In contrast to Daniel Pipes' lecture at York University two years ago – which was marked by heavy security and vocal protests by pro-Palestinian students – the American historian's visit to the University of Toronto last week was relatively uneventful.
Pipes was in town to inaugurate the first Canadian student chapter of the Middle East Forum, an offshoot of Pipes' Philadelphia-based think tank of the same name. The U of T group – which has counterparts at Yale University, Brandeis University and the University of Pennsylvania – was started by second-year student Rebecca Waserman, who interned for the think tank last summer.
Before tackling the subject of his talk, "Radical Islam and the War on Terror," Pipes accused 111 faculty members and graduate students of "shoddy scholarship" for what he said were erroneous comments in a letter protesting his appearance on the campus. The letter, titled "Hate has no place on this campus," had been printed in the Varsity, U of T's campus paper, and was also distributed to audience members at the lecture.
Speaking at the University's St. Michael's College, Pipes said the letter is indicative of "exactly the kind of problems for which Campus Watch was founded," referring to his controversial website that monitors and critiques specific professors and universities on their approach to Mideast studies.
In his introduction to Pipes' talk, U of T professor of religion Kenneth Green described him as a "controversial man because he speaks difficult truths, but a man who we have to listen to."
Making terrorism go away is not an achievable goal, Pipes said. Rather, he argued in favour of strengthening moderate Islam and defeating radical Islam.
The latter is supported by "a small but very active percentage of the Muslim population," he said. He estimated the number at 10 to 15 per cent.
Radical Islam, which he likened to fascism and communism, is the problem, he said. "Moderate Islam is the solution."
There are more anti-Islamist Muslims in Toronto than in any other city, Pipes said, citing author Irshad Manji as an example.
"Anti-Islamist Muslims need support, money, audiences, endorsement and protection from the ravages of Islamist threat."
He cautioned against viewing the current situation as having always been the case. Radical Islam may have roots in medieval times, but it is based on "modern ideas that date back to the 1920s."
Since he began his career in 1969, Pipes has "watched something which was politically very minor turn into something huge. It would be a great mistake to take it and assign it permanence."
He said he is confident the civilized world will win the war against terror, although he is not confident it will happen with minimal loss of life.