Daniel Pipes is an authority on militant Islam who is turning up all over on news programs, at conferences, and in magazine articles these days, in part because he was worrying about the problem of Islamic extremism long before Osama bin Laden became a household name. He is widely seen as a neoconservative, because he favors a strong response to terrorism, including military action. Last summer, he was appointed by President Bush to a position at the US Institute of Peace, whose mission is to promote "peaceful resolution of international conflicts". Bush accomplished this via a recess appointment, effectively bypassing a hostile Senate committee.
Pipes is frequently derided as an anti-Muslim bigot, even though he is a Harvard-educated Middle East scholar whose recurring theme is "Radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution." This hardly seems like a controversial statement to me, but perhaps I am too easily fooled by his clever facade.
The Nation recently ran a profile of Pipes by Eyal Press, "Neocon Man". It is generally slanted against Pipes, but is worthwhile reading nonetheless and provides interesting insights into his background and career. Here are some excerpts to give you a flavor:
In early January, I met Pipes on the tenth floor of a glass-and-steel highrise in downtown Philadelphia, headquarters of the Middle East Forum, the think tank he founded in 1994 to "promote American interests" in the region. Pipes is a tall man with a close-cropped beard and a lanky, basketball player's build. For all the venom in his writings, in person he is disarmingly soft-spoken and subdued. Throughout our interview in his corner office, decorated with a framed copy of the letter from President Bush nominating him to the US Institute of Peace, he spoke quietly, pausing frequently to rephrase his views. On television, Pipes affects the same cool dispassion, rarely raising his voice, even more rarely getting flustered. It's a style some believe he has cultivated to lend his pronouncements an understated--hence reasonable--air. "Dan has a sort of Svengali-like ability to portray a situation calmly but in the direst of terms," says Ian Lustick, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who has debated him in the past.
Soft-spoken, subdued, understated, reasonable, bent on "promoting American interests". Yes, definitely worrisome traits. But what about the "venom in his writings" mentioned above? Well, the article gives carefully selected examples, edited to deliberately tell only one side of the story:
In 1990 Pipes wrote a cover story for National Review, "The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!" in which he argued against the alarmist view. Even so, he did foresee certain problems. "Fears of a Muslim influx have more substance than the worry about jihad," Pipes wrote. "West European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene."
That last paragraph seems pretty damning. But here's the statement in the larger context of the full article, which I encourage you to read:
Fears of a Muslim influx have more substance than the worry about jihad. West European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene. Muslim immigrants bring with them a chauvinism that augurs badly for their integration into the mainstream of the European societies. The signs all point to continued clashes between the two sides; in all likelihood, the Rushdie affair was merely a prelude to further troubles; already it has spawned a Muslim political party in Great Britain. Put differently, Iranian zealots threaten more within the gates of Vienna than outside them.
Still, none of this amounts to Richard Condon's notion of "another terrible threat" in any way resembling the Soviet danger. Muslim immigrants will probably not change the face of European life: pubs will not close down, secularist principles will not wither, freedom of speech is not likely to be abrogated. The movement of Muslims to Western Europe creates a great number of painful but finite challenges; there is no reason, however, to see this event leading to a cataclysmic battle between two civilizations. If handled properly, the immigrants can even bring much of value, including new energy, to their host societies.
From the tone of the article, it is clear that Pipes in fact sees Muslim immigration into Europe as a net positive. He confirms this in an essay responding to his critics at the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR):
[My article] points to two Western fears of Islam, one having to do with jihad, the other having to do with immigration. I dismiss the former, then move on the latter, which I then characterize in the words CAIR quotes. This is my description of European attitudes, not of my own views.
A little further down in the profile, Pipes is slammed for not equating Muslim fundamentalists with Jerry Falwell:
As the 1990s wore on, Pipes seemed increasingly obsessed with the growing threat that Muslim immigrants posed, a peril he portrayed in lurid terms. "Muslims who hate America, and especially Jews therein, are growing in numbers and reach, enjoying the protections afforded by the rule of law and the indulgence of a benevolent, pluralist society," he wrote in a 1999 article in the Forward. "The real and present danger [to Jews] is by no means the pro-Israel Christian Coalition but the rabidly anti-Semitic Muslim Arab Youth Association."
