Prominent conservative activist and Middle East expert Daniel Pipes took the podium last night in front of an audience of more than 50 people inside the Laboratory Sciences Building with a speech titled “Vanquishing the Islamist Enemy and Helping the Moderate Muslim Ally.”
Pipes’ views on the threat of Islamism—or the view that Islam is not only a religion but also a political ideology—have been met with controversy from people across the political spectrum.
According to sophomore Caleb Posner, the events manager for the Conservative Leadership Association, which hosted the speech, Pipes’ words are always truthful.
“What he says is 100 percent grounded in fact and is the product of incredible scholarship,” Posner said. “However, what he says is often politically incorrect at times.”
Pipes’ address centered on what he believes is the immediate need to confront radical Islam before it significantly impacts Western democracy and the Western way of life.
Pipes quickly made the distinction that not all Muslims are Islamists and that to classify all as such would be erroneous. He later did state, however, that based on his research and surveys, one in every eight Muslims worldwide is an Islamist, equaling about 150 million Islamists.
“It is an enormous mistake to say that all Muslims are terrorists,” Pipes said. “One in eight Muslims seeks application in its totality of Islamic law.”
Pipes frequently compared the scope of danger of radical Islam to that of communism and fascism. Although Islamists have no official state, Islamism has a larger following than communism and fascism and an evolving ideology.
“It is the third great ideological movement of our time,” he said. “They [Islamists] have shown in a way that communism and fascism have been unable to; they have shown an ability to evolve.”
According to Pipes, there are two options for defeating the threat of radical Islam—cooperation or confrontation.
“The problem is that we can’t address their grievances because they seek to change who we are. Confrontation is the inevitable path,” he said. “We have to win using all the methods at our disposal.”
In order to defeat this ideology, Pipes said, the moderate Muslims will have to play an important role by offering alternatives to Islamists and showing that radical Islam is a failed ideology.
“It is Muslims who will provide the solution to this problem eventually,” Pipes said.
Pipes’ visit was funded by the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Leadership Institute at a cost that Posner would not disclose because it was a negotiated price. Part of the contract stipulated that Pipes must be provided with a bodyguard during his stay in St. Louis.
“It would have cost considerably less than Karl Rove, and we did not seek funds from the school,” Posner said.
Not everyone on campus welcomed Pipes’ visit. The Washington University Peace Coalition, Pride Alliance, College Democrats, Amnesty International, Students for a Democratic Society, Safe Zones and the Muslim Students Association all participated in a vigil-style protest outside Lab Sciences during Pipes’ speech.
“I’m protesting because the man speaking is perpetuating a general misconception about Muslims,” freshman Ali Karamustafa, a Muslim and Safe Zones member, said.
With the theme “Stop Hate,” the protests kept a somber tone to show respect for the gravity of the issue, according to junior Becky Hufstader, vice president of the College Democrats and a member of the Peace Coalition.
“He preaches hate and fear as a way of reaching political ends. His major message is about the dangers of Islam and we just feel that that is really inflammatory and necessary,” Hufstader said. “Our goal isn’t to antagonize him so much as to educate the people who may be attending the event.”
Posner, however, said that it is not beneficial, and even hypocritical to their causes, for certain student groups to protest Pipes, because one of Pipes’ main goals is to help the moderate Muslims who are “silenced by the threat of violence.”
“Dr. Pipes at no point decrees all or even most Muslims as radicals or terrorists,” Posner said. “If the Muslim Students Association wished to claim that Islam is a religion of peace and that they are a group of moderate interpretation of their faith, then it would behoove themselves to align themselves with Dr. Pipes.”
In response to Pride Alliance’s participation in the protests, Posner said that Sharia—the legal code that Islamists support—seeks the death penalty for homosexuals.
Junior Audrey King, co-president of Pride Alliance, said that members of the group came out to protest because they have been used as a wedge issue before.
“It’s really important to have a coalition effort with other people who experience the same kind of discrimination,” King said.
Junior Joel Wood, a prior service Marine, attended the speech and said that Pipes is not actually a radical thinker and that he provides a “pretty even-keeled approach.”
“It really echoed what I saw in Iraq,” Wood said. “The few extremists tend to make a bad name for the mass of moderates.”
Before the speech at 9 p.m., Wood and four other students had the opportunity to talk with Pipes over dinner at Ibby’s Bistro in the Danforth University Center.
According to Wood, Pipes said that although his life has never been seriously threatened, he is constantly protected by a bodyguard and places himself in danger to deliver his message.
“[This] points to how serious and how touchy the subject is,” Wood said.
After the speech, there was an open question-and-answer session in which students asked more specific questions or tried to challenge Pipes’ stance.
Pipes was unrelenting in his responses and said the rise of Islamists is an unparalleled phenomenon that needs to be defeated.
“I don’t see this radical Islam as parallel to anything in Christianity, Judaism or any other religion,” he said. “Ultimately, it is a battle of civilization versus barbarism like it was with communism and fascism. Will we be free or will we be slaves?”
—With additional reporting by Michelle Merlin