After graduating with a PhD from Harvard in 1978 and studying abroad, Pipes taught at a number of universities. He then served as director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, before founding the Middle East Forum. His 2003 nomination by U.S. President George W. Bush to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace was protested by Arab-American groups, and Democratic leaders, who cited his oft-stated belief that victory is the most effective way to terminate conflict. The Bush administration sidestepped the opposition with a recess appointment.
Pipes has written sixteen books, and served as an adviser to Rudolph Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign. He was in 2008–11 the Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
The son of Irene (née Roth) and Richard Pipes, Daniel Pipes was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1949. His parents had each separately with their families fled German-occupied Poland, and met in the United States. His father, Richard Pipes, was a historian at Harvard University, specializing in Russia, and Daniel Pipes grew up primarily in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area.
Pipes attended the Harvard pre-school, then received a private school education, partly abroad. He enrolled in Harvard University, where his father was a professor, in the fall of 1967; for his first two years he studied mathematics, but has said: "I wasn't smart enough. So I chose to become a historian." He said he "found the material too abstract." He credits visits to the Sahara Desert in 1968 and the Sinai Desert in 1969 for piquing his interest in the Arabic language, and travels in West Africa for piquing his interest in the Islamic world, and he changed his major to Middle Eastern history. For the next two years, Pipes studied Arabic and the Middle East, obtaining a B.A. in history in 1971; his senior thesis was titled "A Medieval Islamic Debate: The World Created in Eternity," a study of Muslim philosophers and Al-Ghazali. After graduating in 1971, Pipes spent two years in Cairo. He learned Arabic and studied the Quran, which he states gave him an appreciation for Islam. He wrote a book on colloquial Egyptian Arabic which was published in 1983. In all, he studied abroad for six years, three of them in Egypt.
Pipes returned to Harvard in 1973 and, after further studies abroad (in Freiburg-im-Breisgau and Cairo) obtained a Ph.D. in medieval Islamic history in 1978. His Ph.D. dissertation eventually became his first book, Slave Soldiers and Islam, in 1981. He switched his academic interest from medieval Islamic studies to modern Islam in the late 1970s, with the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic revolution in Iran.
He taught world history at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1982, history at Harvard from 1983 to 1984, and policy and strategy at the Naval War College from 1984 to 1986. In 1983, Pipes served on the policy-planning staff at the State Department in 1982–83.
Pipes largely left academia after 1986, though in 2007 he taught a course titled "International Relations: Islam and Politics" as a visiting professor at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy. Pipes told an interviewer from Harvard Magazine that he has "the simple politics of a truck driver, not the complex ones of an academic. My viewpoint is not congenial with institutions of higher learning."
From 1986 on, Pipes worked for various think tanks. From 1986 to 1993 he was director of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) and editor of its journal, Orbis. In 1990 he organized the Middle East Forum as a unit of FPRI; it became an independent organization with himself as head in January 1994. Pipes edited its journal, the Middle East Quarterly, until 2001. He established Campus Watch as a project of the Middle East Forum in 2002, followed by the Legal Project in 2005, Islamist Watch in 2006, and the Washington Project in 2009.
In 2003, President George W. Bush nominated Pipes for the board of the United States Institute of Peace. After a controversy including a filibuster by Democratic Senators, Pipes obtained the position by recess appointment and served on the board until early 2005.
Pipes' think tank the Middle East Forum established a website in 2002 called Campus Watch, which identified what it saw as five problems in the teaching of Middle Eastern studies at American universities: "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students." According to the New York Times, Campus Watch is the project for which Pipes is "perhaps best known."
Through Campus Watch, Pipes encouraged students and faculty to submit information on "Middle East-related scholarship, lectures, classes, demonstrations, and other activities relevant to Campus Watch". The project was accused of "McCarthyesque intimidation" of professors who criticized Israel when it published "dossiers" on eight professors it thought "hostile" to America. In protest, more than 100 academics demanded to be added to what some called a "blacklist". In October 2002 Campus Watch removed the dossiers from their website.
Pipes has long expressed alarm about the dangers of "radical" or "militant Islam" to the Western world. In 1985, he wrote in Middle East Insight that "[t]he scope of the radical fundamentalist's ambition poses novel problems; and the intensity of his onslaught against the United States makes solutions urgent." In the fall 1995 issue of National Interest, he wrote: "Unnoticed by most Westerners, war has been unilaterally declared on Europe and the United States."
He wrote this in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing; investigative journalist Steven Emerson had said in the aftermath of the bombing that it bore a "Middle Eastern trait." Pipes agreed with Emerson and told USA Today that the United States was "under attack" and that Islamic fundamentalists "are targeting us." Four months before the September 11, 2001 attacks, Pipes and Emerson wrote in the Wall Street Journal that al Qaeda was "planning new attacks on the U.S." and that Iranian operatives "helped arrange advanced ... training for al Qaeda personnel in Lebanon where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings."
