NINETY-NINE AMERICANS out of 100 have probably never heard of the United States Institute of Peace, but that hasn't stopped a pitched battle from breaking out over President Bush's nomination of Daniel Pipes to the institute's board of directors.
The USIP was created by an act of Congress in 1984 "to promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world." Its bipartisan board reflects a multiplicity of ideologies and opinions, but each director must, by law, "have appropriate practical or academic experience in peace and conflict resolution."
What Pipes offers the institute is a deep knowledge of Islam and the Middle East and the conviction that confronting Islamism -- the radical, fundamentalist, and often violent ideology exemplified by Osama bin Laden and the Ayatollah Khomeini -- is the key to resolving some of the world's worst conflicts.
To hear his critics tell it, Pipes is an "Islamophobe" and an anti-Muslim bigot whose ignorance about Islam is matched only by his hostility toward it. Their smears of him are poisonous. "Daniel Pipes has a problem -- his obsessive hatred of all things Muslim," writes James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute. "Pipes . . . goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning worried about the Muslim under his bed and all things Arab. . . . Pipes is to Muslims what David Duke is to African Americans."
But these are gross and vicious libels, as anyone who reads or listens to Pipes's own words will quickly discover.
He is not one to keep his views to himself. His hundreds of essays on terrorism, Islam, and the Middle East have appeared in scores of publications, from the Atlantic Monthly to The Jerusalem Post to Foreign Affairs. He has written countless book reviews, many of them for the Middle East Quarterly, a journal he founded in 1994. He is the author or editor of 13 books, he lectures nationwide, and he is a frequent guest on news and public-affairs TV shows. In short, he has compiled a vast public record. (Much of which can be inspected at www.danielpipes.org). If he were in fact the hater his foes decry, it would be pretty hard to disguise.
The truth, however, is that far from nursing a "hatred of all things Muslim," Pipes has devoted most of his life to an appreciation and understanding of Islamic culture. He earned two degrees in medieval Islamic history from Harvard, traveled widely in the Muslim world, and lived for three years in Egypt. He even wrote a book on Arabic grammar.
"I fully intended to go into scholarship," Pipes told me the other day, "but in 1978, the year I got my Ph.D., Ayatollah Khomeini appeared on the scene and so did the need for an understanding of Islam in politics. So I responded to that."
Over the ensuing quarter-century, his "response" has comprised a great array of issues. But one theme has predominated: the menace of Islamism. "Militant Islam is the problem," Pipes says. "Moderate Islam is the solution."
He has been forthright in his denunciation of Islamist extremism and relentless in calling attention to the threat posed by the likes of bin Laden and his adherents in the West. If his admonitions had been heeded, there might never have been a 9/11. (Pipes in 1995: "Unnoticed by most Westerners, war has been unilaterally declared on Europe and the United States.") He has been, at times, eerily prescient. Just four months before the attack on the Twin Towers, he and Steven Emerson wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Al-Qaeda was "planning new attacks on the US" and that Iranian operatives "helped arrange advanced . . . training for Al-Qaeda personnel in Lebanon where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings."
But just as there is no contradiction between President Bush's determination to wipe out international terrorism and his frequent expressions of solidarity with American Muslims, neither is there any conflict between Pipes's hard line on militant Islamist radicals and his support for the traditional, moderate Muslims who are generally the radicals' first victims. Indeed, some of those moderates are among his strongest supporters.
"The Pipes nomination has become a test of strength for Islamists who wish to paint the war against terrorism as a war against Islam," Hussain Haqqani, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote recently. "Pipes is not always right in all his arguments. As a Muslim, I disagree with several of his policy prescriptions. But his views are neither racist nor extremist; they fall within the bounds of legitimate scholarly debate."
Tashbih Sayyed, the Muslim editor of Pakistan Today magazine, concurs. Pipes "does not bash Muslims," he stresses. "What he attacks is a fascist interpretation of Islam. Daniel Pipes, to me, is the voice of reason."
The most effective champions of peace are frequently notable for their realism and refusal to succumb to political correctness. Those are precisely the hallmarks of Daniel Pipes's career. The USIP will be enriched by his presence.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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