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truth on terror

National | WASHINGTON: Middle East scholar and new Institute for Peace director Daniel Pipes stirs controversy by pointing out terrorism's militant Islamic roots

Issue: "Beyond the nightly news," Oct. 11, 2003

DANIEL PIPES IS NOT A TYPICAL historian. When the 53-year-old Middle East scholar gave a public lecture a year ago at the University of Washington, Professor Edward Alexander drove him to an underground entrance at the auditorium. Armed policemen whisked him to a hiding place backstage. Long lines of audience members inched forward as bag checkers inspected their belongings. Mr. Alexander had never seen such a tight phalanx of security surround a university speaker. Mr. Pipes is beginning to see college campuses that way more often.

Letters protesting that lecture, "The War on Terrorism and Militant Islam," streamed into Mr. Alexander's e-mail inbox within half an hour of sending an inter-office message about the event. Daniel Pipes "is a rabid Muslim hater," wrote one man, representing a local Muslim group. "If he goes any further he will be in the same company as Hitler when he told Mussolini the Jews are like 'TB Bacilli' and must be eradicated."

Criticism of Mr. Pipes has only increased since then. In April, President Bush nominated him to serve on the board of directors of the United States Institute for Peace, a federal think tank whose directors are required by law to "have appropriate practical or academic experience in peace and conflict resolution."

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The Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) launched a campaign to block his appointment. Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) all decried the choice as the worst fit for the organization. The Senate delayed a vote on Mr. Pipes's nomination, forcing President Bush to appoint him during the congressional summer recess. That means Mr. Pipes will only serve until 2005, when a new Congress takes office, rather than a full four-year term.

How does an academic appointed to a somewhat obscure post stir such rancor? Mr. Pipes's flaw, in the eyes of his critics, seems to be his willingness to point out who-and which religion-is behind terrorism. "Pipes enrages many people because he says that our enemy is not 'terror' but radical Islam," Mr. Alexander said, "and that it makes no more sense for Bush to say that we are at war with 'terror' than it would have done for FDR to have said, after Pearl Harbor, that we are at war with 'sneak attacks' instead of saying, as he did, that we are 'now at war with the empire of Japan.'"

Mr. Pipes has advocated racial profiling of Middle Easterners as an unpleasant necessity to root out terrorists. He estimates that 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide are Islamists and therefore potential killers. He's rung warning bells about national Muslim advocacy groups such as CAIR and the American Muslim Council, saying their leaders aim to further radical Islam in America. And while Mr. Pipes doesn't condemn Islam as a whole, he doesn't call it a "religion of peace," either.

On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Mr. Pipes argues that the Oslo Peace Accords 10 years ago and President Bush's road map today are failures. They made the critical mistake of allowing the Palestinians to think Israel was weak when it made concessions. Only unmitigated force from Israel, he says, will convince the Palestinians that they cannot rub out the Jewish state, and only then will they agree to coexist with Israel.

His critics harvest sumptuous fodder from such blunt views. His supporters see them as common-sense deductions, and point to his prediction of a day like 9/11 as proof of his insight. Either way, Mr. Pipes seems to attract only hatred or adoration.

A Harvard-educated historian, Mr. Pipes started down his career path by studying medieval Islamic history. He began traveling alone in Northern Africa when he was 18, and after college spent three years in Egypt while pursuing his doctoral studies and becoming fluent in Arabic. What fascinated him was the influence Islam had on the politics and life of the region. "Working on the subject some 35 years ago, it was obscure," he said.

At about the same time, Mr. Pipes was cementing the beliefs he grew up with in a politically conservative home. His college days at Harvard came during the height of the cultural revolution of the late '60s and early '70s. His father, Richard Pipes, was a Harvard professor who specialized in the Soviet Union and went on to spearhead the Reagan policy in the 1980s of chucking appeasement and confronting the Cold War arch enemy instead. His son Daniel watched campus anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and lost friends because of his opinions. Those were character-sculpting times.

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