Volume 96, Issue 86
Thursday, March 13, 2003

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Scholar seeks better dialogue on Middle East

By Mark Behar
Gazette Staff

Daniel Pipes is the controversial director of the Middle East Forum and a columnist for The New York Post and The Jerusalem Post. He has served on the American Departments of State and Defense. He visited Western on Monday.

On your Web site you criticize organizations like the Council for American-Islamic Relations for trying to silence criticism of historical Islam and other ideas that they find objectionable. Isn't this silencing of dissent in effect what you are doing with CampusWatch.org [a Web site that lists professors of Middle East studies who allegedly project anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments]?

We're not trying to silence dissent. As you can see, if you look at the home page, we are reviewing and critiquing Middle East studies. We want to critique the specialists so that they will improve their work. We also want to help students who feel oppressed by instructors ramming politics down their throats and offer them a place to turn. And thirdly, we are learning in the society at large – stakeholders at the universities, alumni, administration, parents of students, state and provincial legislators who all give money to these schools – that there is a problem in Middle East studies and there is much that they should be made aware of. Nobody's freedom of speech is being denied, but a healthy debate is developing.

You've said you want to point to radicalized dialogue in the institutions - but what's the difference between radicalized dialogue and legitimate criticism of Israel?

There are a host of issues. Israel is one of them to be sure, but it is not about Israel. It's about the state of Middle East studies, where you have a far left interpretation that is prevalent – not universal, but very prevalent – where the doors are closed to those who don't subscribe to that viewpoint. My exhibit "A" is Columbia University, where one radical brings in another radical. Thus, you have a discourse on the Middle East at Columbia that is wildly outside of the mainstream of what people are talking about – sponsored by the university, paid for by the university – and I'm saying that's not healthy. For example, I think there's a lively debate about Iraq and what to do, but there are a few common presumptions. The issue of Saddam Hussein in mainstream discourse is what do you do about him? The issue is nuclear weapons – does he have them? Is he about to get them? But if you go to [Columbia] you'll find that the presumption is that the problem is George Bush and the issue is oil. It's just wildly out of sync with what the mainstream is discussing and that's not healthy because we need the informed analysis of specialists and we're not getting it.

In your newest book you state that the United States should not engage in official or public dialogue with Islamists in power. This appears to be what Ariel Sharon's government is doing with the Palestinians right now – effectively closing off all avenues to peace negotiations. Does there have to be a change in the Middle Eastern outlook before Israel can negotiate?

I talked about United States policy toward Islamists, you're talking about Israeli policy toward Palestinians. They're different issues. I'm not an advisor to the Israeli government, and the Palestinians are not primarily Islamists so keep the issues apart.

What is behind your reasoning that militant Islam doesn't correlate well with economic stress or hardship, as is often argued?

There's no evidence to show that there's a connection between an individual's personal circumstances and his attraction to militant Islam. It tends to be the countries that are doing relatively well economically that are more prone towards militant Islam.


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