Wednesday, May 21, 2008

COMMENT: Sadanand Dhume - another Daniel Pipes?

Sadanand Dhume is a journalist who has worked for a variety of international newspapers and media organisations. He is also the author of a book about Indonesia called My Friend the Fanatic, as well as a variety of op-eds published in major newspapers across the world.

In his writing, Dhume doesn't hold back. His criticism of what he sees as political Islamism is unrelenting. But does his criticism turn into an obsession with Islam itself? Has Dhume become just another Daniel Pipes?

It's hard to tell, and it would be unfair to pass judgment without reading his book and his other writings on Muslim societies. However, one could argue that Dhume's singular obsession with Muslim extremism (as opposed to other forms of extremism) is problematic in the same way as one could argue that those who parrot on about Israel's human rights violations but ignore violations of its neighbours are being anti-Semitic. Certainly Barry Cohen has used this argument today in The Australian.

The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman responded: "Criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction, out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East, is anti-Semitic and not saying so is dishonest."

It's the double standards by which Israel is judged that incenses Jews and their supporters ...

Selective indignation, dear readers, is anti-Semitism.

Applying the same logic, could one argue that journalists who focus on Islamist extremism but ignore the excesses of the Hindutva hounds or American Christians conservative war-mongers are being Muslim-phobic?

Certainly Dhume is no stranger to this line of questioning. Just over 12 months ago, Dhume was interviewed by Nermeen Shaikh in New York. Here are some excerpts from that interview.

In all your articles, you speak in rather alarmist language about Islam and Muslim societies in general, without trying to give a serious political account for why Islamist movements (both violent and non-violent) all over the world have been growing in recent decades. The most striking silence, in this regard, both in the context at least of Indonesia and Pakistan, has to do with the consequences of the Cold War. This is apparent also in your review of Musharraf's In the Line of Fire where, in the first paragraph, you say that the Taliban were armed and funded by the ISI, which is why, of course, it is difficult for them to disentangle now. But the ISI would simply not have been able to do that without being a part of the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA. The fact that you don't mention this is rather odd. Why are you so conspicuously silent on these facts?

I know where you're coming from and I think it's a fair question. Let me tell you broadly where I stand on this. There are two ways, if you like, to sort of boil this down to extremes, here are the two prisms you can bring to this issue. You can say that, well - and I'm making this a little bit of a caricature, which is for the sake of argument or simplicity - it's all America's fault, or it's not America's fault at all.

But in fact I will acknowledge and I do write about this in my book, that for example what happened in Indonesia - and you could argue that obviously what happened in Afghanistan also [in the 1980s and 90s]- was a result of US policy. Definitely, but I don't buy the idea that it was primarily because of the US.

What is happening with Islam in the world, whether it's Wahhabism or similar strains, I don't believe that this is something that is America's fault. So you can say that particular policy decisions, for example in Indonesia support for Islamists or troubles with the left-leaning Sukarno government, had consequences. Absolutely, you saw the textbooks change in schools and so on. There are very few people who would disagree with that. But I don't believe that America is the major engine of this change. Is it a factor? Of course. Is it the factor? I don't believe so.

There are many factors. I would say in Indonesia the single biggest factor was massive dislocation. If I had to point to one thing I would say massive dislocation combined with enforcement of uniform religious education.

To what extent does your position on the "Muslim question" draw from the policies and insights of parties such as the BJP in India or the neoconservative wing of the Republican party in the US?

You'd find very few people in either the Republican party or in the BJP who advocate in favor of either Playboy or many of the other things I do.

On the Muslim question, not in general.

It's a loaded question. I personally don't see any particular parallel but perhaps you can point something out to me and I will be able to answer that better.

Why for example do you argue that Islamists of any variety - violent or non-violent -- should not even be engaged with?

I believe they should be opposed. So it's not about engaging. But if you can engage them to change their mind, sure. But I think the ideas that they hold are terrible ideas.

But not all Islamists hold the same ideas.

What is my definition of an Islamist? A person who believes that Sharia should order all aspects of human life. That's my definition. That's my working definition. I think that's a terrible idea and it should be opposed. It's very straightforward.
I'll reserve my judgment until I meet the man and read the book. Meanwhile, here is an interesting discussion in which Dhume recently took part.

UPDATE: An interesting discussion on Barry Cohen's anti-Semitism thesis is being conducted at an online forum here.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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1 comment:

pepe said...

(from the you tube discusion)
"...you saw it with SUddam briefly"

since when?