Dr. Daniel Pipes recently e-mailed Professor Ahmed about Journey into America in which he complained about three points—all concerning himself—in a book that runs 528 pages. He ignored the larger arguments about history, immigration, race and discussions about words that he is wont to use (like Islamist and Islamism) and chose to register his complaints about three minor points. We are assuming he read the book in its entirety before publicly commenting rather than simply searching for his name in the index.
He said that he was offering a chance to respond. We responded and he decided to publish his complaints without our reply. The right to reply is, of course, a matter of standard courtesy and therefore the reply is being published on our blog.
Below are Dr. Pipes complaints followed by a response:
Akbar Ahmed Stumbles
I respect Akbar Ahmed, currently a professor at American University, who stood by me during my nomination to the U.S. Institute of Peace board and whom I have listed as a moderate Muslim.
I was therefore dismayed by the sloppiness of his new book, Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam (Brookings Institution Press). The problem start with the very first sentence of the inside flap, which asserts that “Nearly seven million Muslims live in the United States today,” a figure well over twice the best current estimates.
But of greater personal concern is his small barrage of mistakes about me, akin to this made by the most vulgar Islamist or irresponsible left-wing blogger.
- “We … read the work of those authors, like Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes, whose combined corpus conveys the impression that Islam is inherently a violent religion (p. 16).” Nonsense: I state the Islamism is inherently violent.
- “Debbie Schlussel, described by Najah as a ‘Zionist lawyer in Detroit who was part of Daniel Pipes’s network, which routinely attacks Muslims’ (p. 249).” Two problems here: First, Schlussel is not part of any network of mine; to the contrary, I distance myself from her shrill and distasteful work. Second, I myself and no network associated with me “routinely attacks Muslims.” We do routinely attack Islamists. Why is this distinction so hard to make?
- The Islamic Circle of North America wants to show it “is not the terrorist organization depicted by Fox News and commentators like Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes, who focus on lCNA’s links to the Jamaat-i-Islami, which supports Hamas (p. 273).” It happens that ICNA is the American branch of Jamaat-i-Islami but I have never before made this point; the closest was an article in which I referred to Joe Kaufman’s connecting ICNA with Hamas.
Professor Ahmed has an important voice, which makes it all the more regrettable that he made these gratuitous mistakes. Just a bit of research would have obviated this mess.
And the response from Akbar Ahmed:
I am delighted that you have always been so open to dialogue with me. We have a history as you mentioned dating back to when you were nominated to the board of USIP. I have always supported dialogue in any form and have sometimes paid the price for it. I was attacked by the Muslim media for my support of you.
When my team and I started this project, we were keenly aware that we would possibly offend many from the left, from the right and everywhere in between. And, I might add, we were equally critical of the Muslim community itself where necessary. But, we felt we had to be honest and uphold academic integrity in the name of scholarship.
I am thrilled that after reading the book, I can count you among the supporters of Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam if after reading the entire 500 pages, you only have three complaints.
To your points:
Throughout the book, we refer to the Muslim population as estimates, but normative perception in the community is that it is indeed 7 million, if not more.
In answer to your other points, may I quote you?
“Individual Islamists may appear law-abiding and reasonable, but they are part of a totalitarian movement, and as such, all must be considered potential killers.” http://www.danielpipes.org/79/fighting-militant-islam-without-bias
Saying that any Muslim, including your neighbor is potentially dangerous is exactly the point. My family has been Muslim for over a thousand years and I am a scholar of Islam. I have no idea what an Islamist is. I suspect most people also do not know what it is supposed to mean and simply read “Muslims” when you use Islamist, which of course is part of the problem. You would have noted my discussion of how to discuss Islam and the threats posed by terrorism, especially in chapters 5 and 9.
The sentence you mentioned on page 249 is a quote. These are not my words, and the book clearly shows that this is a quote from Najah Bazzy. This is Anthropology.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond. I have long expressed hope that scholars like you would act as bridge builders and heal the wounds that have divided the Muslim world and the west. I do request that you play that role and join me in dialogue.
I am thrilled that you so enjoyed the book.
His points, as we showed in our response, were sloppy. Twice, both in the case of Najah Bazzy on page 249 and in the case of ICNA on page 273, he attributed words to Professor Ahmed that were either quotes or paraphrased. A simple reading in context would have clarified these points.
What surprised us was that he dismisses a book we spent three years on as a “mess”. We are glad to report that this is not what other commentators on the book are saying.
“Akbar Ahmed is the 21st century Muslim Alexis de Tocqueville. If one wants to know why the world and not just America needs America to be America; if one wants stirring uplift and insight into the diversity and experience of being Muslim in America; if one wants to appreciate the genius of America’s founding fathers and the significance of their Bill of Rights; if one wants to absorb the experiences of different generations and different religions struggling together to understand the contemporary world; if one wants to understand how the constantly changing identity of the United States throughout the sweep of its history is relevant for today’s challenges; if one wants to appreciate how new useful knowledge can be created by what anthropologists call “participant observation research;” if one wants practical suggestions for building a better world at home and abroad together; then read Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam by Akbar S. Ahmed and his intrepid team.” Dean Louis Goodman, American University, Washington DC
“My friend, Professor Ahmed, came to America in the great tradition of Alexis De Tocqueville: a perceptive foreigner affectionately looking at America and American identity. This important new book advances his heroic, even dangerous, ‘five minutes to midnight’ effort to save us from our foolish mutual animosities. Pray his efforts are not too late.” Tony Blankley, The Washington Times and The Heritage Foundation
“A timely and stimulating contribution to a critically important issue: The West’s (and especially America’s) relationship to Islam.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor