I repost here an interview, made roughly a year ago and previously published here (in Finnish), here (in Estonian) and here. A lot has happened during that time, like the Gaza war and Mr. Obama becoming the President of US, so let us hope for a follow-up some day.
IAM: European media often treats Israel as the rogue state of the region. It has been even suggested that the creation of the state was a mistake. Do you see Israel as a “rogue state”?
DP: It’s strange that one should have to argue that Israel’s not a rogue state, and that it is a state worthy of support, because it is by any standard a free state, a prosperous state, a state that has the rule of law. It is in short a Western state with the standard of living and the way of life similar to that one finds in Europe and very much different from that of its enemies in the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran and so forth. It is a turning around of the facts. A Flash Eurobarometer poll in November 2003 established that Europeans saw Israel as the most dangerous state of the world. It’s an extraordinary view, one that reflects not on Israel but on the sorry state of European politics, a lack of knowledge about the Middle East, about the Arab-Israeli conflict, about who one’s allies are and who one’s enemies are, about problems and solutions. It is a very distressing development.
IAM: Do you see the relationship between Europe and Israel getting better of worse?
DP: I think there has been some improvement in recent years, in particular with the change of government in a number of countries towards a more favorable one, most dramatically in France. But the reputation of Israel has been very low for some years now and it’ll take considerable work to see that changed.
IAM: Do you think Hamas should be respected as a legitimate political force, because the Palestinian people supported it in democratic elections?
DP: Hamas is an Islamist movement that has heavily relied on terrorism to achieve its goals, and its primary goal is the elimination of Israel, its replacement by an Islamist order. It is terrorist and Islamist, it is the enemy. It is strange to me that anyone in the West should wish to support Hamas or help Hamas when it’s clearly not just the enemy of Israel but the enemy of the West as a whole. I think it’d be a great mistake to legitimize it and to deal with it.
IAM: You wrote the foreword to a forthcoming book by Jonathan Schanzer about the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Can that conflict be seen as part of the development of a Palestinian democracy?
DP: Hamas and Fatah share the same goals; both wish to eliminate Israel. But they have different approaches, different philosophies, different personnel, different tactics. So, sometimes they work together and sometimes they fight, and there’s no permanent fight or a permanent cooperation, its fluid, it changes oer time. At the moment it has been very bad for a couple of years but it could well improve.
IAM: Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict political (nationalist) or theological?
DP: Ultimately the Arab-Israeli conflict rests on a Muslim assumption that territory that has been ruled by Muslims must not be ruled by non-Muslims, that it is permanently Muslim territory. That a non-Muslim people should come, take it over, and rule it is deeply inimical.
That said, there have been four different stages of the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past century, four different stages of Arab approach. The first was pan-Syrian, to create a greater Syria; the second was pan-Arab, to create a greater Arab state, the third was Palestinian nationalist, and now the fourth is Islamist. There could be a fifth and a sixth. The key here is not the approach which changes every few decades, but rather the deep belief among Muslims that Israel is an illegitimate state because it is in a territory that for over a millenium was controlled by Muslims.
IAM: Do you see an end to this conflict?
DP: I do see a possible end. I don’t see it going on forever, as no conflict goes on forever. I do see that it’s possibly going to end in 20-30 years, when the Palestinians are convinced that Israel is there and it’s permanent, and realize that there’s nothing they can do about that, accept it, and instead of trying to eliminate Israel will instead try to fix their own polity, economy, society and culture.
IAM: You have written extensively about the distinction between Islam and “Islamism”, also called “militant Islam”, or “fundamentalism”. How do you explain the difference?
DP: Islam is a personal faith, and there are many different ways of understanding what it means to be a Muslim. One can be a Sufi, a mystic, one can be someone who lives by the law in a very strict way, one can be a nominal Muslim, who does not pay that much attention to his faith; all these and other ways are possible within the religion of Islam.
Islamism is a very specific approach, one that holds that Muslims would be powerful and rich were Muslims to follow the Islamic law in its complete detail, who aspire to apply the law everywhere in the world, and who see non-Muslims as inferior and to be defeated. It’s an ideology that has its roots at the origins of Islam, but developed in its present state about 80 years ago. It is part of Islam, but not the whole of Islam.
IAM: However, hard-line Muslims as well as some critics of Islam insist that you cannot be a real Muslim unless you follow the Islamic law – that would make the distinction between Islam and Islamism disappear?
DP: It is curious to note that Islamists and those who say that Islam itself is the problem agree that I’m wrong, and that Islamism is Islam. The Islamists say that because they want to portray their version of Islam as the only one. And those who see Islam as the problem, conflate the religion and the ideology. I think it a mistake. Even if you believe that’s the case, and you’re a Westerner and a non-Muslim, I would argue that you’d have to adopt my point of view, because a Western government cannot fight Islam. Ours are not crusader states. Therefore, you have to fightthe ideology of Islamism, not the religion of Islam. We know how to fight ideologies. We fought Fascism and Communism and now there’s Islamism. We can’t fight a religion. So if it’s reduced to a religion, then we lack the tools to protect ourselves.
IAM: Would non-Islamist Islam mean a secularized, privatized Islam?
DP: Secularism means two different things. A secular person is one who is not religious. A secular society is one that divides religion from politics. Non-Islamist Islam needs not be secular in a personal sense; a person can be pious, but not Islamist. But it does mean secular in the latter sense, in that society divides politics from religion. For example, the Atatürk regime in Turkey is secular; you can be religious, but you cannot bring religion into the political sphere.
IAM: What do you think about the term “Islamophobia” – it has been used a lot in Europe lately?
DP: “Islamophobia” is a fundamentally flawed notion, because the people who are worried about Islam are not phobic. “Phobic” implies they have a unjustifed. wrongful dislike of something, whereas people who are worried about terrorism, about the imposition of the Islamic law, the Sharia, are dealing with an actual set of problems. To call them names is both unfair and delegitimizing. These are people whose concerns are real and legitimate, and which need to be addressed.
IAM: In a recent video interview you said about the future of Islam in Europe that there’s a 5% chance of harmony, and 47,5% chance for either Islam becoming dominant and Europeans reasserting control, and that the latter option might imply a civil strife? Would you explain what you mean?
DP: It’s striking to see that the default assumption of most Europeans is that somehow the European-Muslim relationship will work out. There may be problems today, but in the future it will be resolved. And yet I can’t see the sources of that optimism. If one looks at Muslims living in Europe one finds retreat rather than engagement. The children of the immigrants are more hostile toward existing European civilization than are the immigrants themselves. On the European side, one finds increasing worry, concern, fear of the Muslim presence. So the hope that everyone will get along seems to be not based on reality. Therefore I give it a very low possibility of working out. Not zero, but mimimal.
On the other hand, the alternatives between Muslim domination and European reassertion seem to me rather balanced. I can’t predict which of them is more likely to happen. Crises ahead that have not taken place which will help determine which way Europe goes.
IAM: What kind of crises are to be expected, beyond those we have already seen?
DP: There have been small crises. The Rushdie affair. The Foulard affair. The pope affair. But these are not real crises. Little riots here and there. But nothing that has really led to major changes. So I think there’s a gap of five, ten, fifteen years to the future. I can’t predict but it could be something like the French riots of 2005, but far more violent – not burning cars but killing people. It could be the election of a government that could decide to send Muslim immigrants back to their home countries. I’m unable to predict the specific nature, I just think there are problems ahead that will show us which way Europe is likely to head.
IAM: What could Europeans do to prevent a worse crisis?
DP: There are many steps that Europeans could take. For example, there is the step of integrating Muslim immigrants. In general European countries are what I call large families. You are a member of a country because you come from the bloodline of that country, went to school there, know its language , and share its religion. And now first time ever many European countries, indeed all European countries except France, are faced with the question: what does it mean to be Finnish, what does it mean to be Swedish, what does it mean to be Estonian. You did not have to explain that until now. Now you do. This is a crisis. I think it is a crisis that needs to be attended to. What does one do with people that look different, pray differently, eat differently? How does one create a nationality that includes them?
Also, Europeans need to have more children, if they’re going to sustain their civilisation. Birthrates are very low now. Short of some significant increase, it’s hard to see how a century from now there will be a Europe that is still the Europe of today.
On the immigrant side, there needs to be a greater willingness to participate, and to accept the existence of the European civilisation, and not try to change it, but live within it.
Freedom of Speech
IAM: You wrote a book about the “Rushdie Affair” in 1990, right after it happened. Now there have been several similar conflicts about “offending Islam” in the West. Has anything changed since the Rushdie affair started?
DP: The Rushdie affair came as a shock, because for the first time ever Muslims said what could and could not be written about, or stated, in the West. The other examples, of which there have been quite a few, have reiterated and confirmed that point. As time goes by, Muslims have become more determined to restrict speech; they are going to the UN, for example, to have legal basis for prohibiting such speech. Westerners in general, Europeans in particular, are increasingly uneasy with such restrictions.
IAM: With the pressure in the UN to ban “defamation of religion” worldwide, will the West just have to accept that in the increasingly intertwined and multicultural world the freedom of speech will not be what it used to be for at least the last decades?
DP: One can see a real reduction of the freedom of speech in many Western countries. One curious development took place in Saudi Arabia earlier this year when the Saudi consultative council was asked to confirm the idea that no criticism of religion could take place. But the council rejected it, because the members noted it would recognize polytheistic religions, which they found “unacceptable”. So really what it’s meant to do is protect Islam, and I would be surprised if such legislation passed.
IAM: So if the restriction of critique of religion would concern all equaly, Muslims do actually not want it?
IAM: Regarding what we can and cannot say, you have written that the West itself, even the US have increasing problems naming the enemy in the “war on terror”?
