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Neocon Man | The Nation

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Neocon Man

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By the mid-1980s, Pipes had settled in Philadelphia and assumed the directorship of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank out of which the Middle East Forum would eventually emerge. While there, he served as editor of the think tank's journal, Orbis, which in 1988 published "The Baghdad Alternative." The article, by Laurie Mylroie, advocated bolstering US ties to Saddam Hussein. There is little doubt Pipes agreed with her thesis; a year earlier, he co-wrote an article with Mylroie in The New Republic, "Back Iraq," that also argued for a US alliance with Saddam--the man whom George H.W. Bush would soon be likening to Hitler--as a counter to Iran.

Click here to read Kristine's McNeil's November, 2002 Nation Online article on Campus Watch.

About the Author

Eyal Press
Eyal Press is a Nation contributing writer and the author of Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict...

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You might think this memory would discourage Pipes from accusing others of failing to recognize Saddam's atrocities. You would be wrong. Amazingly, Pipes and his followers do just that. Academics who opposed the recent war in Iraq "don't look at the repression of Saddam Hussein's Iraq," Pipes stated in a speech last November. Actually, while Pipes was airing arguments in his journal for stronger military ties to Iraq--at a time when Saddam was gassing his own people--scholars were producing books like Iraq Since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship, a 1988 study whose authors expressed "revulsion and horror" at the "barbaric activities" of the dictatorship.

Iraq was not, in fact, one of Pipes's primary concerns during the 1990s. His preoccupations lay closer to home. This was a period when conservatives were searching about for a cause as galvanizing as the cold war had been--and when more and more Muslim immigrants began settling in the West. Might this represent the next great threat? In 1990 Pipes wrote a cover story for National Review, "The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!" in which he argued against the alarmist view. Even so, he did foresee certain problems. "Fears of a Muslim influx have more substance than the worry about jihad," Pipes wrote. "West European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene."

As the 1990s wore on, Pipes seemed increasingly obsessed with the growing threat that Muslim immigrants posed, a peril he portrayed in lurid terms. "Muslims who hate America, and especially Jews therein, are growing in numbers and reach, enjoying the protections afforded by the rule of law and the indulgence of a benevolent, pluralist society," he wrote in a 1999 article in the Forward. "The real and present danger [to Jews] is by no means the pro-Israel Christian Coalition but the rabidly anti-Semitic Muslim Arab Youth Association."

The attacks of September 11 proved one thing: Militant Islam was indeed a threat. But did it confirm Pipes's broader views on terrorism and Islam? Pipes's backers certainly thought so. According to Jerry Sorkin, who for years served on the board of the Middle East Forum, donations poured in to the organization almost immediately after the Twin Towers were struck, not least because its founder could suddenly be spotted everywhere: Crossfire, Nightline, Hardball. During this same period, Sorkin says, the diversity that had once characterized the Middle East Forum's board vanished. "I sat at one board meeting and thought to myself, am I at a ZOA [Zionist Organization of America] meeting?" says Sorkin, whose views on the Arab-Israeli conflict are moderate. Sorkin told me he respects Pipes and always felt welcome at the Middle East Forum. Eventually, however, he decided to move on, and says he was not alone.

In the changed atmosphere, Pipes was able to find a home for a book on Muslim-Americans that he claims had been "unpublishable" beforehand. Militant Islam Reaches America, published in 2002, warns that the Muslim-American population harbors "a substantial body" of people who "sympathize with the goals of the suicide hijackers," people who "despise the United States and ultimately wish to transform it into a Muslim country." More recently, Jim Lobe of the Inter-Press Service obtained the draft of a grant proposal in which Pipes proposed launching an "Islamic Progress Institute," which "can articulate a moderate, modern and pro-American viewpoint" on behalf of Muslims. In other words, the man who has complained that Muslims are abusing America's tolerance and failing to watch their hygienic standards now proposes to be their spokesman.

Muslim fundamentalists are "Nazis," "potential killers" who represent "true dangers" to Jews, Christians, women and gays, he argues. But on the subject of Jewish and Christian fundamentalists, he is far milder. When I asked him whether people like Jerry Falwell, who called 9/11 "God's judgment" on gays, civil libertarians and feminists, were really so different in their attitude toward modernity, he seemed aghast at the very comparison. "I see no signs of that," he said, insisting that Falwell "lives within the framework of a democratic polity and does not believe he has a truth that he and his colleagues hold which he can impose on the rest of us."

Shortly before Pipes launched Campus Watch, Martin Kramer's Ivory Towers on Sand appeared. The academic establishment, argued Kramer in his more scholarly version of the argument Pipes would soon popularize, had been asleep throughout the 1980s and '90s, producing not a single "serious" study on Osama bin Laden while lavishing attention on so-called Muslim moderates.

There is some truth to this. Books like John Esposito's The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, published in 1992, advanced the then-fashionable view that the danger of Islamic terrorism was overblown. "I think a lot of us were slow to appreciate the real depth of radicalism on the Islamic fringe," acknowledges William Quandt, a professor at the University of Virginia and former fellow at the Brookings Institution. Quandt, however, notes that many academics also produced informative, first-rate studies of Islamic politics that Pipes and Kramer ignore. "Is all the contemporary scholarship first-rate? Of course not, but an awful lot of it is pretty darn good."

Dan Brumberg, a Middle East specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees. "I think Dan is right that there was a tendency to read mainstream Islamism as benign and underplay its racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic currents. But this is a very small part of Middle Eastern studies. Over the past ten years there's been a huge literature on autocracy in the region, and none of it glosses over the problems."

It's also worth asking whether the chief danger in America rests in the excessive influence wielded by dissenting Middle Eastern specialists, several of whom received hate mail and death threats after being attacked by Pipes. (Others, including Ian Lustick at Penn, told me they've learned that students were taking their class in order to serve as spies for Campus Watch.) After all, the specialists who accepted and propagated the dubious claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction mostly resided at think tanks, not universities. Indeed, many of the "America- hating" professors singled out by Campus Watch warned that attacking a country with no proven ties to Al Qaeda might undermine US security by fueling enmity throughout the Muslim world.

Pipes himself voiced no such concerns, arguing instead that the United States "cannot pass up a unique chance to remake the world's most politically fevered regime." In this he echoed Fouad Ajami, whose work Pipes cites approvingly and who is on the list of "Recommended Professors" on Campus Watch's website. That Ajami's predictions about the Iraq war--that US soldiers would be warmly welcomed, that America didn't need help from allies, that democracy would blossom afterward--have been proved wrong has not dislodged his name from the list.

Shortly after Baghdad fell, Pipes himself did voice second thoughts, characterized by the same patronizing attitude that has marked much of his work on Arab societies. Iraq needed a "democratically-minded Iraqi strongman," he'd decided by April of 2003, since its people "mentally live in a world of conspiracy theories" and were not quite ready for Western-style self-rule. Pipes conceded to me that there was an element of "wishful thinking" among supporters of the war, "including in myself." He might have been more sober-minded had he listened to some of the arguments being made by members of the profession he once, a long time ago, aspired to join.

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