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Student Ismail Ibrahim attended and protested the Pipes event. Standing alongside fellow members of the Muslim Students Association, the glossy-haired history major stood with friends, classmates, and total strangers, shouting "Shame!" until his cheeks glowed and his voice grew hoarse. "I study history, so I know the truth," he said.
Pipes' critics, Ibrahim among them, charge that Campus Watch's practice of posting dossiers on certain university instructors is nothing short of blacklisting.
"One of my primary concerns is that Daniel Pipes is a noted Islamophobe, a noted Muslim hater," said Ibrahim, whose eyes shine with warm intelligence. "This event was a circus and Daniel Pipes is the ringmaster, and I'm reminded of the same type of racist propaganda that was used in European history to justify the extermination of other racial groups.
"Pipes is a hack," continued the graduating senior, whose parents came to the United States some twenty years ago from Pakistan, and who agreed to speak only if identified by a pseudonym. "He's playing on the fears of Americans who are generally ill-informed about the Middle East, about Arabs and Muslims -- and who think all those things are one and the same. His partisans typically happen to be Zionists. ... Immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing, Daniel Pipes said, 'We told you so -- it was Arabs.' After 9/11, there's definitely an environment in which Muslims and Arabs are called into question as being un-American. A wave of Islamophobia has swept the American public," and Pipes and his supporters "play demagogue to it. ... The bottom line is, it's just chicanery."
Yet Ibrahim also denounced anti-Semitism: "It's a malignancy, an egregious practice, and it should be wiped out, like any form of racism." He finds it odd that "the very same community that has experienced hate and is very sensitive to these dialectics brought a noted racist to campus. ... These people don't even look at the Palestinians as human beings," he said. "It's so ironic -- in effect they're ignoring the history of their own suffering."
Ibrahim said he has been horrified by discussions with fellow students who were so radicalized in their view of Palestinians as subhumans. "If you criticize Israel, you are going to be labeled anti-Semitic," he said, adding that this conflation is dangerous for the way it tends to stifle legitimate criticism.
Also problematic, he said, is the enthusiastic Israel-boosting of Jewish student groups such as Hillel. "There's a great movement within Jewish student organizations which tries to identify Judaism with Israel in terms of building Jewish identity." The result, he added, is the construction of artificial identities in which American Jews believe that their fate is inextricably linked to that of Israel. Upon reflection, he added, "maybe they actually are."
But what of Jews who feel "that 'If Israel doesn't have the right to exist, then how do we as Jews have the right to exist?'" Ibrahim asked. "It's very hurtful for Hillel to do that" -- to emphasize the right-to-exist premise. "It oversimplifies it. Look: Jews existed prior to the state of Israel's existence. And even if Israel didn't exist, they still would."
Daniel Frankenstein was at the Pipes lecture too. Sitting near the back, he watched with bitter amusement as a large group of protesters got up and left the building right before the question-and-answer session, chanting slogans and appearing to sob as they left. Their sobs were fake, he said. "It was just what I expected from them: the overdramatization of a misconception. Pipes wasn't saying anything that makes people cry, and I know these individuals and they're not people who cry. They were holding their hands over their faces but it was just a dramatic thing."
Not that Frankenstein is an all-out Pipes fan. "Daniel Pipes invented this curriculum where he wants to be interrupted. It helps him -- and that's scary in itself."
No less scary, Frankenstein believes, than the contrast between the response elicited by Pipes' lecture and that produced by a visit last year from the late Columbia University professor and Palestine advocate Edward Said. "When Said came to campus, he wasn't interrupted. There wasn't anybody outside protesting his right to be there. Edward Said was a fraud. He was outed by The New York Times as a fraud." (An article in that paper claimed Said had fabricated elements of his own autobiography.)
Outside Pimentel Hall after the Pipes lecture, Frankenstein approached a protester who was venting a distaste for America. Frankenstein suggested that the protester leave America and go to Iran. "I hear the weather there is really nice this time of year," he told the man.
Such are the barbs flung by adversaries on opposite sides. But what happens in the absence of adversaries? "Liberation Through Islam" was the theme of the sixth annual Muslim Students Association West Conference, held on the Cal campus this February. Organized by the group's western regional arm, which has chapters at universities throughout the United States and Canada, the weekend-long series of workshops, lectures, and other events drew an estimated eight hundred members from colleges all over California and beyond. Programs on the agenda ranged from the spiritual to the social to the political.
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