York University professors have withdrawn an invitation to meet with a controversial Middle East scholar who is speaking at the Toronto campus next week.
Daniel Pipes, an author and analyst with the Middle East Forum think-tank, was to have been the guest of honour at a lunch by York's Centre for International and Security Studies next Tuesday, just before speaking with students at a nearby campus restaurant.
The visit by Dr. Pipes, one of the first and most persistent analysts warning of the dangers of Islamic extremists, has become the centre of a dispute between the Jewish Students Federation, which invited him to speak, and university authorities fearful of protests like those at Concordia University last year.
David Dewitt, a political science professor at York, said the centre decided not to have lunch with Dr. Pipes after all because of his affiliation with Campus Watch, a U.S.-based group that acts as a watchdog on professors studying the Middle East.
"There was enough unease around the issue of Campus Watch ... that it was decided it was appropriate for us to withdraw from the event," he said.
He said some faculty felt the group was trying to silence or pressure academics.
"Students are very upset,"said Zach Kaye, spokesman for the Jewish students.
"I mean, if you disagree with him, then you challenge him and ask him to defend his opinions.... You don't shut him up.
"That the centre chose to disinvite him from lunch ... makes the wrong kind of statement."
But Cim Nunn, a spokesman for the university, said yesterday it is instead trying to find a different location on campus for his speech.
"We're trying to find a venue that's more appropriate," he said.
Ed Morgan, the Ontario chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said while Dr. Pipes may be controversial, he is a widely published and qualified expert on the Middle East.
"Daniel Pipes speaks on campuses all across North America," he said. "He's not an extremist; he's not on the fringe.... He may be a political conservative, but he's very much within the mainstream."
Mr. Kaye said the centre's decision may have contributed to the university's unease with hosting Dr. Pipes. York University was at one point considering not allowing him to speak on campus, citing undisclosed "security concerns."
Dr. Pipes said yesterday he was pleased his speech will go ahead, but acknowledged he was surprised that his involvement with Campus Watch posed a problem for some York professors.
"Campus Watch is a public, open organization," he said. "Our belief is that Middle Eastern studies is in bad shape.... and it's our intention to improve it by scrutiny and constructive criticism.
"The idea that this is outside the boundaries is very curious."
Nonetheless, he said he plans to have any interested students and professors to lunch anyway. "My intention is to personally invite them to have lunch with me, either on campus or off."