Truth on Terror
by Priya Abraham
Translations of this item:
Daniel Pipes is not a typical historian. When the 53-year-old Middle East scholar gave a public lecture a year ago at the University of Washington, Professor Edward Alexander drove him to an underground entrance at the auditorium. Armed policemen whisked him to a hiding place backstage. Long lines of audience members inched forward as bag checkers inspected their belongings. Mr. Alexander had never seen such a tight phalanx of security surround a university speaker. Mr. Pipes is beginning to see college campuses that way more often.
Letters protesting that lecture, "The War on Terrorism and Militant Islam," streamed into Mr. Alexander's e-mail inbox within half an hour of sending an inter-office message about the event. Daniel Pipes "is a rabid Muslim hater," wrote one man, representing a local Muslim group. "If he goes any further he will be in the same company as Hitler when he told Mussolini the Jews are like 'TB Bacilli' and must be eradicated."
Criticism of Mr. Pipes has only increased since then. In April, President Bush nominated him to serve on the board of directors of the United States Institute for Peace, a federal think tank whose directors are required by law to "have appropriate practical or academic experience in peace and conflict resolution."
The Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) launched a campaign to block his appointment. Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) all decried the choice as the worst fit for the organization. The Senate delayed a vote on Mr. Pipes's nomination, forcing President Bush to appoint him during the congressional summer recess. That means Mr. Pipes will only serve until 2005, when a new Congress takes office, rather than a full four-year term.
How does an academic appointed to a somewhat obscure post stir such rancor? Mr. Pipes's flaw, in the eyes of his critics, seems to be his willingness to point out who—and which religion—is behind terrorism. "Pipes enrages many people because he says that our enemy is not 'terror' but radical Islam," Mr. Alexander said, "and that it makes no more sense for Bush to say that we are at war with 'terror' than it would have done for FDR to have said, after Pearl Harbor, that we are at war with 'sneak attacks' instead of saying, as he did, that we are 'now at war with the empire of Japan.'"
Mr. Pipes has advocated racial profiling of Middle Easterners as an unpleasant necessity to root out terrorists. He estimates that 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide are Islamists and therefore potential killers. He's rung warning bells about national Muslim advocacy groups such as CAIR and the American Muslim Council, saying their leaders aim to further radical Islam in America. And while Mr. Pipes doesn't condemn Islam as a whole, he doesn't call it a "religion of peace," either.
On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Mr. Pipes argues that the Oslo Peace Accords 10 years ago and President Bush's road map today are failures. They made the critical mistake of allowing the Palestinians to think Israel was weak when it made concessions. Only unmitigated force from Israel, he says, will convince the Palestinians that they cannot rub out the Jewish state, and only then will they agree to coexist with Israel.
His critics harvest sumptuous fodder from such blunt views. His supporters see them as common-sense deductions, and point to his prediction of a day like 9/11 as proof of his insight. Either way, Mr. Pipes seems to attract only hatred or adoration.
A Harvard-educated historian, Mr. Pipes started down his career path by studying medieval Islamic history. He began traveling alone in Northern Africa when he was 18, and after college spent three years in Egypt while pursuing his doctoral studies and becoming fluent in Arabic. What fascinated him was the influence Islam had on the politics and life of the region. "Working on the subject some 35 years ago, it was obscure," he said.
At about the same time, Mr. Pipes was cementing the beliefs he grew up with in a politically conservative home. His college days at Harvard came during the height of the cultural revolution of the late '60s and early '70s. His father, Richard Pipes, was a Harvard professor who specialized in the Soviet Union and went on to spearhead the Reagan policy in the 1980s of chucking appeasement and confronting the Cold War arch enemy instead. His son Daniel watched campus anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and lost friends because of his opinions. Those were character-sculpting times.