DP: It is difficult for the modern Western person to speak bluntly about the problem of this sort. That results from a sense of confidence and a feeling that it’s impolite and unnecessary to speak bluntly. It is enough to speak obliquely and carefully. However, I think it is necessary in a time of war to speak clearly about the identity of the enemy. If one traces, for example, President George W. Bush’s statements, one finds that they began very vaguely and then became more accurate and now they’ve become vague again. That’s rather typical of the West as a whole, in its uncertainty how to understand who the enemy is, and what the nature of this war is. That’s problematic. It’s now almost seven years since 9/11, it’s almost 30 years since the Iranian seizure of the American embassy in Teheran, and in all these years the US government still has not figured out who the enemy is, and what the problem is.
IAM: How would you name the enemy?
DP: I would name the enemy as radical Islam or Islamism. It’s a movement, a body of ideas. Like Fascism and Communism.
IAM: Has talking about this conflict become even harder during the last few years?
DP: There are so many conflicting currents. It’s hard for me to generalize, to say what the trend is, which way things are going. One could say that one finds a great deal of euphemism and indirect speech at this point and it’s not getting better.
IAM: Before 9/11, even left-wing papers wrote about “Islamic Fascism”, now it seems unthinkable.
DP: One has seen an increase in a Left-Islamist alliance. It goes back to Michel Foucault’s visit to Teheran in 1978-79. He was very excited to see what was taking place. And initially his view met with considerable resistance on the left, but with time that resistance has eroded. I think the major event was in February 2003 when throughout Europe Islamists and leftists organized together against the forthcoming war in Iraq. This created the basis of the bond.
One finds they have the same opponents – they oppose the same ideas and institutions, countries and people. They are not in favor of the same thing, but they’re against the same things. So they’re not really deep allies, they don’t have a strategic co-operation, they have a tactical co-operation. One finds it over and over again throughout the West.
Interestingly one does not find it in the Muslim world. For example in Turkey, if you were against the Islamists in the elections a year ago, you voted for the Left. Over and over again one finds that the Left and the Islamists in Egypt, Pakistan, elsewhere are opposed to each other. But in the West, they work close together, and not just the West; in India too, one finds the same thing. And it is very troubling. It is an alliance that is comparable to the Hitler-Stalin alliance, that was a brown-red alliance and this is a green-red alliance, green in the sense of the color of Islam. It’s a great danger to the civilized world.
IAM: This alliance is particularly confusing because the goals of the Islamist movement look rather like far right than left.
DP: If you look at it as a negative, then you understand it better than when you try to see what they have in common. They don’t have principles in common. Socialism, gender equality and belief in God are not in common. But if you look at what they are against – George W. Bush is a symbol of it, but more broadly Western civilization, specifically the US, the UK, Israel, Jews, practicing Christians, globalization – that is what they’re against.
IAM: So when academic, pro-gay-rights feminists declare Hamas and Hizbollah “progressive”, this is what it is about – a common enemy?
DP: Feminists who ignore what Islam says do so because that is tactically useful at the moment. Like in Iran in the 1970s, the Left and the Islamists worked together against the shah. Once they defeated the shah, they had completely opposite goals, and one defeated the other. So this is tactical, it’s just so long as the opponent is there. But if the opponent would be defeated, then their differences would come out, as each works for its own very different goals.
IAM: What do you think about the term “neo-conservative”? Would you accept it describing yourself?
DP: I’m ambivalent. Neoconservatives may number 40 or 50 in the world. It’s not exactly a big movement. And they are considered to have so much power. So I’d rather like the idea of being one of them. On the other hand, when you look at specific policies, such as the war in Iraq, or the effort rapidly to democratize the Middle East, I’ve real differences. So I don’t think that the term fits me.
IAM: You have recently written about the possibility of US attacking Iran. In this conflict, Europe again sees the US as the main potential aggressor.
DP: Europeans have the luxury of not having to make hard decisions. Because they know that the US will be there and do it for them, and then they can criticize the US. I think that the US has made a mistake since World War II of taking on too much responsibility. I think we should have said vis-a-vis the Soviets and others: Look, if you don’t think we are doing this correct, then you do it. If you don’t like it, if you don’t want Pershing missiles in 1981-82, fine – you figure out your relationship with the Soviets. And now it’s the same thing: if you think Iran having missiles is fine, ok – we won’t protect you. That would create a much greater sense of realism. But unfortunately, as it is, we take initiative, and then others criticize us for that. It would be far more constructive for Europeans to have to make hard decisions themselves than simply criticize us. We Americans make Europeans act as children who don’t have to make key decisions, they are made for them. I don’t think that is healthy for Europeans or ourselves.
IAM: Would tightened European integration make Europe a more “grown up” unit?
DP: I believe the European Union has its limits. I think it’s useful economic and political union, but I don’t think it should try to be more than a confederation. I don’t think it should become a single state. That would be a mistake, given the history of Europe. Turning EU into a military unit would also be a mistake. I think NATO is far better.
IAM: In what sense is the upcoming US presidential election important for the world?
Barack Obama would turn US government policy into European policy. The US would be another European polity as opposed to what it has been at least for decades. So it’s a very fundamental set of choices – more fundamental than any time since 1972, when [the Democratic candidate] George McGovern also had a left-wing, European approach.