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Racism for the mainstream

By Mustafa Qadri - posted Friday, 9 May 2008

Hate speech, a category of racial vilification, has been outlawed in Australian and international law for more than three decades. Despite these protections, hate speech remains a powerful source of division and violence throughout the world.

In Rwanda, vilification of the Tutsi minority was instrumental in facilitating the slaughter of many hundreds of thousands of people in just 100 days.

Two years ago the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinehad infamously sponsored a conference on Holocaust denial. Ahmedinejad claimed the conference was an honest reaction to the use of the Holocaust by supporters of Israel. Whether or not it was, the conference was far from honest but undoubtedly insensitive and racist.


Since September 11, 2001 scores of books have been published on Islam. While many seek to encourage understanding of one the world’s major religions, others seek to paint Islam as the greatest threat to contemporary society. The vilification of Islam, particularly in the West, has developed into something of a pseudo-intellectual industry. There is no better spokesperson for that industry than Daniel Pipes.

Pipes plays on the inherent human tendency to elevate mere mortals into something of a myth. If every society has its Emmanuel Goldstein, the ethereal enemy of the State in George Orwell’s 1984, then perhaps every individual in good-conscience has the capacity to stereotype that which it identifies as a threat. In our current climate, Islam is that threat.

With remarkable chutzpah, Pipes manages to massage an intellectual veneer into an essentialist, monolithic portrayal of Islam as the single greatest threat to democracy and the West (for Pipes the two terms are interchangeable).

During a recent public debate in Sydney, Pipes argued that Islam is incompatible with democracy. Two days later, he argued in The Jerusalem Post that it is not. The sudden change of opinion may be explained by the change in audience. In Sydney, speaking before a lay audience, Pipes was free to affirm the generally negative perception of Islam within mainstream Australian society. The Jerusalem Post, an influential Israeli broadsheet read by policymakers worldwide, required a more nuanced approach. What did not waiver between his Sydney performance and his Post article was the fundamental message that Islam is a threat to democracy and the West.

What makes Pipes especially pernicious is the level of mainstream support he receives around the world, particularly in the West. Founder and director of the Middle East Forum in the United States, he spends much of the year lecturing to lay and elite audiences around the world. A columnist for the New York Times Syndicate, Pipes was appointed by President Bush to the United States Institute of Peace and was a Middle East adviser to the Rudolph Giuliani presidential campaign.

Pipes seeks to conceal his racism by claiming to distinguish between “Islamism”, a term he uses to describe militant Islam, and mainstream Islam.


For Pipes “Islamism” represents the worst excesses of Islamic militant orthodoxy. On its surface the distinction between Islam and Islamism appears fairly benign. Pipes has remarked that Islam is not purely a religion of violence and moderate Muslims do exist, but he regrets that “[a]t present … it is hard to recall the positive side, at a moment when backwardness, resentment, extremism and violence prevail in so much of the Muslim world”.

Pipes always associates mainstream Islam with everything that is antithetical to modern society: it is irrational and backwards, looking to past glories rather than seeking to adapt to contemporary challenges.

The tragedy is that Pipes occasionally identifies very real social traumas in predominantly Muslim societies, albeit inadvertently. But where his criticisms could facilitate dialogue between Muslims and the West, Pipes instead seeks to inflame the former and inculcate a supremacist complex among the latter.

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About the Author

Mustafa Qadri is a freelance journalist.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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