As you'll know, there has been growing controversy about the forthcoming lecture by Daniel Pipes of Campus Watch (http://www.campus-watch.org) at York University. The following email discussion with David Dewitt of YCISS may help clarify some of the issues involved (I'm circulating it with David's permission)
Just a quick note to warn you that the decision of the Centre for International and Security Studies to invite Daniel Pipes to speak is starting to attract considerable attention in the academic community—I've received a couple of emails about it already today.
The issue is certainly not Pipes' views on the Middle East. I personally think that he's wrong about most things, but I would absolutely defend his right to be wrong—after all, free expression is what universities are all about. I think many of his views border on racism too, but even that I can tolerate (although barely, at times).
However, what marks Pipes out from others with similar views on the region are his well-publicized efforts, through Campus Watch, to intimidate scholars and would-be scholars. The Macarthyite tone of Pipe's Campus Watch website is alarming:
"This bias results from two main causes. First, academics seem generally to dislike their own country and think even less of American allies abroad. They portray U.S. policy in an unfriendly light and disparage allies. The closer those allies are (first Israel, followed by Turkey, then at some distance Egypt and Saudi Arabia), the more hostile their analysis. In contrast, they apologize for the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Ba'th regime, and other rogue states. Likewise, the academics downplay the dangers of militant Islam and terrorism. Revealingly, while Americans overwhelmingly supported the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991 and the war on terrorism today, academic specialists just as overwhelmingly rejected the use of force on both occasions.
Second, Middle East studies in the United States has become the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs, who have brought their views with them. Membership in the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the main scholarly association, is now 50 percent of Middle Eastern origin. Though American citizens, many of these scholars actively disassociate themselves from the United States, sometimes even in public..." (http://www.campus-watch.org/about.php)
As you'll know, Campus Watch has been condemned by virtually every relevant professional organization as a threat to academic freedom. (See, for example, the excellent CAUT article on this at http://www.caut.ca/english/bulletin/2002_oct/news/enemies.asp).
It would be a shame if, by this invitation, the Centre's well-deserved reputation for excellence was suddenly obscured by a major controversy over its perceived support for Campus Watch. (I realize that you don't at all support Pipe's activities with Campus Watch, but—passing Concordia University each morning on the train downtown—I'm well aware that perceptions and reactions can take on a life of their own in the current rather poisonous atmosphere related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.)
All the best,
Professor, Department of Political Science
855 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal (Quebec) H3A 2T7
Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet: http://www.prrn.org
PLEASE NOTE UPDATED EMAIL ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much for this.
YCISS is not, in fact, the organization that has invited Pipes to York. We were approached two weeks ago to co-sponsor what we were told was an academic lecture. We were given his website and, knowing his academic work, felt that, like you, most of us while not necessarily supportive of his stance thought it appropriate to have him speak and be challenged.
It was not until this Friday evening that I was made aware of his direct involvement in Campus Watch. This has compelled us to undertake a serious re-examination, but as you will not find surprising, all those who want to condemn without inquiry act first and often don't even bother to ask afterwards. Since that time, faculty, students, and staff at YCISS have been engaged in some serious research and discussion. We are meeting tomorrow to decide whether or not to withdraw our co-sponsorship. Either way, we will put out a brief note of explanation.
I very much appreciate your contacting me and providing some further background that I will share with my colleagues here in order to ensure that the largest amount of information is available when we make our decision.
What I should add, with some real pride, is that my colleagues here -- staff, students, and faculty—have expended considerable time and effort to understand the situation. Ironically, while we've gone to some effort to try to make a reasoned and reasonable decision, we've had to do so in the shadows of some intimidating and threatening gestures from so-called "members" of the university community, both here at York and from other institutions. Ironic how, today, it seems ok for others to engage in silencing behaviour, including the boycotting of institutions and individuals, but enrages those same people when challenged.
Again, it is very good of you to share this with us. I hope that you'll be able to inform others that we really have been and continue to act with the greatest care for academic honesty and concern for the integrity of the University.
David Dewitt, Director
Centre for International and Security Studies
Professor of Political Science
York University, Toronto, Canada M3J 1P3