Would that be the same Muslim Arab Youth Association that was in attendance at this event in Kansas City back in 1989 where a speaker promised "oceans of blood" in the liberation of Palestine? To be fair, I do recall a fundamentalist Christian leader making the now-infamous statement "God does not hear the prayer of a Jew." But this seems like mild stuff alongside statments from a radical Islamist theologian: "Our hour of judgment will not come until you fight the Jews (and) kill them. … Muslims, wherever they are, should actively participate in the battle!" Since Pipes makes it his business to study groups like this, it's not surprising he is somewhat more alarmed by them than he is by Southern baptists who believe that salvation comes only through their creed. The writer, however, insists on pressing Pipes on this issue:
Muslim fundamentalists are "Nazis," "potential killers" who represent "true dangers" to Jews, Christians, women and gays, he argues. But on the subject of Jewish and Christian fundamentalists, he is far milder. When I asked him whether people like Jerry Falwell, who called 9/11 "God's judgment" on gays, civil libertarians and feminists, were really so different in their attitude toward modernity, he seemed aghast at the very comparison. "I see no signs of that," he said, insisting that Falwell "lives within the framework of a democratic polity and does not believe he has a truth that he and his colleagues hold which he can impose on the rest of us."
Put aside the questionable use of loaded words in scare quotes: "Nazis", "potential killers" who represent "true dangers" without any reference to where they came from, when they were said or in what context they were uttered. Ask yourself, with the gruesome slaughter of Nick Berg fresh in your mind, whether Jerry Falwell -- or any fundamentalist Christian -- ever advocated, let alone carried out the murder of Jews, Christians, women or gays. Can you identify any country in the world that lives under a Christian fundamentalist government along the lines of the Taliban, Iran or Saudi Arabia, not exactly known as woman-friendly gay-positive regimes? Is it so unreasonable the Pipes refuses to play the moral equivalence game here?
Finally, Pipes has come in for a tremendous amount of criticism from academia over his website, Campus Watch, whose aim is to draw attention to professors and campus organizations who appear to be providing intellectual support or justification for radical Islam, a trend the Pipes finds disturbing and frightening. Pipes has been branded as "McCarthyite" for pointing this out and the article makes mention of it as well:
But Pipes's biggest impact has not come from analyzing foreign affairs. It has come from pointing a finger at a purported fifth column lurking in a place conservatives have long suspected of harboring one: academia. Two years ago Pipes launched Campus Watch, an organization whose stated purpose is to expose the analytical failures and political bias of the field of Middle Eastern studies. The group's first act was to post McCarthy-style "dossiers" on the Internet singling out eight professors critical of American and Israeli policies. When more than a hundred scholars contacted Campus Watch to request that they be added to the list in a gesture of solidarity, Pipes obliged, labeling them "apologists for suicide bombings and militant Islam."
Oddly enough, the article doesn't provide a link to Campus Watch, so you can judge for yourself. Right on the front page of the site is the mission statement:
CAMPUS WATCH, a project of the Middle East Forum, reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.
Was that a chill wind you felt blowing? Clearly there must be a hidden agenda. Let's look at the "Campus Watch In the Media" page, where we find listed...the very article we're discussing. Obviously, Pipes isn't afraid to publish unflattering portrayals of him on his own site. Must be one of those devious neocons who conceals his true agenda by publishing articles out in the open for everyone to see.
There are many other links as well, primarily to articles that characterize Middle Eastern Studies departments as one-sided, presenting a monolithic view of the region and its politics and squelching dissenting perspectives. Pipes isn't asking for these professors to be fired or jailed, only that they be held accountable for the positions they advocate, and that they be willing to engage in debate with those who hold divergent views.
Bottom line: Daniel Pipes is controversial because he's been painted as a boogeyman. He investigates, writes about and shines a light on troublesome aspects of militant Islam, all the while speaking respectfully of moderate Muslims who share our values of religious tolerance and free speech. He argues that the radicals are on a mission to undermine those influences within Islam and that they must be opposed. He warns us that Middle Eastern studies departments in major colleges and universities are flirting dangerously with the Islamist agenda, and asks that we take more notice of what is being said. He advocates democratic reform in the Middle East and an end to turning a blind eye to dictatorships and radical regimes. Stripped down to these fundamental points, it's hard to imagine that anyone would have a problem with any of these ideas. If you don't, be advised that it's just possible you may be a neocon yourself.