Pipes the Propagandist
Bush's nominee doesn't belong at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
When I read that Daniel Pipes had been nominated to the board of the United States Institute of Peace (a federally funded body whose members are proposed by the president and confirmed by the Senate), my first reaction was one of bafflement. Why did Pipes want the nomination? After all, USIP, a somewhat mild organization, is devoted to the peaceful resolution of conflict. For Pipes, this notion is a contradiction in terms.
I am not myself a pacifist, and I believe that Islamic nihilism has to be combated with every weapon, intellectual and moral as well as military, which we possess or can acquire. But that is a position shared by a very wide spectrum of people. Pipes, however, uses this consensus to take a position somewhat to the right of Ariel Sharon, concerning a matter (the Israel-Palestine dispute) that actually can be settled by negotiation. And he employs the fears and insecurities created by Islamic extremism to slander or misrepresent those who disagree with him.
This makes him a poor if not useless ally in the wider battle. Let me give two illustrations from personal experience. One of the most frontal challenges from Islamic theocracy came in February 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a sentence of death upon Salman Rushdie. There then followed a long campaign by writers and scholars and diplomats, culminating in September 1998 in a formal repudiation of the fatwa by the Iranian regime. Good cause for celebration, one might think. But not to Pipes, who weighed in with a sour, sophomoric article arguing that nothing whatsoever had changed and that the Iranian authorities were as committed to Rushdie's elimination as ever. His "sources" were a few clips from the Iranian press and a few stray statements from extremists. That was five years ago. Today, Salman Rushdie lives in New York without body guards and travels freely, and there are leading Shiite voices raised in Iran in favor of the coalition's successful demolition of the Iraqi Baath Party. To put it bluntly, I suspect that Pipes is so consumed by dislike that he will not recognize good news from the Islamic world even when it arrives. And this makes him dangerous and unreliable.
Then, I heard recently, Pipes has maintained that professor Edward Said of Columbia University is not really a Palestinian and never lost his family home in Jerusalem in the fighting of 1947-48. I have my own disagreements with Said, but this is a much-discredited libel that undermines the credibility of anybody circulating it. Professor Said is deservedly respected for his long advocacy of mutual recognition between Israelis and Palestinians; yet, once again, Pipes spits and curses at anything short of his own highly emotional agenda. In the February 2003 issue of Commentary magazine, he wrote an attack on the "road map" proposals, which included the words "the so-called Palestinian refugees," and which by other crude tricks of language insinuated that there had been no Palestinian dispossession in the first place. In which case, there is obviously nothing to negotiate about, is there? It's one thing to argue, as many Palestinians are prepared to do, that not every refugee can expect "the right of return." It's quite another to deny history and to assert that there is no refugee problem to begin with.
By coincidence, that same issue of Commentary contained several columns of letters from aggrieved scholars, complaining at the way in which Pipes had misrepresented their work. Pipes himself was forced to concede grudgingly that he had been in error when he described professor John Kelsay of Princeton and professor James Turner Johnson of Rutgers as having denied that the term "jihad" had any military meaning. I admire those who admit their mistakes, especially under the pressure of fact. But Pipes hasn't just been engaged in a dispute in print with other academics. He is the founder of Campus Watch, a Web-site crusade that purports to expose heretical or subversive teachers in America. It's not pleasant to think of such an organization being run by somebody who won't, or who can't, read the published work of more distinguished colleagues.
On more than one occasion, Pipes has called for the extension of Israel's already ruthless policy of collective punishment, arguing that leveling Palestinian villages is justifiable if attacks are launched from among their inhabitants. It seems to me from observing his style that he came to this conclusion with rather more relish than regret. And, invited recently to comment on the wartime internment of the Japanese—as a comparison case to his own call for the profiling and surveillance of Muslim and Arab-Americans—he declined on the grounds that he didn't know enough about the subject. One isn't necessarily obliged to know the history of discrimination as it has been applied to American security policy—unless, that is, one is proposing a new form of it. To be uninformed at that point is to disqualify oneself, as the Senate should disqualify Pipes.
The board of USIP already contains enough people to make sure that the hawkish viewpoint does not go unrepresented. It includes Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense, and Harriet Zimmerman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The objection to Pipes is not, in any case, strictly a political one. It is an objection to a person who confuses scholarship with propaganda and who pursues petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.