Eye of the storm

Is this mideast gadfly White House's man on campus?

Rating: NNNNN

Daniel Pipes is on the line from Philly, doing his best not to sound exasperated. The controversial U.S. academic is obviously rattled by the media calls that followed his free speech dust-up a few weeks back at York U. And who can blame him? In the shadow of Montreal’s Concordia and a host of similar events on U.S. campuses, the dogged supporter of Israeli policies has landed himself in a news storm.

Some would claim it’s one he created himself. At York, a group of enraged students charged Pipes with racialist views on Islam and castigated him for keeping dossiers on Palestinian sympathizers, while his backers turned his right to lecture into a cause célèbre.

On this Monday morning, Pipes makes no effort to conceal the fact that his patience with my line of questioning is growing thin. He sighs repeatedly amid the faint strains of classical music in the background — Mozart, I think.

His frustration boils to the surface when the subject turns to the more incendiary passages in some of his past writings — among them claims that Muslims are more violence-prone than other immigrants. “Your discussing what I’ve done is not terribly informative to me,” he says.

Pipes takes pains to point out that he always distinguishes between Islam the religion and militant Islam the ideology. But in a recent New York Post column titled The Enemy Within, he writes that Muslim government employees, even those in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps, “need to be watched for connections to terrorism,” as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. “Not to do so,” he concludes, “is an invitation to further terrorism.”

Several pages referencing other examples have been released by the U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group with which Pipes has been publicly wrangling since 1999.

His most often cited article is a 1990 piece for National Review (titled The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!), in which he writes that “Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene…. All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.”

Pipes says the quote has been taken out of context. He’s slippery about other controversial statements — first denying making them outright, then asking me to point out where they’ve been made. Those statements include the following, which appeared in an August 2002 article he co-authored with Khalid Duran: “In its long history of immigration, the United States has never encountered so violent-prone (sic) and radicalized a community as the Muslims who have arrived since 1965.”

Pipes also once mused in an article reprinted in the National Post (titled Something Rotten In Denmark?) that Muslims make up 5 per cent of Denmark’s population but consume 40 per cent of welfare spending, make up a majority of the country’s convicted rapists and import “unacceptable customs and foment anti-Semitism.”

But he doesn’t want to get into that right now.

Instead, he offers that “the growth of Muslims in the West is inimical to Jews and others as well. Yeah, I’m simply making an observation that I think is unarguable. I think their interests are at odds.”

Toronto police detective Jim Hogan of the hate crimes unit was concerned enough about what Pipes might say that he counselled him before his speech at York about Canada’s hate laws. “American free speech laws are substantially different from ours,” says Hogan. “I just thought it was fair to advise him of what our laws are. I didn’t get a chance to read any of his writings. It was more a proactive information session than anything else.”

Pipes didn’t think so. “I was outraged,” he says.***

Although Concordia University, just outside Montreal, has been the focus of coverage of Arab-Jewish conflict on Canadian campuses, tensions between the same groups at York have been building away from the media spotlight for months. York, in fact, boasts the largest number of Jewish students of any university in the country.”There are vociferous extreme voices on both sides,” says one professor.

And while Pipes’s visit marked the first time tensions there have surfaced in the mainstream press, in-your-face shouting matches — and the odd fist fight — between those on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not an uncommon occurrence in Vari Hall, where students congregate.

Pipes was originally invited by the York Jewish Students Federation (JSF) and the Centre for International and Security Studies. But the centre’s director, David Dewitt, then received an e-mail from McGill University political science professor Rex Brynen. It mentioned Pipes’s Campus Watch Web site and its keeping of “dossiers” on professors.

“The issue is certainly not Pipes’s views on the Middle East,” writes Brynen. “I think many of his views border on racism, too, but even that I can tolerate (although barely, at times). What marks Pipes out from others with similar views on the region are his well-publicized efforts, through his Campus Watch Web site, to intimidate scholars.

“Campus Watch has been condemned by virtually every relevant professional organization as a threat to academic freedom,” Brynen wrote. “It would be a shame if by this invitation, the centre’s well-deserved reputation for excellence were suddenly obscured by a major controversy over its perceived support for Campus Watch.”

Indeed. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) added its voice to concern coming from university profs south of the border about Campus Watch and its similarities to Accuracy in Academia, the group that emerged in the mid-80s with a call to “patriotic” students to monitor professors for indications of Marxism in their teachings.

In a statement released in October 2002, CAUT executive director Jim Turk condemned Campus Watch “as an attempt to intimidate and silence particular academics and to place their opinions outside the boundaries of “legitimate’ debate.”

After reviewing the Campus Watch Web site, Dewitt pulled the plug on the international studies centre’s co-sponsorship of the Pipes speech. The JSF became the sole sponsor.

Dewitt’s e-mail response to Brynen suggests that heat was coming down from quarters on campus and off.

“Ironically, while we’ve gone to some effort to try to make a reasoned and reasonable decision, we’ve had to do so in the shadows of some intimidating and threatening gestures from so-called “members’ of the university community, both here at York and at other institutions.’

There had been some discussion about having Pipes speak off-campus. From the Canadian Jewish Congress’s (CJC) point of view, however, that option was unacceptable.

The CJC became involved when the JSF was told that holding the event at the Underground Restaurant on campus presented security issues, especially in the face of growing protests.

