Theology Thursdays: The Devil And Daniel Pipes by Salim Muwakkil
The Bush administration's war on terrorism has done little so far but increase the ranks of potential terrorists. And while this may seem to be the regrettable result of a bumbling foreign policy, there are signs the administration is deliberately trying to antagonize the Islamic world; there seems to be method to its madness.
After a few bellicose statements about "crusades" early on, Bush's public soundbites have consistently portrayed Islam as a peaceful religion that has been "hijacked" by the forces of terrorism. But his official policies have done little to mark that distinction. The latest White House affront to Muslims is the recess appointment of Daniel Pipes to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The Institute is a quasi-governmental think tank dedicated to international "peace and conflict resolution." It was created to help build bridges between cultures and, since 9/11, one of its most pressing projects has been the Special Initiative on the Muslim World.
Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum, a right-wing think tank based in Philadelphia, a prolific author of anti-Islamic screeds and creator of Campus Watch, a Web site that monitors professors who criticize Israel. He has a long paper trail, and perusal of Pipes' oeuvre reveals two clear positions: He is strongly pro-Israel and avidly anti-Muslim.
His appointment is opposed by a number of Islamic, Christian, Jewish, and interfaith groups, all of which argue that Pipes is better at building barriers than bridges to the Islamic world. A number of editorial boards, including the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post, also have urged the administration to rescind his appointment.
Pipes gained some public infamy in May 1995, when he told USA Today that the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was "just the beginning" of an offensive by Islamic fundamentalists. Many journalists already had learned to be wary of Pipes' biased analysis of issues concerning the Middle East or Islam.
"Pipes has repeatedly demonstrated hostility toward Arabs and toward Islam as a religion," says Mitchell Plitnick, co-director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Voice for Peace, one of several Jewish organizations that have mobilized against him. Of equal concern is that Pipes has often espoused the view that force is the most appropriate solution to the problems in the Middle East and the Muslim world.
It seems odd that the administration would go out of its way to nominate such a belligerent and divisive voice to an organization seeking peaceful solutions. If the Bushites are trying to provoke the Muslim world, however, naming Pipes makes sense.
Such a motive would also explain why the Bush administration initially chose retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner as the first administrator of U.S. operations in Iraq. Garner is president of SY Coleman Technologies, a firm that, among other things, helped develop Israel's Arrow missile system. He is a leading weapons manufacturer who was posing as a man of peace.
Garner also has a cozy relationship with Israel's right wing, particularly the Jewish Institute for Security Affairs (JINSA). He visited Israel in 1998 on a trip sponsored by JINSA. He also signed a JINSA-sponsored statement that praised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for exercising "remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leaders of a Palestinian Authority."
Even if Garner were a competent administrator (he wasn't), his support for Israel's right wing and the widely reviled Sharon should have instantly disqualified him as custodian of an Islamic nation in need of reassurance and reconstruction. Garner proved to be an embarrassment and was quickly replaced by career diplomat L. Paul Bremer. But why did the Bush administration name such a polarizing figure in the first place?
Perhaps it did if for the same reason Bush's Defense Department invited the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, to deliver the 2003 Good Friday homily at the Pentagon. Franklin Graham is one of a number of prominent evangelical preachers and Bush supporters who have embarked on a freewheeling, Islam-bashing spree: He calls Islam a "very evil and wicked religion" bent on "world domination." Many Islamic groups and Muslim employees of the Defense Department frantically urged the Pentagon chaplain's office to disinvite the Islamaphobic clergyman, but to no avail. Graham's invitation was an astringent irritant to Muslim sensibilities, utterly unfathomable - unless it was intended to offend.
The Bush administration seemingly has done all it could to offend Muslims and increase the allure of "jihadists" like Osama bin Laden, who argue that the West is inherently offensive to Islam. The military invasion of Iraq has unleashed forces of religious fervor that also feed jihadist passions. Many young Muslims now will be taught that secular ideologies are unable to protect Islamic lands from crusading imperialists.
The U.S. "victory" provides a ready argument to help recruit young people into groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. This is one component of the "clash of civilizations" long predicted by the neocons now running foreign policy. And right before our eyes, they are transforming that prediction into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983, and an op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He is currently a Crime and Communities Media Fellow of the Open Society Institute, examining the impact of ex-inmates and gang leaders in leadership positions in the black community. Mr. Muwakkil can be reached via E-mail at email@example.com
This article first appeared in In These Times magazine
Thursday, September 11, 2003