Writer Daniel Pipes is a Lightning Rod in the Post-9/11 World
by Mark O'Keefe
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He has been called an Islamophobe, an attack dog for the New Inquisition and a voice the Western world ignores at its peril. Author Daniel Pipes has become a lightning rod in America's struggle to contend with the post-9/11 world.
Years before Sept. 11, 2001, Pipes warned that radical Muslims had declared war on the United States. He identified the threat as Islamism, an ideology working to submit secular society to Muslim laws and principles. Then and now, his many critics charged that Pipes fuels anti-Muslim bigotry. After the attacks in New York and Washington, their fears were heightened: Pipes, they worried, would now have a more visible platform.
Pipes himself was emboldened. "I have a lot to say," he declares. "This is my moment."
Pipes, 53, regards his views as a smart alternative to two extremes: attacking Islam as an evil cult or promoting it as the religion of peace. "I don't talk about the religion itself," he said during an interview in the Philadelphia office of the Middle East Forum, a think tank he founded. "That's because Islam is not the problem. Terrorism is not the problem. It's a terroristic version of Islam that's the problem. I'm carving out a position between the two most popular ones and it's not popular. But it will prevail."
Pipes is a striking presence at 6-foot-4, with piercing dark eyes. He has become a regular guest on CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the other cable news networks. Major newspapers treat him seriously and have reviewed his latest book, "Militant Islam Reaches America." The New York Post and Jerusalem Post print his weekly columns. Those who miss any of it can find it cataloged on Pipes' Web site.
All this exposure troubles his critics, led by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"Pipes is the premier Muslim basher," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. "I hate to use that term, but for him it really fits. It's basically his job to smear an entire community and to create fear, apprehension and suspicion toward a religious minority in the United States for his own political, and apparently religious, agenda."
But even among Muslim leaders, Pipes has admirers who thank him for exposing a threat that some, even now, are reluctant to face. "He does not bash Muslims," said Tashbih Sayyed, editor and publisher of Pakistan Today, based in Fontana, Calif. "What he attacks is a fascist interpretation of Islam. Daniel Pipes, to me, is the voice of reason. Only time will tell—and God forbid that time tells—what will happen if we ignore a voice like Daniel Pipes'."
The same was said a generation ago about Pipes' father. Richard Pipes, the Cold Warrior, is now 79. One of the world's leading authorities on Soviet and Russian history, he is a respected Harvard professor. He was President Reagan's top Soviet adviser, serving on the National Security Council from 1981 to 1982, where he established a policy of confronting, not appeasing, the Soviet Union.
Father and son have taken strikingly similar paths. Daniel Pipes has undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Harvard, both in history. He has written 11 books, taught classes at Harvard and the University of Chicago, and served brief stints at the State and Defense Departments. Just as Richard Pipes denounced communism as an ideology to be confronted and defeated, Daniel Pipes identifies Islamism as a threat to be rooted out. And just as the father was ahead of the pack, and criticized for standing out, so is the son.
"He thinks for himself, and when he thinks the consensus is wrong, he takes issue with it," Richard Pipes said of his son. "That's the right thing to do. When you see things in a different way, it's your duty to express this."
In 1990, Pipes formed the nonprofit Middle East Forum, which, according to its Internal Revenue Service income statement for 2001, took in $2.6 million while publishing the 96-page Middle East Quarterly, among other activities.
The Quarterly has a pro-America tone and tries to publish authors not heard in other journals, particularly when they advocate strong ties with Israel and Turkey, the region's two democracies. The publication, like Pipes, is hawkish on war with Iraq.
Pipes' specialty has its roots in a summer trip. At 18, volunteering in the African nation of Niger, he was captivated by the desert. The following year he traveled to deserts of the Middle East, where his curiosity about the Islamic world, so different from the West, began to grow. This eventually led him to study Arabic, then Islamic history, the focus of his doctorate.
During three years in Cairo, some of it spent living with a Muslim family, Pipes made lasting observations of Islamic culture, politics and society. He was unsure where it would all lead him, especially since in the West, no one else seemed to notice, or care, about Islam. Then, in 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran, powered by an Islamic revolution that denounced the West, seized the American embassy in Tehran and took hostages. "There was this new question that suddenly arose, and it was my issue," Pipes said. "That was the turning point of my career."
He argues that the events in Iran also marked a milestone in modern-day Islamism. "An Islamist is someone who says whatever the problem, Islam is the solution," Pipes said. "In America, it would be someone who wants to replace the Constitution with the Quran. Islamism is a radical, utopian movement that has much in common with fascism and Marxism-Leninism."
