Daniel Pipes was a busy man in the days following September 11, 2001. The Philadelphia-based foreign policy analyst and commentator on terrorism and Islam first learned that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center when a local television producer called to invite him to the station for an interview. Over the next twelve months, Pipes would appear on 110 television and 450 radio shows. His op-eds graced the pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. The New York Post signed him up as a columnist. The Philadelphia Inquirer described him as “smoking-hot.”
It was not always thus. Pipes, 54, had labored in comparative obscurity during the 1990s, writing a series of books and articles that advanced a hard line on Arab countries from Syria to Saudi Arabia to Iran, and darkly warning that Muslim-Americans posed a threat to the United States. Back then, these were not popular topics on the talk-show circuit. Pipes indeed seemed destined to share the fate of his old friend Steven Emerson, another self-styled terrorism expert, who gained notoriety in the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing for suggesting that it bore a “Middle Eastern trait.” Pipes himself echoed this, telling USA Today that the bombing showed that the West was “under attack” and that fundamentalists “are targeting us.”
The words of a demagogue, or of a prophet ahead of his time? To a growing circle of conservative admirers, Pipes is the latter. The Forward recently named him one of the nation’s fifty most influential American Jews. Last year President Bush overrode objections from Muslim-American groups in appointing Pipes to the US Institute of Peace, a federal agency whose mandate is to promote the “peaceful resolution of international conflicts,” despite the fact that Pipes has long dismissed the very idea of peaceful resolution (“diplomacy rarely ends conflicts,” he had written a year earlier).
But Pipes’s biggest impact has not come from analyzing foreign affairs. It has come from pointing a finger at a purported fifth column lurking in a place conservatives have long suspected of harboring one: academia. Two years ago Pipes launched Campus Watch, an organization whose stated purpose is to expose the analytical failures and political bias of the field of Middle Eastern studies. The group’s first act was to post McCarthy-style “dossiers” on the Internet singling out eight professors critical of American and Israeli policies. When more than a hundred scholars contacted Campus Watch to request that they be added to the list in a gesture of solidarity, Pipes obliged, labeling them “apologists for suicide bombings and militant Islam.”
As the latter phrase suggests, when Pipes criticizes scholars, he doesn’t just take issue with their arguments. He impugns their motives, tossing out labels like “self-hating” and “anti-American,” and lifting quotes out of context to portray his targets as closet sympathizers with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Pipes writes columns titled “Profs Who Hate America.” “Why do American academics so often despise their own country while finding excuses for repressive and dangerous regimes?” he wrote in the lead-up to the Iraq war, which he heartily backed, mocking scholars for failing to see that Saddam Hussein posed an “imminent threat” to America.
In Pipes’s view, universities these days are overrun by extremists who are reflexively hostile to the United States and Israel, blind to the dangers of Islamic terrorism and intolerant of students who dare to veer from the party line. Although Pipes is not wrong that some Middle Eastern scholars underestimated the danger of militant Islam during the 1990s, his portrait of the field as a whole is nothing if not extreme itself. Yet, with the help of Martin Kramer, who edits the journal Pipes founded, Middle East Quarterly, and Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and contributing editor at National Review Online, Pipes has succeeded in popularizing this view.