Controversial critic of 'militant Islam' to address Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs

The Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs says it will allow a controversial commentator on Islam and the Middle East to address its meeting Thursday night despite calls from Muslim and Arab advocacy groups to rescind his invitation to speak.

Daniel Pipes, the founder and president of the conservative think tank Middle East Forum and a widely known critic of what he calls “militant Islam,” is scheduled to address a paying audience at the Baltimore World Trade Center.


The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, both based in Washington, have asked the organization to cancel Pipes’ invitation. They say he misrepresents Islam and engages in what amounts to Islamophobic speech.

The Baltimore council, a nonprofit that hosts speakers on foreign affairs from across the political spectrum, has said it will proceed with the evening as planned.


“The council thinks hard about its invitations and has a policy of not rescinding speakers in response to protests,” council President Frank A. Burd said.

Pipes, a Harvard-educated historian who has taught at the University of Chicago, Harvard and the U.S. Naval War College and written 16 books, is “widely known for strongly held positions” and “generally accepted as perhaps the leading authority on the challenge of Radical Islam,” according to the council’s website. And he’s no stranger to criticism.

He has written that “it’s a mistake to blame Islam, a religion fourteen centuries old, for the evil that should be ascribed to militant Islam,” but it’s essential for the United States and Europe to understand and counter those self-described Muslims who practice and support terrorism.

His Middle East Forum, which advocates on behalf of the free-speech rights of “anti-Islamist” authors and publishers, sparked controversy in 2010 when it backed the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, a harsh critic of Islam, during Wilders’ trial for “inciting hatred and discrimination.” (Wilders was acquitted in 2011.)

His support of Wilders is one of the many objections his critics have to his appearing in Baltimore.

Samer Khalaf, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the council inviting Pipes to speak on Islam is like asking white supremacist David Duke to address a convention of Black Lives Matter members.

“What makes it even more dangerous is that they’re only going to hear the extreme radical side of the argument,” Khalaf said. “No one is going to get up and counter his argument.”

On its website, the committee cited a report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which described the Middle East Forum as one of the outfits “primarily responsible for orchestrating the majority of anti-Islam messages polluting our national discourse today,” the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has accused Pipes of “vilifying Muslims,” and the U.S. Institute for Peace, which has accused him of taking quotes out of context and making “errors of fact.”

CAIR sent out an alert to members asking them to urge the council to cancel Pipes’ invitation. The organization called him “the grandfather of Islamophobes.”

Pipes, a critic of both organizations, said “the political left makes a habit of ad hominem attacks on those, including myself, who disagree with its program.”

“Fortunately,” he wrote in an email, “this trite behavior usually has little effect and I am pleased to report that the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs has paid [these calls] to disinvite me with the obliviousness [they] richly deserve.”

Burd said the decision to invite Pipes is part of the council’s policy of presenting a variety of viewpoints on matters important to American foreign policy, and the group considers “Islamist Extremism” just such a matter “on many, many levels.”


The event, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., is expected to draw about 250 people, most of them council members. Burd says they’ll be able to develop informed opinions.

“Members are serious, sophisticated people who are nicely informed and robust in their ability to listen to people and absorb a variety of views,” he said.

He said any protesters who attend the event will be asked to leave.

Khalaf said he’s not sure how his organization will respond.

“We’re considering our next move,” he said.

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