Pipes estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of the 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide are Islamists. He says the same percentage applies to Muslims in the United States, whose overall numbers are hotly disputed.
Critics challenge both his methods and his terminology. "In his simple analysis," wrote editors of the Minaret, a Los Angeles-based magazine, "Muslims who are actively involved in public life while trying to shape their lives according to their beliefs are not the followers of Islam. Rather, they are Islamists."
Hooper and others often speculate that Pipes is motivated by his faith. Friends say Pipes is Jewish, but it's a subject Pipes won't discuss." I don't deny it. If you look at my associations, yes. But there are all sorts of things about my private life I don't talk about, such as my three children. It's my prerogative to put a fence around these things," Pipes said.
CAIR devotes an expanding page of its Web site to quotes from Pipes' critics, who characterize him as an agenda-driven polemicist. CAIR also posts contentious comments from Pipes, including:
Pipes says the CAIR attacks have "poisoned my name." On his own Web site, he offers point-by-point rebuttals, arguing that CAIR twists his comments out of context. He adds, for emphasis, that "CAIR represents not the great civilization of Islam but a radical utopian movement originating in the Middle East that seeks to impose its ways" on the United States.
While the CAIR-Pipes feud has gone on for years, Pipes took on new foes when the Middle East Forum established "Campus Watch" last September. According to its Web site, Campus Watch "reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them." Initially, that included "dossiers" on individual professors, based on reports by students.
One target was Douglas Card of the University of Oregon, whom Pipes accused of calling Israel "a terrorist state" and Israelis "baby-killers." He also alleged that on Card's sociology exam, students had to agree with the view that Israel "stole land." Card said he was not contacted before the allegations were published, and a university spokesman said a school investigation found nothing to substantiate the claims. "I'm 67," Card said in a telephone interview. "I know what McCarthyism is like and this is the worst thing I've ever seen since the 1950s."
Antony Sullivan, a University of Michigan scholar also named by Campus Watch, said Pipes' "objective is character assassination." In protest, professors across the country began to demand that they be added to Pipes' watch. The dossiers eventually were dropped.
Undaunted, Pipes continues to write. He works more than 70 hours a week, composing columns, lengthy articles and parts of books sometimes years before they're ripe for dissemination.
Ricky Greenfield, publisher of The Connecticut Jewish Ledger and a longtime friend, said that when Pipes is on the road, his laptop computer is his preferred companion. "People will say, ‘Want to stay for dinner?' ‘Want to stay for cocktails?' ‘Do you have time for coffee?' and the answer is always, ‘No, I have to get back to my hotel room. I have work to do,"' Greenfield said.
Richard Pipes concurred. His son, he said, "has never had hobbies, even when he was younger. He has always been focused on intellectual work, working with his mind all the time, exhibiting an impatience with anything that took him off his intellectual focus."
Pipes' favorite writing place is on airplanes, where he said the engines' drone somehow focuses his attention. He's usually in first class these days, for with 143 speaking engagements in 2002 alone, he's among the most frequent of fliers. Many of his appearances are in college towns where Muslim student groups stage protests, CAIR's accusations in hand.
Yet no matter what his critics say, no one can deny Pipes a major "I-told-you-so" in his warnings on terrorism. In 1997, four years after the first attack on the World Trade Center, Pipes interviewed like-minded author Steven Emerson. The title of the resulting piece in Middle East Quarterly: "Get Ready for Twenty World Trade Center Bombings"
In 1998, Pipes wrote in The Wall Street Journal Europe that "a state of war exists between them [fundamentalist Muslims] and the West, mainly America, not because of the American response but because radical fundamentalist Muslims see themselves in a long-term conflict with Western values."
Prescient analysis? Maybe so. But Omar Dajani, an Orlando, Fla., software engineer, fears that "Pipes and people like him" will create a climate in which discrimination against Muslims becomes routine. If there's another terrorist attack in this country, Dajani sees himself, his wife and his 15-month-old son in an internment camp similar to those that Japanese-Americans endured during World War II. "Daniel Pipes will be leading the way, saying we don't like to do this, but we have no choice, we have to be suspicious of every Muslim in this country," Dajani said.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, based in New York City, has a different fear. It's that the country won't wake up until it's too late. "I don't want to go overboard with this," said Klein, a friend of Pipes, "but in the 1930s there were only a few people, like Winston Churchill, speaking about the truth of the barbaric German regime and how making peace with them was not possible.
"In a nonpolitical way, Pipes is one of the few voices telling the story of Islamic extremism. This is the wrong time to let political correctness stifle and silence a voice of truth. Dan Pipes has been so right for so long that we need to listen to him."
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