I have been appearing a few times a year on Al-Jazeera since about 1997 but perhaps the high point took place today, U.S. presidential election day, when I appeared as one of two panelists on Al-Ittijah al-Mu'akis ("Opposite Viewpoint," الاتجاه المعاكس), , Al-Jazeera's lead debate program. The Egyptian Islamist and anti-American, Ashraf al-Bayoumi, and I discussed "The American Elections." The topic quickly broadened into a general analysis of the state of democracy in the United States, which he found distinctly lacking and I held was robust and healthy.
Al-Jazeera has posted the transcript (which I reposted on my website); the Middle East Media and Research Institute (or MEMRI) then excerpted the most colorful exchange of that debate, which it posted both as a video clip and as a translated excerpt:
MEF's Daniel Pipes and Former Egyptian Ashraf Al-Bayoumi Discuss the Nature of American Democracy
Ashraf Al-Bayoumi: In the sixties, there was a popular movement against the war in Vietnam and democracy had better days than today. McCarthy and McCarthyism have led democracy to bad times. Today, the situation is worse than McCarthyism. American democracy is at its worst. The American administration is leading society toward fascism and Goebbels-like media. Is [the US] a democratic country?
Interviewer: What is it then? What kind of country is it, not a democracy?
Ashraf Al-Bayoumi: A country far from democracy, which is marching towards fascism. If this situation continues, America will become another Politburo, another Nazi rule, and Goebbels-like media. What is this Fox company?! Who owns the American media? Who finances them?
Daniel Pipes: The focus on the Muslims in the US is an important and difficult issue, and I'd be glad to discuss it with you, but there is no doubt that the US is not threatened by the Hindis, the Buddhists, or the Jews, but by the Muslims. Not by all the Muslims. The problem is that radical terrorists are Muslim and we must deal with this.
Mr. Ashraf knows nothing about the US. He may have lived here 40 or 50 years, but he knows nothing about this country, and this is typical of immigrants who come with a preconceptions, but avoid dealing with the country itself.
I truly wish Mr. Bayoumi, as an American citizen who has sworn allegiance to this country and as someone who has profited enormously from this country, to look into his soul and understand how much this country did for him personally, when he was fleeing Abd Al-Nasser. Shame on you, shame on you, Mr. Bayoumi, for coming here and saying such things after profiting from this country.
Comments: (1) After this exchange at the very start of the program, I did some fast internet searching on Ashraf al-Bayoumi and learned that he fled Egypt during the Gamal Abdel Nasser period, that he got his education in the United States, and that he filled a prestigious academic position in the United States. With this information in hand, I then went after him a second time, saying how disgraceful it was that he sought refuge in the United States and then abused our hospitality so badly by going back to Egypt and becoming a leading hate-America voice. I am told by someone who saw the show that Al-Bayoumi was visibly not enjoying this exchange.
(top to bottom) Tariq Ali, Daniel Pipes, Faysal al-Qasim
(2) Although I am upset by Al-Jazeera's often irresponsible news coverage, I have to credit it for giving voice to alternate points of view, specifically mine. I am grateful to it for giving me the chance to reach its audience, live and at some length. (November 2, 2004)
June 28, 2005 update: My return appearance on Al-Jazeera's Al-Ittijah al-Mu'akis took me this time to a studio in London where Tariq Ali and I debated "American Accountability Laws" ("قوانين أميركية لمعاقبة الدول"). The transcript in Arabic is available on Al-Jazeera's site as well as my own. Ali and I have sparred before – for example on Australian radio in September 2002 and on Australian television a year ago – but this was our first time doing so in person, and the tone was noticeably more pleasant.
I listened in Arabic to the announcer but Ali and I debated in English. Trouble is, the translation of my words into Arabic was mangled. For one example, the final pull-out box ("أميركا لم تهدد باستخدام القوة منذ عام 1961") puts in my mouth the absurd statement that "America has never threatened to use force since 1961." In fact, I said that although the U.S. government has boycotted Cuba since Castro came to power it has not since 1961 threatened to use force against Cuba. Small difference, no? Sadly, the translation is riddled with other inaccuracies.