travelers who would nuance a civilization to death, for the most part beneficiaries of prestigious positions and denizens of tony neighborhoods who need not fret, at least in the short term, about an Islamic incursion. Their places of residence, along with their perks, professional billets and media cachet are all cultural safe spaces. I do not think of them as sophisticated but sophistical. And they are not especially tolerant of ordinary citizens like those whom Boby has counseled and represented — pro bono, be it known.

As Blogwrath reports in an article and linked video describing a panel discussion featuring Pipes, Mansur, Father Raymond de Souza and Litwin, our sophisticates would not answer basic questions from the audience or even deign to speak civilly to them. “This is the problem with people like Fred Litwin,” comments Blogwrath, “they treat their audience like a bunch of ignorant idiots willing to believe anything.” As for Pipes, “His lecture offered no answer to the question of what ordinary people could do to protect themselves.” One need only consult the video for confirmation of the conferees’ attitudes. They are visibly irritated by and reflexively disdainful of those who may be skeptical of their arguments.

The simpletons are those who put the sophisticates to shame, pointing up their self-important priggishness and supercilious complacency. The vanity inherent in Pipes’ blurb of a self-promoting book is glaringly evident, but it stands as a comprehensive summation of the smugly exalted nonsense our ostensible intellectual superiors are capable of dispensing. One may detest the bloodthirsty leader of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, but we should remember that he boasts a doctorate in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad (NB: Islamic, not Islamist, University). As he has proclaimed, he is merely carrying out the core imperatives of the faith, which he understands in minute and scholarly detail, and far more intimately than the soigné tribe of Western sophisticates and their acolytes. “Islam was never a religion of peace,” he declares. “Islam is the religion of fighting…. It is the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it. It is the war of Muslims against infidels.”

I can imagine Litwin and Pipes lecturing al-Baghdadi on the true character of Islam, in the manner of Joe Biden enlightening Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who knows Islam inside out and bears the marks of her knowledge, with his tomfool “let me tell you one or two things about Islam.” Litwin and Mansur concluded their Citizen letter with a typically clotted sentence: “When anti-Islamist Muslims are denied the space and legitimacy to oppose Islamism then the inescapable paradox is that non-Muslim opponents of Islamists have conceded the Islamist propaganda that Islamists are Islam’s only legitimate representatives.” But as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, in refutation of the sophisticates, “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” And he, I suspect, knows better.