Campus Profile: Daniel Pipes

BY NAN RUBIN

**This profile is one in a small collection produced for PRA’s report Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses 2007-2011. Figures profiled played significant roles in campus controversies reviewed for that report. In the assessment of our authors, these figures’ campus appearances have done more to inflame existing divisions than to build towards positive alternatives. However, we imply no moral, ideological, or other equivalency. Individual profile authors decided what information was most useful for readers to evaluate their claims, rhetoric, and roles in campus controversies.

Daniel Pipes is an American academic, writer, and political blogger who focuses on criticism of Islam and the threat of Islamism in the United States. Pipes is the founder and president of the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank, which includes Campus Watch, a controversial project that claims to critique poor scholarship concerning the Middle East but which is seen by many to be a vehicle for harassing scholars critical of Israel.

Pipes is considered a very hardline, pro-Israel neoconservative with views that are very hostile to Muslims and which are often characterized as “Islamophobic.” He was listed in “The Dirty Dozen: Who’s Who Among America’s Leading Islamophobes” by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting’s “Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation” (2008).

A graduate of Harvard with a Ph.D. in Medieval Islamic History, Pipes also studied in various parts of the Middle East. He spent two years in Cairo, where he learned Arabic and studied the Quran. In 1986 he became director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a conservative Philadelphia-based think tank that built its reputation promoting anti-Communist policies during the Cold War and later focused on Islamic terrorism. The position moved Pipes out of academia and pointed him towards foreign policy, including involvement with a number of U.S. and Israeli agencies.

MIDDLE EAST FORUM

The primary outlet for Pipes’s political commentary is the think tank Middle East Forum (MEF). Founded in 1990 as a spin-off from the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), MEF “works to define and promote American interests in the Middle East and protect the Constitutional order from Middle Eastern threats.” MEF sees the region “as a major source of problems for the United States. Accordingly, it urges active measures to protect Americans and their allies.” Its activities focus on “fighting radical Islam; working for Palestinian acceptance of Israel; robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia; developing strategies to deal with Iraq and contain Iran; and monitoring the spread of Islamism in Turkey.” It strongly supported the Iraq War and advocates for other military actions in the region, such as bombing Iran. MEF produces a steady stream of articles focusing on internal threats posed by Islam in the United States, such as “Keith Ellison’s Secret Jihad” in its publication Middle East Quarterly and similar outlets. Another program of MEF is Islamist Watch, which “combats the ideas and institutions of nonviolent, radical Islam in the United States” because lawful Islamism is perceived as a threat that “seeks hegemonic control via a worldwide caliphate that applies the Islamic law in full.” A third initiative is The Legal Project, set up “to protect researchers and analysts who work on the topics of terrorism, terrorist funding, and radical Islam from lawsuits designed to silence their exercise of free speech.” The MEF’s Campus Watch defines its mission as “monitoring Middle East Studies on campus.” It specifies that it “mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students.” In 2002, Campus Watch encouraged students to submit reports critical of professors who did not support Israeli policy on Palestine. These reports were compiled into “dossiers” and published on the Campus Watch website, which called for a blacklist of eight scholars and 14 universities singled out in these reports. Needless to say, the dossiers sparked fierce criticism and charges of McCarthy-like intimidation and “attempts to silence and muzzle dissenting voices.” More than 100 academics asked to be added to the list in solidarity with those already named. Although the dossiers were removed within two weeks, Campus Watch remains highly controversial. It continues to collect information about “suspect” faculty and to circulate accusatory assessments of their political leanings.

According to a 2002 article in The Nation, Campus Watch was identified as the successor to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Political Leadership Development Program, created in 1979. American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) program it enlisted 5,000 students on 350 campuses to collect information on so-called pro-Palestinian professors and student organizations. The findings were published in 1984 as “The AIPAC College Guide: Exposing the Anti-Israel Campaign on Campus,” which also instructed students on how best to counter a “steady diet of anti-Israel vituperation.” (The current AIPAC Leadership Development Program no longer includes such activities.)

Daniel Pipes’s own website at www.danielpipes.org is a comprehensive collection of his commentaries, articles, reviews, audio, and blogs. He has a steady schedule of speaking dates on campuses, commentary in the media, and he writes regular columns for such newspapers as The Washington Times, National Review Online, and Jerusalem Post.

PROMINENCE AFTER 9/11 TERRORIST ATTACKS

Pipes became prominent for his extreme pro-Israel, anti-Muslim positions after the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Campus Watch was set up not long after this event, and it attracted enough attention in 2003 that the House of Representatives passed HR 3077, a bill that would have established an advisory board to “‘study, monitor, appraise, and evaluate’ university area studies programs.” The bill did not pass in the Senate, but the attempts to stifle debate on Israel, Palestine, and Islamic terrorism created a chilling atmosphere that remains in place on many campuses. The same year, Pipes was nominated by then-President George W. Bush to a four-year term on the largely ceremonial Board of Directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace. However, the nomination was met with forceful opposition from a broad range of voices that included Democratic senators, American Muslims and Arabs, liberal Jews, and significant members of the academic community. The Bush administration sidestepped the controversy by naming him with a recess appointment.

OPPOSITION TO DOMESTIC ISLAMIC INSTITUTIONS

In keeping with his position that even moderate and legal Muslim institutions constitute a threat to the United States, in 2007-08 Pipes was a vocal critic of the proposed Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, the first public school “dedicated to the study of the Arabic language and culture and open to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.” He spoke out against Debbie Almontaser, an Arab-American woman who was the school’s founder and would-be principal, calling her a “jihadist,” and she was eventually removed and replaced with a Jewish woman who does not speak Arabic.

Similarly, in 2010 he declared that Cordoba House (Park51), the Islamic community center proposed to be built in Lower Manhattan, “carries the unmistakable odor of Islamic triumphalism,” and maintained that the Center should be barred from opening because it “will spread Islamist ideology.”

OBAMA AS A MUSLIM

Pipes has been a central figure in the ongoing accusation that President Obama is a secret Muslim. In December 2007, at the very start of Obama’s campaign to become the Democratic Presidential nominee, Pipes published a piece in David Horowitz’s conservative FrontPage Magazine called “Obama and Islam.” In it he strongly hinted that Obama is a Muslim because he “was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father.”

This premise was expanded in a second article, “Barack Obama’s Muslim Childhood” and has since been picked up by a broad group of anti-Obama activists. Pipes himself continues to promote this position, and as recently as September 2010 he implied that Mr. Obama was, in effect, enforcing aspects of Islamic law in “a precedent that could lead to other forms of compulsory Shariah compliance” because Obama spoke against the public burning of Qurans threatened by a Christian fundamentalist pastor.

LOSING INFLUENCE?

Pipes remains an active campus speaker and popular conservative pundit on cable news programs and other media. However, an August 2010 interview in the Washington Post identified Pipes as a “controversial Islam scholar (who) says he’s now in the middle.” There, Pipes himself stated he has fallen off the radar because of more strident anti-Islam bloggers and activists such as Pamela Geller and Newt Gingrich, and he seems willing to appear slightly less hardline in the company of these newer high-profile Islamophobes by drawing the distinction that “we understand the nature of the problem differently.”