Protest not the agenda as Daniel Pipes comes to Ottawa
by Don Butler
OTTAWA — Not surprisingly, there's little enthusiasm among Ottawa Muslims and academics for Daniel Pipes' appearance in Ottawa Monday night. But neither are there any plans to protest his visit.
Indeed, one Ottawa imam contacted by the Citizen went so far as to welcome the topic — Islam versus Islamism — Pipes will address during a speech and panel discussion at Library and Archives Canada sponsored by the Free Thinking Film Society.
Pipes, an American scholar and president of the Middle East Forum, has been a controversial figure since the 1990s for his outspoken views about radical Islam. He has long been branded an Islamaphobe by critics, but denies that he is anti-Islam.
In 2003, his appearance at York University was nearly cancelled after protests by students and only proceeded under heavy security that included 100 police officers, 10 of whom were on horseback.
Since then, however, Pipes has made a number of appearances in Canada without incident, including a 2008 talk in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre.
In 2010, Pipes told the Washington Post he no longer attracts the same vitriol, because his views are more moderate than those of many anti-Islam bloggers.
Pipes makes a clear distinction between Islam and the radical variant embraced by Islamists, says Fred Litwin, the Free Thinking Film Society's president. "He's very pro-Israel," Litwin said. "That has led some people to think he's an Islamaphobe. He's not."
Samy Metwally, imam of the Ottawa Muslim Association Mosque, said he has heard no concerns about Pipes' visit from within his community. Though he is unfamiliar with Pipes, Metwally thought the subject he plans to address — the difference between Islam and Islamism — is a "good topic."
Following the Boston Marathon bombing and the arrest of two alleged Islamist terrorists in Canada, this is a good time to emphasize those differences, Metwally said. "It's good to have these sorts of dialogues."
Another Ottawa imam, Zijad Delic, was less welcoming. "It's a heartbreaking and unfortunate reality that people who do not know us speak on our behalf even though we did not ask them to do so," he said in an email.
Delic wished Canadians would invite speakers on Islam who are "looking for permanent solutions to the world's conflicts, not those who exploit emotions and build their reputations on such acts.
"The question that good, ethical and thinking Canadians should ask is: Will his speech generate any tangible benefit for Canada and Canadians?" he said. "I know with certainty that it will not."
Despite that, Delic added, "let him speak as much as he wants. No protests!"
Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR. CAN), emphasized that his organization values freedom of speech and expression.
On the other hand, he said, based on Pipes' previous commentaries about Muslims and other minority groups, Canadian Muslims "would be concerned about the nature and content" of his message in Ottawa.
"We hope that Mr. Pipes respects and adheres to Canadian laws, including those related to hate speech. If not, we trust that authorities will take appropriate action."
Mira Sucharov, a professor of political science at Carleton University, said Pipes "infuriated" academics in 2002 when his think tank established a website called Campus Watch to review and critique Middle East studies at North American universities.
"Many people would probably consider him quite incendiary," she said. "So then the message gets caught up in more heat than light."
Pipes continues to espouse controversial views. Following the bombings in Boston, he argued that wearing burquas and niqabs in public places should be banned. Had the alleged bombers donned such garb, they would not have been identified and apprehended so swiftly, he said.
In an article in the Washington Times last month, Pipes also reluctantly argued that Western governments should support the "malign dictatorship" of Syria's Bashar Assad because of the risk that Islamic extremists will seize power if he falls.
"Western powers should guide enemies to stalemate by helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong their conflict," he wrote.
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