April 7, 2003
PROPHET OR RACIST?
Islam watcher Daniel Pipes
___By Mark O'Keefe
___Religion News Service
___PHILADELPHIA (RNS)-- He has been called an Islamophobe, an attack dog for the New Inquisition and a voice the Western world ignores at its peril. Author Daniel Pipes has become a lightning rod in America's struggle to contend with the post-Sept. 11 world.
___Years before Sept. 11, 2001, Pipes warned that radical Muslims had declared war on the United States. He identified the threat as Islamism, an ideology working to submit secular society to Muslim laws and principles.
___Then and now, his many critics charged that Pipes fuels anti-Muslim bigotry. After th
e Sept. 11 attacks, the fears were heightened. Pipes, they worried, would have a more visible platform.
___Pipes himself was emboldened. "I have a lot to say," he declared. "This is my moment."
___Pipes, 53, regards his views as a smart alternative to two extremes--attacking Islam as an evil cult or promoting it as the religion of peace.
___"I don't talk about the religion itself," he said during an interview in the Philadelphia office of the Middle East Forum, a think tank he founded. "That's because Islam is not the problem. Terrorism is not the problem. It's a terroristic version of Islam that's the problem.
___"I'm carving out a position between the two most popular ones, and it's not popular. But it will prevail."
___Pipes cuts a striking presence at 6-foot-4, with piercing dark eyes. He has become a regular guest on the cable news networks. Major newspapers treat him seriously and have reviewed his latest book, "Militant Islam Reaches America." The New York Post and Jerusalem Post print his weekly columns. Those who miss any of it can find it cataloged on Pipes' website.
___All this exposure troubles his critics, led by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
___"Pipes is the premier Muslim basher," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. "I hate to use that term, but for him it really fits. It's basically his job to smear an entire community and to create fear, apprehension and suspicion toward a religious minority in the United States for his own political, and apparently religious, agenda."
___But even among Muslim leaders, Pipes has admirers who thank him for exposing a threat that some, even now, are reluctant to face.
___"He does not bash Muslims," said Tashbih Sayyed, editor and publisher of Pakistan Today, based in Fontana, Calif. "What he attacks is a fascist interpretation of Islam.
___"Daniel Pipes, to me, is the voice of reason. Only time will tell--and God forbid that time tells--what will happen if we ignore a voice like Daniel Pipes'."
___In 1990, Pipes formed the non-profit Middle East Forum, which, according to its Internal Revenue Service income statement for 2001, took in $2.6 million while publishing the 96-page Middle East Quarterly, among other activities.
___The Quarterly has a pro-America tone and tries to publish authors not heard in other journals, particularly when they advocate strong ties with Israel and Turkey, the region's two democracies. The publication, like Pipes, is hawkish on the war with Iraq.
___Pipes' specialty has its roots in a summer trip. At 18, volunteering in the African nation of Niger, he was captivated by the desert. The next year he traveled to deserts of the Middle East, where his curiosity about the Islamic world, so different from the West, began to grow. This eventually led him to study Arabic, then Islamic history, the focus of his doctorate.
___During three years in Cairo, some of it spent living with a Muslim family, Pipes made lasting observations of Islamic culture, politics and society. He was unsure where it would lead him, especially since in the West, no one else seemed to notice, or care, about Islam.
___Then, in 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran, powered by an Islamic revolution that denounced the West, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took hostages.
___"There was this new question that suddenly arose, and it was my issue," Pipes said. "That was the turning point of my career."
___He argues that the events in Iran also marked a milestone in modern-day Islamism.
___"An Islamist is someone who says whatever the problem, Islam is the solution," Pipes said. "In America, it would be someone who wants to replace the Constitution with the Koran. Islamism is a radical, utopian movement that has much in common with fascism and Marxism-Leninism."
___Pipes estimates 10 percent to 15 percent of the 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide are Islamists. He says the same percentage applies to Muslims in the United States, whose overall numbers are hotly disputed.
___Critics challenge both his methods and his terminology.
___"In his simple analysis," wrote editors of the Minaret, a Los Angeles-based magazine, "Muslims who are actively involved in public life while trying to shape their lives according to their beliefs are not the followers of Islam. Rather, they are Islamists."
___Hooper and others often speculate that Pipes is motivated by his faith.
___Friends say Pipes is Jewish, but it's a subject Pipes won't discuss.
___"I don't deny it. If you look at my associations, yes. But there are all sorts of things about my private life I don't talk about, such as my three children. It's my prerogative to put a fence around these things."
___CAIR devotes an expanding page of its website to quotes from Pipes' critics, who characterize him as an agenda-driven polemicist. CAIR also posts contentious comments from Pipes, including a call for religious profiling of Muslim government employees because of potential "connections to terrorism." In another he worries that "the presence and increased stature and affluence and enfranchisement of American Muslims" under Islamist leadership will "present true dangers to American Jews." In another he questions whether Western societies are ready to accept Islamic immigrants because "Muslim customs are more troublesome than most."
___Pipes says the CAIR attacks have "poisoned my name."
___On his own website, he offers point-by-point rebuttals, arguing that CAIR twists his comments out of context. He adds, for emphasis, that "CAIR represents not the great civilization of Islam but a radical utopian movement originating in the Middle East that seeks to impose its ways" on the United States.
___Undaunted, Pipes continues to write. He works more than 70 hours a week, composing columns, lengthy articles and parts of books sometimes years before they're ripe for dissemination.
___Meanwhile, he's on the lecture circuit, giving 143 speeches in 2002 alone. Many of his appearances are in college towns where Muslim student groups stage protests, CAIR's accusations in hand.
___Yet no matter what his critics say, few would deny Pipes a major "I-told-you-so" in his warnings on terrorism.
___In 1997, four years after the first attack on the World Trade Center, Pipes interviewed like-minded author Steven Emerson. The title of the resulting piece in Middle East Quarterly: "Get Ready for Twenty World Trade Center Bombings."
___In 1998, Pipes wrote in the Wall Street Journal Europe that "a state of war exists between them (militant Muslims) and the West, mainly America, ... because radical fundamentalist Muslims see themselves in a long-term conflict with Western values."
___Prescient analysis? Maybe so.
___But Omar Dajani, an Orlando, Fla., software engineer, fears that "Pipes and people like him" will create a climate in which discrimination against Muslims becomes routine. If there's another terrorist attack in this country, Dajani sees himself, his wife and his 15-month-old son in an internment camp similar to those that Japanese-Americans endured during World War II.
___"Daniel Pipes will be leading the way, saying we don't like to do this, but we have no choice, we have to be suspicious of every Muslim in this country," Dajani said.
___Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, based in New York City, has a different fear. It's that the country won't wake up until it's too late.
___"I don't want to go overboard with this," said Klein, a friend of Pipes, "but in the 1930s there were only a few people, like Winston Churchill, speaking about the truth of the barbaric German regime and how making peace with them was not possible.
___"In a non-political way, Pipes is one of the few voices telling the story of Islamic extremism. This is the wrong time to let political correctness stifle and silence a voice of truth. Dan Pipes has been so right for so long that we need to listen to him."
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