Daniel Pipes, founder and head of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum (MEF), is an outspoken proponent of militarist U.S. foreign policies in the Middle East who is frequently criticized for espousing anti-Islamic views. A recognized Arabic-language expert and son of the well-known anti-communist crusader Richard Pipes, the younger Pipes frequently lambasts Arab politics, urges militarist policies aimed at overthrowing Mideast regimes, and pushes a hawkish "pro-Israel" agenda.
In April 2013, however, Pipes broke with many of his fellow neoconservatives in declaring that, rather than arming or aiding Syria's opposition forces, the United States should work to ensure a stalemate between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and insurgent forces. Citing both the U.S.-Soviet alliance in World War II and Washington's double-sided intrigue during the destructive Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Pipes wrote: "Evil forces pose less danger to us when they make war on each other. This (1) keeps them focused locally and (2) prevents either one from emerging victorious (and thereby posing a yet-greater danger). Western powers should guide enemies to stalemate by helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong the conflict."
Perhaps anticipating criticism that he was essentially advocating a course of ensuring maximum suffering for the people of Syria, Pipes added that "Westerners must be true to their morals and help bring an end to the warfare against civilians, the millions of innocents gratuitously suffering the horrors of civil war," including by threatening the "use of force against violators on either side" if necessary.
Describing Pipes' proposal as "repugnant," Think Progress blogger Zack Beauchamp poked holes in Pipes' comparison to World War II, in which Pipes wrote that the U.S. alliance with Stalin was justifiable in the fight against Nazi Germany. "As a cursory survey of knowledge of World War II history would admit," Beauchamp wrote, "the Allies ultimately supported the Soviets in an attempt to totally defeat the Nazis. Pipes' favored policy would be more like supporting Stalin until it looked like he was going to win, and then extending Lend-Lease to Hitler so the war would keep going." Beauchamp posited that Pipes' proposal "can perhaps be explained by his background" as an anti-Islamic agitator.
A widely noted 2011 report published by Center for American Progress listed Pipes and MEF as core participants in an informal grouping of organizations in the United States that have championed divisive anti-Islamic—or "Islamophobic"—rhetoric and policies. According to the report, MEF is one of "five key think tanks led by scholars who are primarily responsible for orchestrating the majority of anti-Islam messages polluting our national discourse today."
The report contends that Pipes, who has a doctorate in medieval Islamic history, "has parlayed his prestigious academic credentials to great effect," but has "become increasingly out of touch with the realities of the Muslim world at home and abroad, making more extreme and unfounded observations about Islam in the United States."
In July 2011, Pipes decried efforts by "Leftists" to—in his words—"pin responsibility for the atrocity" committed by Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik on conservative writers like himself. As evidence for his claim, Pipes cited an article published by Eli Clifton of ThinkProgress, a liberal blog of the Center for American Progress (CAP), which provided statistics on the number of times various Islamophobic writers were cited in Breivik's manifesto (Pipes and his MEF came in third, with 18 mentions, just ahead of Middle East Media Research Institute and its 16 mentions). In contrast to Pipes' claims, however, Clifton—who was also a coauthor of CAP's Islamophobia report—did nor argue in the article that Pipes was to blame for Breivik's actions. Rather, Clifton wrote, "While a citation in the manifesto is far from an endorsement of violence by those Breivik referenced, it is increasingly clear that the Islamophobic right-wing in the U.S. influenced his views."
In an "update" to this article published in November 2011, Pipes implied that if leftists could play the blame game with Brievik, it was fair to point to cases were liberals such as Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the book The Israel Lobby, have been cited by alleged Islamic terrorists like Jose Pimentel. After discussing an article by the neoconservative mouthpiece Commentary on Pimentel-Walt/Mearsheimer connection, Pipes concluded disingenuously, "I should be one of those touting Walt's role in the Pimentel case but this prospect leaves me dull and uninspired. I simply lack that Leftist politics-of-personal-destruction spirit." For reasons left unexplained, Pipes did not think that a discussion of the case in his blog amounted to "touting."
In his many publications on Islamic issues and the war on terror, Pipes often espouses extremist views, some of which border on racism. He once said that Muslim immigrants were "brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene." Regarding the reason for invading Iraq, Pipes opined: "WMD was never the basic reason for war. Nor was it the horrid repression in Iraq. Or the danger Saddam posed to his neighbors. ... The campaign in Iraq is about keeping promises to the United States or paying the consequences. ... Keep your promises or you are gone. It's a powerful precedent that U.S. leaders should make the most of."