"That was more difficult than anything since, just starting out in the world," he said. Mr. Pipes challenged himself on why he was a conservative: "That was a question I asked myself repeatedly. I had traveled a great deal and therefore had an understanding of the U.S. and the world and therefore this country in a way that others did not." College roommate and long-time friend Arthur Waldron remembers him sitting on the floor at home, leaning against a bookcase with soft classical or jazz music playing in the background as he wrote in a diary—where he thinks Mr. Pipes hashed out his views.
"What I think it reflects is a seriousness about life," he said. "He was someone who was outgoing but introspective. He's analytical—he holds himself to very high standards." Mr. Pipes was a deep thinker right from childhood. He loved to read—especially the classics (his favorite was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice). "My image of him as a teenager is riding up a ski lift in Switzerland, reading a book," said his father, Richard.
By 1979, Mr. Pipes's chosen field of study was no longer so obscure, as radicalized students held Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran for 444 days. It was the first hit that America took from militant Islam, which Mr. Pipes came to see as an enemy of the United States. He compares militant Islam, which he defines as an ideology seeking control of states, to fascism in World War II and Marxism-Leninism in the Cold War. Terrorism is only a symptom of the ideology. (Mr. Pipes's signature phrase is "militant Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution.")
An appreciation for American stability and freedom led him to establish the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum in 1990, a think tank devoted to advancing American interests in the region. Mr. Pipes also founded campus-watch.org two weeks after 9/11, a website whose mission is to challenge blindly pro-Islamic or anti-American views in the area of Middle East Studies taught in universities. The site presents surveys of individual universities and documents instances where professors' politics influenced their teaching and highlights support for terrorist tactics.
In the two weeks following its launch, the site received 80,000 individual hits. It also drew academics' ire and widespread media coverage—in particular for individual files on eight different professors the site identified as "apologists" for militant Islam. A few weeks later, 108 professors asked to be added to the list in a show of solidarity. Eventually, Mr. Pipes removed the list singling out the original eight professors after scholars accused him of trying to abridge academic freedom. (He opted to include on the website information on the eight in the context of the larger surveys of universities.)
Tashbih Sayyed, the editor of the national weekly Pakistan Today, is one of the few Muslims in the country who supported Mr. Pipes's nomination at the U.S. Institute for Peace. "Radical Islam is intrinsically opposed to American values," he said. "It has set up in America in order to destroy America from within. Daniel Pipes has done nothing but to warn, point out, underline such efforts of radical Islam to destroy America."
CAIR sent letters asking the U.S. Institute for Peace to reject and President Bush to withdraw his nomination of Mr. Pipes to the organization. The group also issued action alerts to Muslims to e-mail and call the president and institute, and sprang a last-ditch public call-in to the White House days before the appointment. Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, one of Mr. Pipes's most vocal critics, takes issue with how he characterizes Islam. "He defines all Muslims as radical Muslims, and his moderates are those who attack Islam," he said. "The guy is a bigot, and he's an Islamophobe, and his hatred of Islam drips from everything he writes." (CAIR later claimed the "moral victory" for the tens of thousands of people whose opposition, it said, helped truncate his term.)
Mr. Pipes referred to his Sept. 23 New York Post column on prominent moderate Muslims in the West. He said some are very pious, such as the Tunisian-born Abdelwahab Meddeb, author of Malady of Islam. "The common element is being anti-militant Islam," Mr. Pipes said. "This is what Hooper wants to deny. He wants to make it so they're not allowed to say it."
At the institute, Mr. Pipes wants to highlight the suffering of Muslims under radical Islamic governments. He already writes a weekly column for the New York Post and others for publications such as the Jerusalem Post. He speaks on college campuses frequently, and has appeared on television shows such as Fox News' Hannity and Colmes. His new role will add to a work week that's hit 70 hours since 9/11. "It's been kind of pressed the last two years," he says mildly.
The opposition may force him to use underground entrances, but Mr. Pipes vows to continue to reach lecture halls. Between now and the end of the year, he has lectures scheduled from New York to California, and in Italy.
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