James Zogby’s Column
Arab Americans and American Muslims won a small but important moral victory in the battle against bigotry last week. A U.S. Senate committee declined to vote on the confirmation of a controversial anti-Muslim polemicist who has been appointed by the Bush Administration to serve on the Board of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).
The USIP is a Washington based think tank created by an act of Congress in 1984 to “promote the prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of international conflicts.”
Members of the USIP board and its visiting scholars share the Institute’s goals and promote its objectives. Over the years the Institute has hosted a number of distinguished Americans and international scholars who have produced forums and studies dedicated to seeking the peaceful resolution of conflicts and promoting reconciliation among embattled peoples.
The current board nominee in question, Daniel Pipes, has on the other hand, pursued a career devoted largely to defaming Arabs and Muslims, inciting against them and promoting conflict between the West and the Muslim world.
His extensive body of writings, for example, displays a near perverse obsession with all things Arab and Muslim. In a long piece entitled, “The Muslims are coming! The Muslims Are Coming!” written over a decade ago, Pipes warns about the dangers of an influx of Muslim immigrants to the West. He notes:
“All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most….Fears of a Muslim influx have more substance than the worry about jihad. West European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene. Muslim immigrants bring with them a chauvinism that augurs badly for their integration into the mainstream of the European societies.”
More recently he has been criticized for an article he co-authored on Muslim immigrants in Denmark in which he is accused of characterizing them as ” being parasites on the society, being disproportionately engaged in criminal behavior, having ‘unacceptable customs,’ seeking to take over the country and being rapists.”
But this is not all. Pipes further warns that Muslim converts are a serious problem and in a June 2000 article he appears to approvingly quote a Ku Klux Klan leader who in 1959 outrageously observed that “if we fail to stop the Muslims now, the sixteen million niggers of America will soon be Muslims, and you will never be able to stop them.”
As a result of his contempt for the culture of Muslims and his obsessive fear of their attitudes, it is no surprise that Pipes warns government agencies to beware of Muslims. Just this year he wrote:
“There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military, and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches, synagogues and temples.”
And this is only a taste of the substantial body of work produced by Pipes all of which points to a career based on incitement and contempt for Arabs and Muslims.
In any case, when it was announced that the vote on Pipes’ nomination was to take place last week, Arab Americans and American Muslim organizations lobbied Congress hard against confirmation. At first, we were told that it would be impossible to block the effort. While some Democrats would oppose Pipes, it was said that Republicans had enough votes to push through the nomination. The situation became even more dire when it became known that AIPAC (the pro-Israel lobby) had, at the last minute, entered the fray and was pressing hard for confirmation.
However, after reviewing Pipes’critiques, some Democratic and Republican Senators became so troubled that they felt compelled to publicly express their outrage and concern. At the committee meeting that was scheduled for the vote, Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat of Massachusetts) led the charge. He noted that the statements and writings of Dr. Daniel Pipes were the opposite of the principles of the USIP. And after quoting from some of Pipes’ more outrageous writings, Kennedy concluded:
“The views of this nominee are longstanding, well known – and decidedly one-sided. And they are not the words of one committed to bridging differences and bringing peace. There is a deep and rich reservoir of distinguished Americans with experience in bringing peoples together and ending conflict. Surely we can find someone better to serve on the Board of the United States Institute of Peace. I urge my colleagues to oppose this nomination.”
Kennedy was joined by Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut who added the, “purpose of the USIP is to seek solutions to conflict without recourse to violence. Mr. Pipes writes that ‘diplomacy rarely ends conflicts’.” Due to Pipes’ views, Senator Dodd continued, “Mr. Pipes will not be able to direct colleagues in the mission of the USIP.”
Then came Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat of Iowa), one of the principal founders of the USIP, who spoke passionately about the need to respect diversity. In the report on Harkin’s comments issued by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Harkin is quoted as saying, “some people call [Pipes] a scholar…but this is not the kind of person you want on the USIP.” Senator Harkin added, “My state has the very first Mosque ever built in the United States… in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Muslims are a vibrant part of our diverse community.”
Citing Mr. Pipes’ quote: “[‘The] increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims…will present true dangers to American Jews.'” Appearing exasperated, Senator Harkin said,
“Enfranchisement? Mr. Pipes is talking about voting!…Mr. Pipes’ fears of Muslim enfranchisement fall on deaf ears when it comes to this Senator…if Mr. Pipes’ views on Muslims were true, than what we would have in Iowa would be exactly the opposite of what we have today…American Muslims who are lawyers, union members, doctors…Muslims who are thoroughly Americanized.”
Senator Harkin concluded, “When [Pipes] talks about Muslims being funny looking, maintaining different standards of hygiene…I don’t know why we are even considering this person, Mr. Chairman.”
As other Senators joined in opposition it became clear that the nomination of Pipes was not assured. After senior Republican Senators left the committee room, it became clear that if one more Senator left the room, there would be no quorum to vote. Senator Kennedy then left the room denying the committee a quorum and effectively postponing the vote.
Having successfully delayed action on the confirmation, Arab Americans have turned their attention to the White House, appealing to the President to withdraw Pipes’ name from consideration noting that his views were counter to the President’s own efforts to promote respect for Islam and for the Arab American and American Muslim communities.
The White House may decide to press forward with the case for Pipes or even wait until the Senate goes into recess and then give the controversial nominee what is known as a “recess appointment” putting him on the Institute’s Board against the wishes of the Senate.
That, however, would be viewed as a deep and hurtful insult to the USIP, the Senate and the Arab American and American Muslim communities.
Dr. James J. Zogby is President of Arab American Institute in Washington, DC and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).