Daniel Pipes, the founder of the Middle East Forum and an anti-Islamist activist, is working to organize a new policy institute, which will be called the Anti-Islamist Institute (AII). According to Pipes, “In the long term … the legal activities of Islamists pose as much or even a greater set of challenges than the illegal ones.” His new institute will expose legal “political activities” of “Islamists,” such as “prohibiting families from sending pork or pork by-products to U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq,” according to the draft of a grant proposal by Pipes’ Middle East Forum (MEF).
Pipes is also working with Stephen Schwartz on a new “Center for Islamic Pluralism” (CIP) whose aims are to “promote moderate Islam in the U.S. and globally” and “to oppose the influence of militant Islam, and, in particular, the Saudi-funded Wahhabi sect of Islam, among American Muslims, in the America media, in American education … and with U.S. governmental bodies…”
Schwartz, a former Trotskyite militant who became a Sufi Muslim in 1997, has received seed money from MEF, which is also accepting contributions on CIP’s behalf until the government gives it tax-exempt legal status.
The CIP proposal, which says it expects to receive funding from contributors in the “American Shia community” and in “Sunni mosques once liberated from Wahhabi influence,” also boasts “strong links” with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other notable neoconservatives, such as former Central Intelligence (CIA) director James Woolsey and the vice president for foreign policy programming at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Danielle Pletka, as well as with Pipes himself.
Pipes, who created MEF in Philadelphia in 1994, has long campaigned against “radical” Islamists in the United States , especially the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and several other national Islamic groups.
Long before the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, he also raised alarms about the immigration of foreign Muslims, suggesting that they constituted a serious threat to the political clout of U.S. Jews, as well as a potential “fifth column” for radical Islamists.
In addition, Pipes has been a fierce opponent of Palestinian nationalism. He told Australian television earlier this month, for example, that the Israeli Prime Minister’s Gaza disengagement plan and his agreement to negotiate with the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, were a “mistake” because 80% of the Palestinian population, including Abbas, still favor Israel ‘s destruction.
In 2002, Pipes launched Campus Watch, a group dedicated to monitoring and exposing alleged anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and Islamist bias in teachers of Middle Eastern studies at U.S. colleges and universities. The group, which invites students to report on offending professors, has been assailed as a McCarthyite tactic to stifle open discussion of Middle East issues.
Pipes’ nomination by Bush in 2003 to serve as a director on the board of the quasi-governmental U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP), a government-funded think tank set up in 1984 to “promote the prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of international conflicts,” moved the controversy over his work from academia into the U.S. Senate, where such appointments are virtually always approved without controversy.
Pipes’ nomination, however, offered a striking exception. Backed by major Muslim, Arab-American, and several academic groups, Democratic senators–led by Edward Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, and Tom Harkin–strongly opposed the nomination as inappropriate, particularly in light of some of his past writings. Pipes has asserted that Muslim immigrants were “brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.”
Several Republican senators subsequently warned Bush that they would oppose the nomination if it came to a vote, and, in the end, the president made a “recess appointment” that gave him a limited term lasting only until the end of 2004. It appears now that, despite the enhanced Republican majority in the Senate, Bush does not intend to re-nominate him.
Indeed, both the USIP and Bush now probably regret having nominated him in the first place. During his board tenure, 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 long-time 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.
His own disillusionment with Bush is made clear in the AII draft, which notes that “creative thinking in this war of ideas must be initiated outside the government, for the latter, due to the demands of political correctness, is not in a position to say what needs to be said.”
AII’s goal, it goes on, “is the delegitimation of the Islamists. We seek to have them shunned by the government, the media, the churches, the academy, and the corporate world.”
Pipes’ complementary goal–to enhance the influence of “moderate” Muslims–is to guide the work of Schwartz’s CIP, which is to be “headed by one born Muslim (its President) and a ‘new Muslim,’ i.e. an American not born in the faith, as its Executive Director. This is the best combination for leading such an effort.”
The “extremists,” according to the CIP proposal, are mainly represented by the “Wahhabi lobby,” an array of organizations consisting of CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the Muslim Students’ Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), as well as “secular” groups, including the Arab-American Institute (AAI) and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).
“The first goal of CIP will be the removal of CAIR and ISNA from monopoly status in representing Muslims to the American public,” the proposal goes on. ”… (S)o long as they retain a major foothold at the highest political level, no progress can be made for moderate American Islam.”
In achieving its goal, CIP cites the help it can expect from its “strong links” to Wolfowitz, Woolsey, and Pletka; as well as Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Jon Kyl, among others; “terrorism experts” Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project, Paul Marshall of Freedom House, and Glen Howard of the Jamestown Foundation; and journalists such as Fox News anchors David Asman, Brit Hume, and Greta van Susteren, Dale Hurd of the Christian Broadcasting Network; and editors at the New York Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Toronto Globe and Mail .
Interviewed by phone, Prof. Kemal Silay, “president-designate” of the CIP who teaches Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies at the Indiana University, said he was not aware that he was to be group’s president, but that he had talked about the group with Schwartz and agrees with both Pipes and Schwartz about the dangers posed by “Wahhabi” groups in the U.S. and the world.
Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Saudi Institute and named as CIP’s research director in the grant proposal, said he had also talked with Schwartz about the group and strongly supported its goals, although he thought several of the groups listed as part of the “Wahhabi” lobby were more independent. But he also said that he did not know that Pipes was involved with the group.
“[Pipes] sees all Arabs and Muslims the same, because he has interest in the security of the state of Israel,” said al-Ahmed, who publicizes human rights abuses committed in Saudi Arabia .
Jim Lobe is a regular contributor to the Right Web program of the International Relations Center (IRC), www.irc-online.org. He is the Washington correspondent for Inter Press Service.