Reading today's Reason Daily by Michael Young, you might get the impression Gilles Kepel, the hero of the article, has some common interests with the Martin Kramer faction of Middle East Studies Association critics. (Speaking as a skeptic of neoconservative schemes for regional transformation, I can say that Kepel—though I think his thesis is highly debatable—has done a better job of elucidating what's wrong with the Muslim world than a hundred Bernard Lewises.) In an intriguing enemy's-enemy formulation, this Foreign Affairs article by a professor at Columbia—the Evil Empire for Kramer and Daniel Pipes—tags Kepel for not being harder on the neoconservatives.
But all is not well in Neoconville. As it happens, Pipes hates Kepel with a passion, and never misses a chance to slam him. From a 419-word review by Pipes of Kepel's Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam:
One way to become a Famous Intellectual in France is to take a nonsensical thesis and be the first write a whole book advancing it. By this standard, Kepel excels, for he adopts the preposterous idea that militant Islam is in decline and manages to fill 376 pages of text with examples and arguments that credibly support this idea. His only fault is a certain lack of originality, given that one of his colleagues, Olivier Roy, beat him to the punch by publishing L'Echec de l'Islam politique a full eight years earlier.
In a review of Mehdi Mozaffari's Fatwa: Violence and Discourtesy, Pipes blames Kepel for a serious lapse in the Rushdie affair: "It was, [Mozaffari] holds, two French scholars of Islam, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel, who came up with the term fatwa, which then others picked up."
And in a 2001 article by Pipes and Jonathan Schanzer, bearing the prescient title "On to Baghdad?: Yes—The Risks Are Overrated," we get more scorn for Kepel:
Destabilized Arab regimes: "Arab regimes will be considerably weakened if they are incapable of preventing operations against Iraq," finds French analyst Gilles Kepel. "This would be highly destabilizing."
Really? More likely, ridding the world of Saddam will stabilize every Arabic-speaking country, as they no longer worry about his depredations and can loosen up. Better yet, the Iraqi National Congress (waiting in the wings) gives signs of setting up a democratic government and the Kurdish government in the north of Iraq (in power) has already done so.
I hesitate to apply the term "neocon" to Pipes, who contains multitudes and can't be reduced to mere earthly labels. And Kepel is by no means an uncomplicated ally of neoconservatism. But he's clearly a useful figure for the rightist, hawkish school Pipes belongs to. So why the abuse? From my own view in the cheap seats, I can only speculate, but I suspect this is a case where it's considered better to have no friends at all than friends who are off the reservation. Why have an unreliable cohort making your arguments for you—even or especially when he's doing a better job of it than you are? But since I never want to overlook sloth and incompetence as solutions to a mystery, I suspect Pipes has become so wrapped up in being an O'Reillyesque performance artist that he can't be bothered to figure out what Kepel's thesis is. (The review of Jihad above, which never mentions the book's main idea and misstates all but one of the factual claims it considers, really puts the curse in cursory.) You can almost see the wheels spinning: French? An intellectual? Must be somebody I'm against!
BHL, watch your back!