Dr. Daniel Pipes, a well-known and controversial authority on the Middle East, spoke Tuesday night to a crowd of 150 in the McDowell Formal Lounge.
The event, sponsored by the Kennedy Political Union, came under criticism by several interest groups on and around campus.
Members of KPU had heard rumors of planned protests that were to take place during Pipes's lecture. E-mails circulated attempting to organize the protest stated that, "we will not be outside with signs, we have a plan for something more dramatic and impactful."
Although this was not the first time a protest was planned for an event such as this, careful precautions were taken to ensure the safety of both Pipes and those in attendance. Five Public Safety officers and additional front desk staff were on hand at the event in McDowell.
KPU Director Eric Morley spoke about the debate involved in inviting someone as controversial as Pipes to speak on campus.
"Personally I am glad we are bringing in someone controversial because that element is needed in a University to spark debate," Morley said.
The possibility of violence occurring was a definite concern, however, and many regarded the inability to have an open forum with such a controversial speaker as unfortunate.
Even before Pipes entered the room, there was an element of hostility between those aligned with Pipes' views and those in disagreement.
"There was a serious feeling of tenseness being in the crowd," said freshman Bridget Burke.
As Pipes took the podium at approximately 8:15 p.m., almost a third of the crowd of 150 took out black pieces of cloth and, in unison, wrapped the cloth around their mouths as a sort of "gag." This was apparently meant as a form of symbolic and silent protest of Pipes's ideas.
Ten minutes into the lecture, and again in unison, the protesters stood up, turned and knelt in their chairs to face the crowd behind them.
Ten minutes later, the protesters took out signs that denounced "Campus Watch," an initiative begun by Pipes that monitors and acts as a watchdog against Middle Eastern Studies in North America and attempts to improve them.
Critics of the organization believe that Campus Watch violates students' and teachers' free speech and by nature is a strike at the freedom of individuals.
Sophomore Rand Najjar, a Jordanian, took part in the demonstration.
"I don't have a problem with [Pipes] expressing his views, only with Campus Watch and how it violates peoples' rights through censorship," Najjar said. "It basically stigmatizes liberal views regarding the Middle East."
Pipes commented about Campus Watch, stating that he believed Campus Watch to "add a measure of balance and tolerance briefly and temporarily to places such as universities where biases frequently exist."
Pipes's lecture was anticipated by students and community members. As a major authority in Middle Eastern studies, Pipes' list of credentials includes an undergraduate degree and doctorate in history from Harvard. He has since taught courses at Harvard, the University of Chicago and the U.S. Naval War College.
In the past, Pipes has worked for the State and Defense Departments and currently serves as the director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank that works to further U.S. interests in the Middle East. He is hailed by MSNBC as a "Mideast policy luminary," and the Boston Globe wrote, "If Pipes' admonitions had been heeded, there might never have been a 9/11."
During his lecture, Pipes spoke about the importance of unbiased information when analyzing the Middle East and its people, in particular the confusion that can arise when dealing with what Pipes referred to as "militant Islam." Pipes also focused on the U.S. foreign policy when dealing with the Middle East.
Some complain that Pipes is somewhat stereotypical in how he views the Middle East, its people and Islam. Often taking a more conservative approach to the interpretation of terrorist attacks by militant Islamic groups, he has come under attack numerous times by several critics.
Pipes commented that this was "not the first time the 'gag' protest had been used at one of his lectures." He further commended AU and those in attendance for reacting with "a far more civilized response" than other universities at which he has spoken.
"Many of Pipes' critics often take one of his quotes entirely out of context and end up making him appear to have said something he didn't say," said Zachary Constantino, president of the Committee on the Present Danger, an AU club that looks at national security issues and cosponsored the event.