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Unprecedented disruption greets Mideast scholar Pipes
May 2nd, 2003
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and an expert on militant Islamic terrorism, never encountered at his previous speaking engagements what happened Monday night at Nicolet High School Auditorium in Glendale.
At the beginning of his talk and especially during the question session that followed, protestors in an audience estimated at some 400 people shouted Hitler, racist, KKK, He is insulting every Muslim by his comments and more.
Ive never had this before, Pipes told The Chronicle afterward. This is not what I expected.
Glendale police asked several protestors to leave, including Othman Atta, vice president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. According to news reports, one protestor was arrested.
Pipes refused to speak unless the hecklers left or were removed. Some Jews in the audience shouted back, and most of the audience applauded when noisy protestors left or were escorted out.
There was no violence, but at one point during the question session, Pipes and moderator Michael Waxman, a vice president of the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations, had to wait at least 15 minutes for noise in the hall to diminish. The MJCCR was host, organizer and one of 11 local Jewish organizations sponsoring the event.
The reason for the protests, according to literature the protestors handed out before the event, is that the Bush administration has nominated Pipes to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a non-partisan think tank working to promote peaceful resolutions to international conflicts.
U.S. Arab groups and others allege that Pipes is anti-Islam and racist. A release from Peace Action Wisconsin, one of the protesting organizations at the event, called Pipes the David Duke (Ku Klux Klan) of Middle East Racism. Other protesting groups were the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Muslim Womens Coalition and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Muslim Student Association. According to the MJCCR, several of these groups had sought to cancel Pipes visit.
Moreover, said Waxman, the MJCCR fully expected that there would be individuals present who would raise their voices against Pipes and took steps to provide security and a structured program format. [But] we did not anticipate that there would be a concerted attempt to disrupt the program .
Despite impressive credentials, Pipes message is not without controversy . Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with his scholarship, and few choose to take that route.
Not the religion
During his talk on The War on Terror: Identifying and Understanding Global Threats, Pipes explicitly said that the terrorist threat to the United States today does not come from Islam the religion. It comes from militant Islam or Islamism, which he defined as a terrorist version of Islam and an Islamic-flavored totalitarianism that resembles fascism and communism.
Pipes also said that Islamism is a minority movement in the overall Muslim world, proportionately about ten to 15 percent of the worlds some one billion Muslims. However, its believers are active and have a presence larger than their percentage, he said.
Pipes said the U.S. needs to set a goal of defeating militant Islam as it in the past set goals of defeating fascism and communism. It also needs to work to strengthen moderate Islam because ultimately the struggle is a battle between Muslims over how the Islamic world can meet the challenges it faces, he said.
But the U.S. will only be able to win the war against terror, Pipes said, when it understands that it has an ideological dimension, not just a violent one, and is a war of ideas.
The U.S. is reluctant to handle it this way, he said, but it can be done if it is handled delicately and soberly.
In his conversation with The Chronicle, Pipes said the Bush administration is poised between rival approaches to dealing with the Israel-Arab conflict in the aftermath of the Iraq war. These approaches are represented by President Bushs speech of June 2002, and the road map proposed by the U.S. State Dept. about three months later.
Both these approaches differ in significant ways: In the June speech Bush demanded changes in Palestinian behavior and leadership, while the road map promises a Palestinian state by 2005 without requiring Palestinian changes.
Though unwilling to say much about U.S. policies while his nomination to the Institute of Peace is pending, Pipes said his inclination is that the vision in Bushs June speech will prevail despite pressure against it.
In summarizing the evening, Paula Simon, executive director of the MJCCR, said, It is unfortunate that the actions of a small number of disruptive individuals contributed to a very poor impression of the whole. Equally disturbing is the fact that some of the leadership of the Muslim community actively participated in and encouraged the disruptive behavior.
The incidents reflect the significant gap between the local Jewish community and certain members of the Muslim community in terms of the opportunity for respectful civil discourse and meaningful dialogue.