March 1, 2007
Daniel Pipes fights the worldwide threat of Islamism—from Malibu
Pipes spoke at UC Irvine in January
The view from Daniel Pipes' front porch in Malibu is "California Dreamin'" perfect. With the Pacific stretching beyond the horizon, the vista induces a Zen-like calm. If the scholar's striped cotton shirt and khakis betray his Boston roots, Pipes' barely audible voice and gentle demeanor suggest that he has gone native just weeks after his arrival as a visiting professor this semester at Pepperdine University.
But Pipes' words are not so laid-back. The 57-year-old Harvard-educated Middle East expert is one of the most prominent scholars to have warned of the growing threat of fundamentalist Muslim terrorism to the West before the Sept. 11 attacks. He has become a lightening rod for some Muslims as well as other critics, in part because he predicts that radical Islam is a far greater threat than most people would like to imagine. The United States, he says, must gird itself for a protracted struggle against an enemy that wants nothing less than to transform this country from a beacon of democracy into a repressive Islamic state.
"You name it, radical Islam is anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-female, anti-moderate Muslim and anti anyone who disagrees with it," said Pipes, who is Jewish. "Anyone in their way is their enemy."
Pipes calls himself a "soldier" in the war against Islamic fundamentalism; he is founder and director of the Middle East Forum -- a Philadelphia think tank that publishes Middle East Quarterly -- and he has written hundreds of newspaper columns, appeared countless times on Fox News and CNN and traveled the globe, including a recent trip to England to debate London Mayor Ken Livingstone with the purpose of warning of the growing danger. He soon plans to unveil Islamist Watch, a Web site which he describes as an attempt to monitor nonviolent radical Islam in the West.
Pipes gets nearly 3 million visits annually to his Web site, making him, if not exactly a household name, then at least one of the most prominent anti-Islamists on the scene.
"It used to be that people would ask him if he was related to me," said Pipes' father, Richard Pipes, professor emeritus of Russian history at Harvard and a former policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan. "Now, it's the other way around."
Like his father, Daniel Pipes has a reputation for bluntness and a willingness to go against conventional wisdom -- both in the academy and elsewhere. Whereas Richard Pipes sounded the alarm against appeasing the Soviets, Daniel Pipes preaches against working with radical Muslims, no matter how law-abiding, scholarly or open-minded they might appear.
Instead, "like David Duke and Louis Farrakhan," Pipes said, "Islamists should be ostracized socially and politically."
He favors the profiling of Muslims at U.S. airports.
Pipes has come to Pepperdine to teach a graduate seminar on "Islam & Politics." During his time in Southern California, he is also speaking about the war on terror and the Arab-Israeli conflict at a number of local institutions. In late February, Pipes gave a talk at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; on March 29, he will speak at Sinai Temple.
His supporters believe that Pipes provides an invaluable service.
"Without Daniel Pipes, we would never be able to prepare ourselves to face the enemy," said Tashbih Sayyed, the editor in chief of Pakistan Today and Muslim World Today, weekly newspapers that oppose militant Islam. "We would be standing unprepared and unarmed, just like a sitting duck."
Pipes, said Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestseller "The Truth About Muhammad," is "one of the most heroic defenders in the United States against global jihad." However, Pipes' detractors call him paranoid, prone to conspiracy theories and anti-Islamic, though Pipes has long said, "Radical Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution."
On Jan. 31, dozens of members of the Muslim Student Union interrupted a speech he was delivering at UC Irvine before they stormed out in protest. In 2003, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group that Pipes has characterized as a Saudi-funded, pro-Hamas Islamist outfit, led efforts to block his nomination by President Bush to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
After several senators opposed Pipes, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who said that Pipes' record "did not reflect a commitment to bridging differences and preventing conflict," the White House made a recess appointment, which allowed Pipes to serve for 16 months.
UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, author of "The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists," and a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, described Pipes at the start of his career as a "promising scholar" of Islamic history, who has since lost his perspective.
"Pipes has grown ... more suspicious and more alarmist," said El Fadl, whom Pipes has called a stealth Islamist. "His whole recent work has turned to a critique of Islam based on conspiracy theory."