After a plot to attack Fort Dix, New Jersey was uncovered, the right-wing National Review Online asked Pipes and others what lessons they drew from the events. Pipes responded: "Immigrants seeking refuge in the West must be grilled for their attitudes toward our civilization, our religion, and politics. Whether it be Somali refugees in the United Kingdom, Algerian ones in France, or Balkan ones in the United States (remember the Salt Lake City shooter in February, as well as four of the current six accused terrorists [involved in the Fort Dix plot]), individuals given the privilege and benefits of a new life then with some regularity turn around and attack their adapted fellow citizens. This unacceptable pattern has to be scrutinized to prevent future such atrocities."
In January 2010, Pipes penned an article in the National Review in which he lauded the controversial right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is best known for calling Mohammed a "devil" and demanding that Muslims "tear out half of the Koran if they wish to stay in the Netherlands." Calling Wilders "a charismatic, savvy, principled, and outspoken leader who has rapidly become the most dynamic political force in the Netherlands," Pipes used his article to decry a lawsuit charging Wilders with hate speech and incitement to hatred, saying that he stands "shoulder-to-shoulder [with Wilders] against the lawsuit" and that he "reject[s] the criminalization of political differences."
Observers noted the irony of the fact that Pipes, a hardline Israel-centric ideologue, would unabashedly support a politician who openly considers alliances with anti-Semitic elements in Europe and has been harshly criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for pushing a "message of hate against Islam [that is] inflammatory, divisive and antithetical to American democratic ideals."
"Pipes' endorsement of Wilders brings a new low to his credibility as a serious commentator on Middle East affairs," reported the Inter Press Service, noting that Pipes is not alone among neoconservatives in supporting Wilders. "During his frequent trips to the U.S., Wilders has enjoyed the hospitality of Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, David Horowitz's Freedom Center, Pipes' Middle East Forum, and the Republican Jewish Coalition."
Despite his show of support for Wilders and others of his ilk, Pipes has tried to distinguish himself from the more vitriolic crop of anti-Islamic bloggers in the United States. "This anti-Islamic agitation has been growing over time, and it's much stronger than in 2001," he told Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog in 2010. "Pipes," Boorstein wrote, "says while he shares a concern about radical Islam with today's crop of bloggers, he considers them 'anti-Islam' because in his view they see the faith and it[s] scripture as fundamentally problematic for a pluralistic, democratic society like the United States and unchangeable."
Still, Pipes told Boorstein that he shares "the same enemies" with the latest generation of agitators. "We're in the same trench but we have different views of what the problem is. We both see an attempt to impose Islamic law, sharia, in the West. We are both against it, and want to maintain Western civilization. But [we] understand the nature of the problem differently," he said. This led Boorstein to wonder whether or not this was an "important distinction."
Indeed, in a 2008 MEF press release announcing the launch of a website for the group's "Islamist Watch" project, Pipes warned: "Quietly, lawfully, peacefully, Islamists do their work throughout the West to impose aspects of Islamic law, win special privileges for themselves, shut down criticism of Islam, create Muslim-only zones, and deprive women and non-Muslims of their full civil rights."
Pipes has backed numerous high-profile neoconservative and Likud-aligned initiatives. He supported efforts by the now-defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC) to pressure the George W. Bush administration to join Israel in waging a broad war on terrorism in the Middle East in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He has also been a member of the presidium of the Likud-aligned Jerusalem Summit, a member of the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, and a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that was spun off from the powerful lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
On U.S. Intervention in the Middle East
Pipes' success at promoting both himself and his views was underscored in 2003, when President Bush nominated Pipes to serve on the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). A conservative Boston Globe columnist, commenting on the nomination, opined that if Pipe's "admonitions [on Islamic terrorism] had been heeded, there might never have been a 9/11."
Other observers, however, have argued that following Pipes' advice would have led the country to war with most of the Arab world. In 2000, for example, he co-produced with Ziad Abdelnour and the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon a report calling for the United States to force Syria from Lebanon and to disarm it of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. The document, titled "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role?", argued that "Syrian rule in Lebanon stands in direct opposition to American ideals" and criticized the United States for engaging rather than confronting the regime. Regarding the use of force, the document reasoned: "The Vietnam legacy and the sour memories of dead American Marines in Beirut notwithstanding, ... the United States has entered a new era of undisputed military supremacy with an appreciable drop in human losses on the battlefield. ... This opens the door to a similar decision to act for Lebanon's endangered freedoms and pluralism. But this opportunity may not wait, for as weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities spread, the risks of such action will rapidly grow."
Among the signatories to this MEF report were several future Bush administration figures, including Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Michael Rubin, David Wurmser, and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky. Other signers included Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Ledeen, and Frank Gaffney.
