Politics & Policy

Speech Down The Pipes

Daniel Pipes gets blackballed.

Ever since September 11, Daniel Pipes has been a leading voice in our public debates over terrorism and the Middle East. Rightly so, given that long before 9/11, Pipes was one of the very few Middle East experts to warn of the danger posed by Islamism. I may not always agree with Pipes, but I often do. Certainly, Pipes’s regular columns in the New York Post, like his thoughtful articles and opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, The New Republic Online, Commentary, and The National Interest have made invaluable contributions to our debates over the war on terror. Yet, in scandalous violation of America’s traditions of free speech and open debate, Daniel Pipes has recently been disinvited from two important speaking engagements at American universities. Increasingly, it looks as though America’s college campuses are blackballing Daniel Pipes.

Last October, Colltown (or College Town), a consortium of approximately 13 colleges and universities in the Baltimore metropolitan area, invited Pipes to participate in a series of panels on globalization and the crisis in the Middle East. After offering its invitation to Pipes, and after issuing a go-ahead to meet Pipes’s speaker fee, the Colltown Executive Board abruptly reversed itself and withdrew its invitation. Why? Daniel Pipes was disinvited because of claims by his academic enemies that he practices “McCarthyism” on his Campus Watch website. I’ll show why the McCarthyism charge is absurd in a moment. First, let’s have a look at the two disinvitations.

Pipes’s correspondent from Colltown (who was obviously — and rightly — uncomfortable with the Colltown Executive Board’s decision) was honest enough to give the following reason for the disinvitation:

…the truth is that recent articles and reports from colleagues claiming that you were extremist and influenced colleges and universities to “blacklist” faculty members revived images of the McCarthy era and feared that, considering the diverse make-up of the panel, might cause unseemly reactions among both the participants and the audience.

So Pipes’s appearance at the Colltown forum was canceled for two reasons: moral objections to Campus Watch, and fears that other panel members, or the audience, might protest Pipes. Of course, fear of “unseemly reactions” is exactly the wrong reason to disinvite a speaker. That gives protesters effective control over which voices can be heard on campus. Why, for example, should Palestinian spokeswoman, Hanan Ashwari, one of the other panelists invited to the forum, have the right to block an appearance by Pipes, just because she might have had an “unseemly reaction” to his presence?

The October 2002 disinvitation from Colltown was followed by a disinvitation in December of 2002 from a student organization at Stanford called the Stanford Israel Alliance. A member of the Stanford Israel Alliance had invited Pipes, either to participate in a debate with controversial Stanford historian Joel Beinin, or to deliver a lecture on campus. Joel Beinin is a noted critic of Israeli and American policies in the Middle East, and has just completed a term as president of the Middle East Studies Association. (I myself have had strong differences with Beinin, as you’ll see in, “The More Things Stay the Same.” And for an excellent recent critique of Beinin, have a look at this entry on Martin Kramer’s Middle East blog, Sandstorm.)

Pipes agreed either to debate Beinin or to give a lecture. The Stanford Israel Alliance decided on a lecture, and asked Pipes to confirm a date. Then, abruptly, the visit was canceled. As with the Baltimore correspondent, Pipes’s Stanford interlocutor was obviously embarrassed and unhappy as he told the truth about why the lecture had been killed:

…there has already been a great deal of controversy over Campus Watch and unfortunately most students would rather defend Joel Beinin than realize that Campus Watch in no way infringes on Freedom of Speech but is simply a resource for Jewish students.

Campus Watch has demonstrably been a resource for students and commentators of all faiths, not simply Jews. That error aside, the message makes it clear that the Pipes appearance at Stanford was canceled by Joel Beinin’s followers — on the claim that Campus Watch was an enemy of free speech! After receiving the cancellation notice, Pipes offered to waive his usual honorarium, but the student board rejected Pipes’s generous offer and reaffirmed its disinvitation.

Ever since Daniel Pipes established the Campus Watch website, he has been accused of McCarthyism. That charge has been rebutted again and again, yet still the charge is leveled. It has become a convenient excuse for silencing Pipes. Yes, the Campus Watch website posts the work of professors who it believes are biased and misleading in their treatments of topics Middle Eastern. But that is a way of starting debate, not stopping it.