The JSF has had what is described by CJC executive director Bernie Farber as “significant differences” with those at the university in charge of booking space for JSF events. Farber says the JSF felt like “it was being given a hard time… (and) blockages were being put in its way.”

A conference call between Farber, CJC chair Ed Morgan and York president Lorna Marsden was set up to discuss the issue. Marsden, according to Farber, asked to be given 24 hours to “find a way to have this (the Pipes speech) happen.”

Says Farber: “We very much felt like this was a watershed, that if a guy like Daniel Pipes, a pro-Israel advocate, could be shut down, then it would give licence to try and shut down pro-Israel speakers on other campuses. I believe there has been an attempt in the last while to try to stifle pro-Israel opinion.’

Farber doesn’t find anything racist about Pipes’s writings.

“Look,” Farber continues, “he’s not everybody’s cup of tea. He’s written some stuff that’s clearly controversial and provocative. But there’s been a lot worse. Universities should not be shutting people down unless they’re going to promote violence or hatred, or have promoted hatred in the past and have been charged. I do rail at this impression that is given that he uses McCarthy-like tactics. He’s just an academic. I can’t wrap my head around what it is that people are so upset about. They’re making a huge mountain out of a molehill because they don’t like what Pipes has to say.” ***

Campus Watch describes itself on its Web site as a group of American academics “concerned about U.S. interests and their frequent denigration on campus.”The statement goes on to explain that “Middle East studies in the U.S. has become the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs who have brought their views with them…. Campus Watch seeks to reverse the damage… by monitoring and gathering information on professors who fan the flames of disinformation.”

Another stated interest of Campus Watch is to see “a stable supply and a low price of oil.” That seems a curious goal — until, that is, one understands which circles Pipes moves in.

Besides being a prolific writer, Pipes belongs to conservative think-tank the Council on Foreign Affairs, which has been among the more vociferous in pushing war with Iraq. He used to teach at the U.S. Naval War College as well as in the departments of state and defence, more recently with the latter’s Special Task Force on Terrorism Technology.

He also sits on the editorial board of the international affairs journal National Interest Magazine, co-chaired by arch-conservatives Conrad Black and Henry Kissinger and whose other editorial board members include top White House hawk Richard Perle.

Pipes’s connections with Republican administrations past and present run thick and deep. A recent Financial Times of London feature drew a number of parallels between Pipes’s views (and their influence on the right wing) and those of his father, Richard, the Sovietologist who promoted the first-strike philosophy against the former Soviet Union that helped Ronald Reagan coin the phrase “evil empire.”

Pipes the younger was reluctant to be drawn into the comparison, except to tell the Times that “perhaps I get a certain dogmatic sense of stubbornness from him.”

In this article, too, Pipes takes a swipe at Muslims. “The U.S. government,” he’s quoted as saying, “tends to make a sharp distinction between a good Islamism and a bad Islamism. But this is often just an indication of its cowardice. When you look at the FBI’s most-wanted list you see they are nearly all Arab terrorists. We are not attuned to understand evil.”

“He pretty much turned himself into a shill for the neo-conservative movement,” says Laurie Irani-King, a professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria and a former editor of Middle East Report in Washington.

“He straddles this divide between public policy and academia. He’s an entrepreneur, and a pretty dangerous one because he’s got the ear of people in the White House.”

Irani-King has found her name among the “apologists” on Campus Watch’s site for her efforts behind an Indict Sharon Web site (for his alleged involvement in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre in September 1982. “Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if what these guys are doing with the Campus Watch site had the quiet approval of people in Washington,” Irani-King adds. “I have friends in the U.S. who teach Middle East studies. They have students enrolled in their class who seem to be there to spy on the professor.”

South of the border, Pipes’s Campus Watch has spawned an antagonist, Campus Watch WATCH. The Web site’s contact, Charlotte Kates, says that because of Campus Watch, students are being brought up on code-of-conduct charges, universities threatened with loss of funding, professors’ opinions “savagely twisted” and others fired for their off-campus activity.

Pipes says he doesn’t approve of professors who show up on Campus Wacth being “intimidated” for their views, but doesn’t deny that he’s “in favour of cutting funding to things that are egregious. My message to Middle East scholars is shape up, do a better job.”

There are signs here in Canada that Campus Watch is contributing to the chilling of expression when it comes to the Middle East. One Concordia prof who’s on Campus Watch’s list declines to comment when reached by NOW. “These are sensitive issues. I don’t discuss my opinions with people I don’t know,” he says.

York Jewish Students Federation head Zack Kaye says that when the group began arranging for Pipes to speak at York just before Christmas “there were no real concerns that stood out. We did do a thorough, or what we thought at the time was a thorough, investigation. What the issue became for us was, did Pipes have the right to speak? By inviting him we weren’t endorsing his views.”

Kaye has since had an opportunity to go over Pipes’s writings more closely and hints at a personal change of heart — only he’s not prepared to discuss it with a reporter. “I’d have to speak off the record.”

The university, for its part, is keeping mum. President Marsden did not respond to a request for comment. University spokesperson Cim Nunn doesn’t know if last week’s scheduled meeting between Marsden and those who protested Pipes’s visit took place. The policy of the university, Nunn says, is to allow speakers, whatever their views, so long as the event can be staged safely. When asked if the same would apply to Holocaust denier Paul Fromm, Nunn says, “Decisions would probably be made on a case-by-case basis.” enzom@nowtoronto.com

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *