Daniel Pipes, a controversial Middle East scholar and author, told a crowd at the Modern Languages Building last night that combating radical Islam and empowering moderate Muslims are critical to winning the war on terrorism.
Pipes’s speech, sponsored by the campus group Israel IDEA, focused radical Islam – he called it “Islamism” – as the enemy in fighting terrorism and empowering moderate Muslims to take action against their radical counterparts.
Pipes said only a minority of all Islamic people, about 10 to 15 percent, are radical Muslims, but he stressed that it is this small group that poses a “threat to us all.”
“It is these ten to fifteen percent, I believe, that are the enemy of Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Pipes, who described radical Islam as “terroristic,” “suicidal” and “hegemonic.”
Pipes said the goal in defeating radical Islam must be a “transformation of the enemy” as was the case with Nazi Germany in World War II and the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
“Our goal in the case of the current war is the modernization of Islam,” said Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum, an American think tank studying Middle Eastern political and economic policy.
Pipes, a columnist for the New York Sun and the Jerusalem Post, said that the empowerment of moderate Muslims is the key to overcoming radical Islamism.
Pipes’s views have drawn some criticism.
Gottfried Hagen, director of the University’s Center for Middle East and North African Studies, said Pipes’s interpretations of political Islam and radical Islamism are not shared by the majority of scholars in Middle Eastern Studies in this country.
“Many are concerned about his blurring the distinctions between Islam, political Islam, militant Islam and terrorism,” said Hagen, who described Pipes as having a “narrow understanding” of Middle Eastern studies.
Prior to Pipes’s speech, several protesters outside the Modern Languages Building carried signs bearing messages like “Zionism is Racism” and “Palestinians are People.”
Henry Herskovitz, a member of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends, was among the protesters opposed to Pipes’s visiting campus.
Herskovitz, an Ann Arbor resident, said Pipes’s Zionist views “run contrary to the essence of Judaism.”
Zeeshaan Bhatti, president of the Muslim Students’ Association, described Pipes’ views on Islam as “biased, misinformed and distorted.”
“(Pipes) is not relaying the truth,” said Bhatti, an LSA junior. “He is distorting the truth and using it for his own purposes.”
Bhatti said that just as Pipes has the right to articulate his positions on Islam at public institutions like the University of Michigan, students have the right to “see through (Pipes’s) propaganda” and “know the truth.”
Ari Siegel, president of Israel IDEA, said Pipes’s status as one of the foremost experts on Middle East policy was behind the decision to bring the prize-winning columnist to campus.
There were no disruptions during Pipes’s speech. A Department of Public Safety officer and several of Pipes’s personal bodyguards were positioned throughout the auditorium. Members of Israel IDEA and Susan Wilson, the director of the University’s Office of Student Activities and Leadership, stood outside the auditorium searching bags.
DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said cooperation before the event between organizers, the Office of Student Activities and Leadership and DPS ensured that the event happened without incidents.