Members of the Islamphobia movement who are the source for the majority of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiment seen today are lashing out against one of their prominent colleagues: Daniel Pipes, President of the Middle East Forum (MEF).
The controversy among members stems from a May 14 op-ed written by Pipes titled “Islam vs. Islamism.” The piece attempts to differentiate between Muslims and radical Muslims (or “Islamists,” as Pipes says) and how he and others should work with moderate Muslims to defeat radical strains of their religion (“Islamism”). To other anti-Islam and anti-Muslim activists, there are no moderate Muslims. In response to Pipes’s op-ed, Pamela Geller took to her blog, Atlas Shrugs, on May 14 to say everyone would “like to believe in unicorns and moonbeams but this fantasy is dangeerous [sic] and Pipes has wasted too much time and money on a fallacy.” On May 18, Geller re-posted a comment on Pipes’ piece that echoed her sentiments. The commenter wrote, “Those who seek to differentiate between Islam and Islamism are engaging in massive self-deception which could ultimately endanger the existence of western civilization itslef [sic].”
Robert Spencer, Walid Shoebat, and others have also denounced Pipes’ op-ed, agreeing with Geller’s assertion that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. Responding to Pipes’ speculation on what percent of Muslims are “Islamists,” Shoebat wrote, “The true number for Islamists is 100%.”
In his attempts to portray himself as pro-Muslim, Pipes’ words are quite misleading. He is merely trying to distance himself from the more extremist elements of the movement to which he belongs. Pipes frequently associates with extremists. Earlier this month, he attended the vehemently Islamophobic David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “Texas Weekend” event to speak on a panel featuring Frank Gaffney. Other attendees included Robert Spencer, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and, of course, David Horowitz.
In 2008-2009, Pipes worked alongside Pamela Geller and others to protest a Brooklyn school principal based upon the fact she was a Muslim. Pipes and Geller referred to the school as a “madrassa” and both worked with a local coalition in efforts to close the school. Pipes later admitted that using the “madrassa” label was “a bit of a stretch” in order to “get attention.” The tactic likely served as an inspiration for Geller’s “Ground Zero mosque” rhetoric that fueled 2010 protests of the Park51 community center in Manhattan.Today, Geller takes issue with her colleague’s words because they aren’t extreme enough in her view and are subsequently diminishing hers and others’ efforts to defame entire communities.
In reaction to April’s tragic bombings in Boston, for example, Pamela Geller (via the American Freedom Defense Initiative) called for a moratorium on immigration from Muslim countries. Pipes, on the other hand, merely reiterated his calls to ban burqas and niqabs in public spaces. Both proposals are equally absurd and indicate a shared source of inspiration: anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry.
It’s promising to see mixed messaging come from the organized Islamophobia movement. It signals ideological differences and disorganization. However, we must continue recognizing the commonalities among these sources and their messaging. Pipes’ words may not be as vociferous as those who are currently discrediting them, but the shared sentiment undeniably remains.