Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi of Iran's International Quran News Agency solicited this written interview only to have it rejected by his editors because they "disagreed" with it. So, I make it available here, precisely as prepared on July 9, 2020.
What is the main cause of Islamism in the Middle East?
Frustration: Islamic self-image and Muslim historical experience both lead Muslims to believe they should be the richest, most educated, and most powerful of peoples. But reality since at least 1800 has found Muslims the poorest, least educated, and weakest of peoples. Islamism promises to repair that problem.
Do Western countries promote Islamism?
In general, no, with two important exceptions. (1) Internationally, Westerners at times have seen Islamists as a lesser enemy and have tactically supported them, for example, in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union or in Gaza against the PLO. (2) Domestically, non-violent Islamists are seen as a better alternative to jihadism.
How is Islamism in the Middle East best fought?
Negatively and positively. Negatively by battling it on every front, from the military to the ideological. Positively by offering an alternative, namely reform Islam, an Islam compatible with modern life, especially with regard to non-Muslims, women, and jihad.
How do you evaluate the argument that the Syrian civil war that began in March 2011 seems to be ending?
The Assad government controls about 60 percent of the country's territory, with Turkish- and American-allied forces controlling the rest. That suggests to me that Syria's civil wars are far from over.
The U.S. Government recently passed sanctions (the Caesar Act), against the Syrian regime. What effect will it have?
The goal is to pressure the Assad regime to stop making war on its own people. Even before coming into effect on June 17, the act already contributed to the collapse of the Syrian currency. Looking ahead, it appears the most direct impact will be on the oil and gas industry and on reconstruction efforts.
The Caesar Act, named after a pseudonymous military photographer who fled Syria in 2013 with 55,000 images from the country's jails, targets both Asma and Bashar al-Assad.
How much of a danger do extreme Islamist groups in Syria other than ISIS (like Jabhat al-Nusra) pose to security in the Middle East and beyond?
So long as the Syrian civil wars continue, Islamist groups in Syria will remain focused on domestic battles. Should the civil wars end, the groups will likely look further. But that is not an immediate prospect.
Despite its defeat in Iraq and Syria, do you think ISIS will emerge elsewhere under a different name?
That's one possibility but more likely is that other groups take on the uniquely powerful ISIS name. We have seen this most dramatically in Egypt, Libya and the Philippines, and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. I expect this trend to continue.
Prof. Daniel Pipes is president and founder of The Middle East Forum where this interview appeared, and has authored 12 books., He is considered one of the world’s foremost analysts on the Middle East and Muslim history. He warned of militant Islam's war with the USA years before 9.11 and called Arafat's bluff at Oslo.