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US News - Bellowing Over Pipes - Mister Thorne

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On 1 April, President Bush nominated Daniel Pipes to the board of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The Institute was created by Congress in 1984 to promote international peace and the peaceful resolution of conflicts among nations and peoples. Exactly what the Institute does is not clear. "It is a think tank that you hear about only occasionally and even then not much," says a top official at another Washington think tank. He adds, "They don't seem to do that much, and seem, even more than most think tanks, to be a holding place for government people who are between jobs."

Members of the board of USIP are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and there is some controversy surrounding this nomination. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank that says it "works to define and promote American interests in the Middle East." Pipes, who holds a doctorate in history from Harvard, is widely considered an expert on the history and the politics of the Middle East. He has authored nearly a dozen books on the politics of that area.

Pipes a good writer; he knows how to use words the way a good warrior knows how to use weapons. He's also also a columnist for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post, and he usually writes about what he calls militant, or fundamentalist Islam, the sort practiced by Osama bin Laden and his cronies. He distinguishes militant Islam from the religion of Islam. To Pipes, militant Islam is an ideology, not a religion, and it is an ideology akin to Nazism, just another form of fascism.

His columns are not well received by many adherents to, and proponents of, Islam. For instance, on 25 March, Pipes' column in the New York Post, titled Murder in the 101st Airborne, discussed the incredible action of Hasan Karim Akbar, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division. Akbar - an African-American convert to Islam - had attacked his division command in Kuwait with several hand grenades. Pipes wrote that Akbar's action, "fits into a sustained pattern of political violence by American Muslims." In his column from 25 October of last year that discussed the arrest of John Allen Muhammad, one of the Washington, D.C.-area snipers and another African-American convert to Islam, Pipes wrote that Muhammad's actions fit, "into a well-established tradition of American blacks who convert to Islam turning against their country."

Long before the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pipes was writing about the growing threat of militant Islam. He claims the goal of the militants is, "the construction of a totalitarian, theocratic state," not just here in the U.S., but throughout the West. Pipes has repeatedly said that Islamic extremists in the U.S. want to replace the Constitution with the Koran. His evidence for such a bold claim? It comes from a statement attributed to Omar Ahmad, chairman of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that claims it was, "established to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America."

There is controversy about the statement attributed to Ahmad. On 4 July 1998, the San Ramon Valley Herald ran a story about a speech Ahmad gave in Fremont, California, home to a large number of Muslim immigrants. The story quoted Ahmad as telling his audience that they had a responsibility to spread their faith among non-Muslims, to those who are "on the wrong side." The story also quoted him as saying that, "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant."

The statement that Pipes drew particular attention to was this: "The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth." The implication is that CAIR's chairman would like to replace the Constitution with the Koran.

Now, almost five years later, CAIR disputes that Ahmad ever made such a statement. On 29 April, it issued a press release in which Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, says, "Our board chairman did not say the Koran should be the highest authority in America."

Why would CAIR, an opponent of Pipes for many years now, wait so long to douse the very powder that Pipes has used to fire off so many shots against militant Islam?

CAIR strongly opposes Pipes' nomination to USIP. In a letter to President Bush urging that the nomination be withdrawn, Awad wrote that, "Pipes' bigoted views have been instrumental in widening the divide between faiths and cultures." And Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for CAIR, said Pipes' nomination just went to show that the war on terrorism "is really a war on Islam."

"Pipes is the premier Muslim basher," says 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." Pipes is Jewish.

Last year, Pipes started a group called Campus Watch that claims it "reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them." In effect, the group collects complaints against professors and academic institutions biased in favor of Islam and Muslims (much as CAIR collects complaints about those that are biased against Islam and Muslims).

It's not just Muslims and proponents of Islam that don't think highly of Pipes' nomination. Ted Galen Carpenter, a vice president of the Cato Institute, a liberal, foreign-policy think tank, said, "He is perhaps the most extreme hawk that you could find . . . . This is really a barometer of the neo-conservative mood of this administration." Senator Diane Feinstein (Democrat - California) who sits on the committee that will consider Pipes' nomination said the hearings are likely to be contentious.

Many think that Pipes is just a well-educated bigot. On 19 April, the Washington Post ran an editorial about Pipes' nomination and noted that many Muslims felt it was a "cruel joke."

The editorial took Pipes to task for his 25 March column in which he repeated this advice: "There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees 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. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches and temples." The editorial concluded that Pipes has a "disturbing hostility to contemporary Muslims."

Pipes recently commented on the brouhaha regarding his nomination and his views towards Islam: "My view is that militant Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the answer."

Is Pipes the Muslim basher that Hooper claims he is? A careful reading of his columns indicates that Pipes doesn't seem to care one bit whether someone follows Muhammad or Jesus or Siddhartha or Zarathushtra, or whether someone believes in Yahweh or Ahura Mazda or a nameless god or a family of gods. His concern seems to be behavior. He seems to be approving the behavior of those who make life better for themselves, their neighbors, and their children, and disapproving the behavior of those who are making life more miserable for themselves and others. He seems to distinguish between those who are moving forward, or, like the Palestinians, going backwards and blaming their miserable lot on someone else (the U.S. and Israel), rather than taking full responsibility for their own behavior. (Ever seen Palestinians demonstrate against Hamas?)

Perhaps Pipes' writings simply reveal what we all feel: to fight for a noble cause is a good thing; to make others suffer for some stupid, senseless cause is a bad thing. In some sense, Osama bin Laden is just like George Washington: a revolutionary warrior. But George Washington was nothing like bin Laden: a small-minded, selfish man who delights in bringing suffering to innocent people.

One thing's for sure: Pipes is no diplomat, and he suffers an inability, or reluctance, to mince words. (Call a spade a spade, and the Queen of Hearts might just call you a bigot.)

Who knows? Maybe he's a literary version of Madonna: someone who feels that shock and awe is an appropriate way to get attention.