When congressional figures and media pundits expressed outrage over Bush's nomination of Pipes to the USIP, Pipes' friends in the neoconservative community quickly came to his defense. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote that the "attack on Pipes" was nothing but "another symptom of the absurd political correctness surrounding Islamic radicalism." Following strong opposition from Democratic senators, President Bush bypassed the Senate and gave Pipes a recess appointment.
When Pipes' term at USIP ended in 2005, Bush declined to renominate him, which came as little surprise to the many observers who pointed to the incessant criticism Pipes directed at the Bush administration while serving on USIP's board. Wrote Jim Lobe: "Pipes blasted USIP for hosting a conference with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, charging that it employed Muslim 'radicals' on its staff. That accusation was publicly refuted by the USIP itself, which echoed the complaints of his longtime critics, accusing him of relying on 'quotes taken out of context, guilt by association, errors of fact, and innuendo.' Pipes also criticized Bush for 'legitimizing' various 'Islamist' groups, such as CAIR and the Arab-American Institute, by permitting their representatives to take part in White House and other government ceremonies, and for failing to identify 'radical Islam' as 'the enemy' in the war on terror."
In early 2005, Pipes suggested establishing an Anti-Islamist Institute, which he argued was necessary because "in the long term ... the legal activities of Islamists pose as much or even a greater set of challenges than the illegal ones." He also promoted the creation of the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), which according to its website is "a think tank that challenges the dominance of American Muslim life by militant Islamist groups."
The CIP was purportedly created to fight back against the influence of the Wahabi movement—a very conservative strain of Islam—in the United States. It proposes to get rid of the monopoly that the "Wahabi lobby" supposedly has on Washington. This lobby includes, according to CIP, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America, the North American Islamic Trust, the Muslim Students' Association of the United States and Canada, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Some scholars view these as independent, not Wahhabist, organizations. Other organizations targeted by CIP include more secular groups, such as the Arab-American Institute and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. However, some associates of CIP expressed concern when queried about the various groups to be targeted by the new organization. Ali al-Ahmed, who was named as CIP's first director of research, told the Inter Press Service that although he supported the group's goals, he was surprised at the list of organizations to be scrutinized by CIP because several of the "Wahhabi lobby" groups were in fact independent.
Pipes' personal website, DanielPipes.org, often attacks Islamic figures and organizations. It posts his publications, which frequently appear in the pages of rightist outlets like the New York Sun and FrontPageMagazine.com, which is a project of David Horowitz's Freedom Center. DanielPipes.org also hosts Pipes' weblog, where he discusses issues such as the potential for war between Israel and Syria and the potentially unhappy consequences for Israel of Arab demographic growth.
In May 2006, Pipes received the "Guardian of Zion" award, given annually to a prominent supporter of the state of Israel by the Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
Middle East Forum
In the early 1990s, Pipes founded the Middle East Forum (MEF), a think tank that describes itself as "aimed at defining and promoting American interests in the Middle East. ... The Forum holds that the United States has vital interests in the region; in particular, it believes in strong ties with Israel, Turkey, and other democracies as they emerge; works for human rights throughout the region; seeks a stable supply and a low price of oil; and promotes the peaceful settlement of regional and international disputes."
Among MEF's programs is Campus Watch, which tracks university professors who are perceived to be anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian, or pro-Islamist. Seen by many as an affront to academic freedom and an attempt to silence criticism of U.S. policies toward Israel and the Arab world, the program encourages students at colleges and universities to report any teachers who exhibit such behaviors in the classroom. One critic of Campus Watch, Joel Benin, a former professor of Middle East studies at Stanford University, said of the program: "Campus Watch ... compiles dossiers on professors and universities that do not meet its standard of uncritical support for the policies of George Bush and Ariel Sharon. ... The efforts to stifle public debate about U.S. Middle East policy and criticism of Israel are being promoted by a network of neoconservative true believers with strong links to the Israeli hard right. They are enthusiastic supporters of the Bush administration's hands off approach to Ariel Sharon's suppression of the Palestinian uprising. And they are aggressive proponents of a preemptive U.S. strike against Iraq."
A non-exhaustive Right Web investigation of MEF's Form 990 tax records from 2000-2009 shows that the organization's coffers have been replete with funds from foundations identified by CAP as the top funders of the Islamophobia network. During this period, MEF received at least $325,000 from the Russell Berrie Foundation, $240,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, $200,000 from the Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust, and over $2 million from both the Donors Capital Fund and the William Rosenwald Family Fund. All told, Right Web identified at least $8,801,450 raised by MEF in this period, primarily coming from pro-Israel organizations and other right-wing outfits. (See our findings here).