Driven largely by a desire to discredit Muslim critics of Israel, Pipes is "clearly opposed to the interests of the American Muslim community and would do anything in his power, I believe, to prevent the political and social empowerment of American Muslims," said Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for CAIR.
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that promotes moderate Islam, said groups such as CAIR "smear" Pipes, because he exposes the dangers they pose.
Yet, Pipes' critics have failed to derail him. With untiring zeal, he works to blunt what he sees as the threat of radical Islam wherever it crops up. A recent crusade involved a seemingly minor issue at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
For years, some Muslim cab drivers had refused to pick up passengers visibly carrying alcohol, typically in duty free bags, because of religious considerations. The situation had inherent frictions, as the cabbies who turned down the fares had to return to the back of the cab line, while the riders who had been denied service sometimes felt angry and confused as to why the drivers had bypassed them. To resolve the problem, the Metropolitan Airports Commission came up with a proposal: Drivers unwilling to carry clients carrying alcohol could have a second light on the roof of their cabs that would indicate their intentions. The cabbies would no longer have to go back to the end of the line, and customers would be more informed.
After the national media picked up on the issue, however, the commission began to receive complaints that Muslim drivers were getting special treatment. Pipes ratcheted the pressure even further when he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Sun, published last Oct. 10 and posted on his Web site, blasting the proposed program.
"Why stop with alcohol?" Pipes asked in his op-ed. "Muslim taxi drivers in several countries already balk at allowing seeing-eye dogs in their cars. Future demands could include not transporting women with exposed arms or hair, homosexuals and unmarried couples."
In the end, the commission scrapped the plan. Instead of accommodating the Muslim drivers, who make up an estimated 70 percent of the airport's 900 drivers, the commission recently announced that it plans to conduct a public hearing to consider increasing penalties for taxi drivers who refuse service to customers at the airport.
"I'm sure [Pipes] helped bring attention to" the issue, said Patrick Hogan, public affairs director for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
James Zogby, founder and president of the influential Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C., an organization that serves as the political and policy arm of the Arab American community, accuses Pipes of seeing threats where none exist, and said Pipes' "disinformation" fuels suspicions about American Muslims and Arabs.
"He is obsessed, in a not healthy way, with all things Arab and Muslim," Zogby said.
Pipes grew up outside of Boston, and as a child was reserved and bookish, devouring classics in his free time. As a student at Harvard, he experienced a political and academic awakening.
He initially hoped to become a mathematician, but said he found the material too abstract. Trips to Niger and Tunisia piqued his interest in the Islamic world, and he changed his major to Middle East history.
During his college years, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Harvard, like many universities nationwide, was a hotbed of protest and anti-war activism. After some students took over an administrative building, Pipes felt alienated by what he describes as their "wild-eyed, untenable views." Foreshadowing his later experiences as a professor, he found himself feeling isolated -- a conservative in a liberal, even radical, environment.
After graduating in 1971, Pipes spent nearly three years in Cairo. He learned Arabic and studied the Quran, which he said gave him an appreciation for Islam. His experience in Egypt led him to pursue a doctorate in early Islamic history at Harvard.
His parents, he said, initially questioned his career choice.
"They said, 'How will you ever make a living at that?'" Pipes said, with a laugh.
Yet in 1979, a year after he completed his doctorate, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by radical Islamists made the field of Islamic studies seem more pertinent. Career opportunities opened up, and between 1978 and 1986, Pipes taught courses at the University of Chicago, Harvard and the Naval War College. But, even at this early date, his conservative politics, including his implacable anti-Islamist views, put him "at such odds with the consensus in the field that I would not have the kind of opportunities that I would have wanted," he said.
In 1986, Pipes moved to Philadelphia to run the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank. Eight years later, he founded the Middle East Forum, a pro-Israel, pro-Turkey think tank that today has an annual budget of about $1 million and a staff of 16.
In the 1990s, Pipes and terrorism expert Steven Emerson began publicizing the rising dangers of radical Islam. Few heeded their warnings. In 1998, Pipes wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Europe in which he said that "a state of war exists between them [radical 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."
Post-Sept. 11, much more of the world began listening to what Pipes has to say. And what he is saying now might surprise those who accuse him of cynically fear-mongering for profit.
"I expect that before too long, Muslims will see that this is not the way for them and try something else," Pipes said. "Let's hope it's something more progressive and functional."