About 25 students met with representatives of the Wisconsin Union's lecture committees Monday afternoon demanding the cancellation of an April 29 lecture by Daniel Pipes, a prolific commentator on the Middle East whom many in attendance called a racist xenophobe and discredited academic.
Pipes is a New York Post columnist and director of a Middle East think-tank who warned against the threat of Islamic radicalism long before Sept. 11. He has said that Muslim government employees in law enforcement and the military should be monitored for terrorist connections and that "mosques require scrutiny beyond that applied to churches and temples."
Last year Pipes founded Campus Watch, an organization devoted to exposing college teachers, events and organizations that justify terrorism, denigrate Israel or support radical Islam.
At Monday's occasionally heated meeting, several speakers said Pipes' work is unsound and his appearance at UW-Madison would discredit the university and insult the Muslim and Arab communities.
"How is the normal American on the street being benefited by coming in and listening to this, excuse me, xenophobic bullshit," UW-Madison graduate student Mohammed Abed said.
The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the Muslim Students Association, the Multicultural Student Center, Stop the War! and Kavanah, a progressive Jewish organization, all oppose Pipes' lecture, Abed said.
"We're certainly not here to defend Daniel Pipes," Susan Dibbel, assistant director of social education for the Wisconsin Union, said at the meeting. "We will not, however, cancel his speaking engagement."
Instead, Dibbel said the committee is seeking student input for ways to create a balanced dialogue surrounding Pipes' appearance. John Blomberg, director of the Spotlight Committee, said he would invite Pipes to debate Masser Abuf, a Palestinian Ph.D. student at UW-Madison who was recommended by speakers at the meeting.
Many at the meeting said Pipes has a history of walking out on debates and doubted he would agree to the proposal.
Blomberg said the details of Pipes' lecture will be worked out before the end of the week.
"I thought the students who were there in opposition to Mr. Pipes' lecture had extremely valid points which we are taking to heart right now, and we are reviewing how this lecture can be modified to better ensure that both sides of this debate get heard," Blomberg said.
David Morgan, chair of UW-Madison's Middle East Studies program, called Pipes a polemicist but knowledgeable in Middle Eastern affairs. He also supported Pipes' right to express his point of view on college campuses.
"I'm sure he'll be interesting," Morgan said of Pipes' lecture. "He's not an idiot, and he is probably well aware that Madison, Wisconsin is not the sort of place where he's likely to get a particularly friendly reception, so it's quite brave of him to come."