Campus political groups from across the spectrum are already gearing up for what is expected to be a charged debate at next Wednesday’s address by Daniel Pipes, a controversial commentator on the Middle East.
Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, a conservative pro-Israel think-tank, is scheduled to address the Yale Political Union’s first meeting of the semester, YPU President Jennifer Rost ’06 said. The topic of his debate will be “Resolved: The Arab-Israeli conflict will only end when one side is defeated.” Rost said Pipes will likely be arguing in favor of a victory by the Israeli military. His last speech at Yale in 2003 attracted protesters who opposed what they characterized as his attempts to stifle criticism of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
“The purpose of the YPU is to meet on controversial issues,” Rost said. “We felt he would spark strong debate, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Eliana Johnson ’06, president of the Yale chapter of Pipes’ Middle East Forum, said Pipes advocates close ties between America and Israel and the spread of democracy in the Middle East. But Pipes has also faced accusations of anti-Muslim bias.
“Daniel Pipes regularly reverts to blatantly racist arguments or positions against Muslims and Arabs and Palestinians,” Arab Students’ Association co-President Diala Shamas ’06 said.
Rost said she hopes students, instead of protesting or boycotting the speech, participate in the debate, which will be structured so that equal response time is given to those who support Pipes and those who disagree with his views.
“We’re not bringing him to campus as a speaker whose views we’re endorsing,” she said. “We’re trying to get people involved in the actual discourse. The best way to change people’s minds isn’t just to wave signs and protest but to actually listen to what people are saying and respond to the points they’ve made.”
Shamas said the ASA is not planning to protest Pipes’ speech but will instead challenge him through the question and answer session, asking him in particular about what Shamas called his attempts to silence professors and academics who criticize the United States’ Middle East policy.
Pipes was invited to speak at the YPU by James Kirchick ’06, who said Pipes is a provocative speaker who has been perceptive with regard to issues facing Islam and the Middle East. Kirchick, an occasional columnist for the Yale Daily News, said Pipes has been calling attention to the dangers of militant Islam since before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Daniel Pipes has been saying this all throughout his academic career,” he said. “He’s a man who says repeatedly and insistently that moderate Islam is the answer.”
Some on campus, however, are worried that the contentiousness of Pipes’ scholarship — including his naming of two Yale professors in a 2002 column he wrote for the New York Post entitled “Profs Who Hate America” — will again lead to emotional arguments that could prevent a nuanced debate on the Middle East controversy.
Arafat Razzaque ’06, a former vice president of the Muslim Students Association, said Pipes’ “obvious ideological standpoint” can make difficult any rational, academic debate.
“He very obviously seems to have a political position, and that’s what I find problematic,” Razzaque said. “The first step towards a fruitful debate on such a sensitive issue is … to be calm and to avoid prejudgments.”
Charles Carriere ’07, co-president of Yale Friends of Israel, said Pipes’ address two years ago was marred because students came to the speech with just such preconceptions.
“The room was so emotionally charged with anger that I really felt that was no one there who was there with an open mind. You were either strongly in support of Pipes or just there to protest his presence,” Carriere said.
He said the format of the YPU, which allows for more debate than the format of Pipes’ last speech, could either exacerbate or alleviate the emotionally charged nature of Yale students’ response.
“People could ask questions last time, but this time it’s set up so there should be a debate,” he said. “I’d be happy to see people there challenging his arguments critically …. I would just be concerned if emotions are so high that we came off as Yale students as unreceptive to an intelligent dialogue on the Middle East conflict.”
Pipes was invited to campus when the YPU began looking for more speakers after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cancelled a planned speech this semester, Rost said.