In “Balancing the Academy,” I showed that, if anyone, it is actually the post-colonial theorists who dominate contemporary Middle Eastern Studies who “blacklist” their foes. Post-colonial theory is built around a technique that labels academic opponents bigoted “Orientalists.” After naming the names of such supposedly reactionary scholars, and after claiming to expose their work as bigoted, the post-colonialists reward one another with tenured chairs. I think the post-colonialist’s assessment of their foes is wrong. Even so, I don’t doubt their right to speak and write as they do. Nothing Daniel Pipes has done holds a candle to the “blacklisting” technique of his foes. So why should he be silenced, while the post-colonialists remain in control of the academy?

In “Campus Conformity,” a recent op-ed in the New York Post, I showed how one of Pipes’s most prominent critics called Campus Watch “McCarthyite,” yet did so on a website called “Israel Lobby Watch.” So how is it that Campus Watch is condemned as McCarthyite, while Israel Lobby Watch gets a pass?

The only remaining excuse for the rank hypocrisy of Daniel Pipes’s foes is that the Campus Watch website posts complaints by students of professorial bias. This, supposedly, is the heart and soul of Pipes’s McCarthyism. It is true that the posting of student complaints is a less than ideal procedure — a last resort in a discipline that has all but shut out voices of those who support American foreign policy. But the decision to post student complaints ought to be the subject of reasoned debate, not an excuse to silence critics.

In “Students Fight Back,” I offered a detailed defense of the new website, NoIndoctrination.org. NoIndoctrination.org posts complaints about professors who try to force their political views on students. Here is an entire website that does what the most controversial section of Campus Watch does. Yet as I showed in “Students Fight Back,” this site is not violating professors free speech, it is defending the free speech of students. Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education held a public colloquy on the controversy over NoIndoctrination.org. And plenty of the participants in that colloquy defended the site. So if The Chronicle of Higher Education can hold a reasoned public debate over the legitimacy of posting student complaints about professorial bias, why can’t Daniel Pipes answer complaints about Campus Watch during an appearance at Stanford University or at Colltown?

Recently, Harvard University canceled an appearance by poet Tom Paulin, after some truly vicious remarks of his against Jews became known. Then, under criticism for stifling free speech, Harvard relented and reinvited Paulin. I think that was the right thing to do. Of course, no one is owed an invitation to speak at Harvard University. But once having invited Paulin, the best way to react to his scurrilous remarks would have been to peacefully protest his appearance (without shouting him down), and to actively question and criticize him, while inviting his response. Not that Campus Watch is in any way comparable to Paulin’s outrageous remarks. On the contrary, as I’ve said, Campus Watch can’t hold a candle to the hardball tactics of the post-colonialists, much less to Paulin’s incitements. But I certainly don’t see why Tom Paulin is entitled to better treatment than Daniel Pipes.

Daniel Pipes’s critics have a habit of violating the principles of free speech that they claim to uphold. Take Peter Kirstein, of Chicago’s St. Xavier University. Kirstein was one of the professors who protested the supposed suppression of free speech by Campus Watch. In sarcastic solidarity with his colleagues from Middle East studies, Kirstein demanded to be listed by Campus Watch as a supposedly biased radical who worked against American interests.

But when a student from the Air Force Academy sent out an e-mail asking for help in publicizing a student assembly featuring political discussion, Kirstein answered with a deeply vicious letter calling the student a baby killing disgrace to his country, censuring an open discussion of ideas, and demanding that the student resign from the armed services.

Kirstein was rightly lambasted by one and all for his outrageous and hypocritical actions. Yet when he was relieved of his teaching duties by St. Xavier, I protested, arguing that the best remedy for speech that offends, is more speech. If the students at Stanford, or the faculty as the Colltown colleges, have problems with Daniel Pipes, then they ought to debate him, not silence him.

Oddly enough, this is precisely the tack that Campus Watch itself takes. Campus Watch doesn’t post only supportive news pieces about its site, it posts critical pieces as well. And Pipes posts the actual work of the professors he sees as biased, allowing readers to judge that work for themselves. Would that our campuses afforded Pipes the same opportunity to be judged by his own words. So who, we may ask, are the real “McCarthyites?” The folks at Campus Watch, or the people who have egregiously blacklisted one of the most important voices in our national debate over the war on terror?

Stanley Kurtz is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.


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