Pipes has written, "It’s a mistake to blame Islam, a religion 14 centuries old, for the evil that should be ascribed to militant Islam, a totalitarian ideology less than a century old. Militant Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution." Pipes believes that moderate Muslims "constitute a very small movement", but a "brave" one, which the U.S. government should "give priority to locating, meeting with, funding, forwarding, empowering, and celebrating".
Pipes has praised Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey and the Sudanese thinker Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. In a September 2008 interview by Peter Robinson, Pipes stated that Muslims can be divided into three categories: "traditional Islam", which he sees as pragmatic and non-violent, "Islamism", which he sees as dangerous and militant, and "moderate Islam", which he sees as underground and not yet codified into a popular movement. He elaborated that he did not have the "theological background" to determine what group follows the Koran the closest and is truest to its intent.
Pipes is an especially strong critic of Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) considering the group to be pursuing an extreme Islamic agenda.
In 1990, Pipes wrote in the National Review that given European attitudes they "are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene ... Muslim immigrants bring with them a chauvinism that augurs badly for their integration into the mainstream of the European societies." But he concludes "If handled properly, the immigrants can even bring much of value, including new energy, to their host societies" and points to American assimilation. The Guardian and academic Arun Kundnani cite the article as evidence of prejudice. Pipes said "my goal in it was to characterize the thinking of Western Europeans, not give my own views. In retrospect, I should either have put the words 'brown-skinned peoples' and 'strange foods' in quotation marks or made it clearer that I was explaining European attitudes rather than my own."
In 2006, Daniel Pipes claimed that certain neighborhoods in France were "no-go zones" and "that the French state no longer has full control over its territory." In 2013, Pipes traveled to several of these neighborhoods and admitted he was mistaken. In 2015 he sent an email to Bloomberg saying that there are "no European countries with no-go zones."
In response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Pipes wrote that the "key issue at stake" was whether the "West [would] stand up for its customs and mores, including freedom of speech" and the "right to insult and blasphemy". He supported Robert Spencer's call to "stand resolutely with Denmark." He lauded Norway, Germany and France for their stance on the cartoons and freedom of speech, but criticized Poland, Britain, New Zealand and the United States for giving statements he interpreted as "wrongly apologizing."
Through his Middle East Forum, Pipes fund-raised for the Dutch politician Geert Wilders during his trial, according to NRC Handelsblad. Pipes himself praised Wilders in January 2010 as a libertarian who is "the unrivaled leader of those Europeans who wish to retain their historic [European] identity." Pipes previously (2010) found Wilders' political program "bizarre" and not to be taken too seriously but now (2017) calls Wilders "the most important politician in Europe." He criticizes Wilders' understanding of Islam as "superficial" for being critical of all of Islam and not just an extreme variant.
In October 2001 Pipes said before a convention of the American Jewish Congress: "I worry very much, from the Jewish point of view, that the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews."
According to The New York Times, Pipes has "enraged" many American Muslims by advocating that Muslims in government and military positions be given special attention as security risks and by opining that mosques are "breeding grounds for militants." In a 2004 article in the New York Sun, Pipes endorsed a defense of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and linked the Japanese-American wartime situation to that of Muslim Americans today.
Pipes has criticized the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which he says is an "apologist" for Hezbollah and Hamas, and has a "roster of employees and board members connected to terrorism". CAIR, in turn, has said that "Pipes' writings are full of distortions and innuendo."
The New York Times cited Pipes as helping to lead the charge against Debbie Almontaser, a woman with a "longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate" whom Pipes viewed as a representative of a pernicious new movement of "lawful Islamists." Almontaser resigned under pressure as principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, an Arabic-language high school in New York City named after the famed Christian Arab-American poet. Pipes initially described the school as a "madrassa", which means school in Arabic but, in the West, carries the implication of Islamist teaching, though he later admitted that his use of the term had been "a bit of a stretch". Pipes explained his opposition: "It is hard to see how violence, how terrorism will lead to the implementation of sharia. It is much easier to see how, working through the system—the school system, the media, the religious organizations, the government, businesses and the like—you can promote radical Islam." Pipes had also stated that “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.”
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes: "To hear his critics tell it, Pipes is an 'Islamophobe'", but in Jacoby's view, "these are gross and vicious libels."
Tashbih Sayyed, former editor of the Muslim World Today and the Pakistan Times (not the Pakistani newspaper of the same name), stated about Pipes, "He must be listened to. If there is no Daniel Pipes, there is no source for America to learn to recognize the evil which threatens it... Muslims in America that are like Samson; they have come into the temple to pull down the pillars, even if it means destroying themselves." Similarly, Ahmed Subhy Mansour, a former visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, writes, "We Muslims need a thinker like Dr. Pipes, who can criticize the terrorist culture within Islam."
Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, thinks positively of Daniel Pipes' works, that he is "a legitimate, well-trained scholar, and very bright." Peterson also worries about what he thinks is a campaign to blacken and marginalize Daniel Pipes, because "if he’s wrong, that should be demonstrated with evidence and analysis, not by name-calling."
In The Nation, Brooklyn writer Kristine McNeil describes Pipes as an "anti-Arab propagandist" who has built a career out of "distortions... twist[ing] words, quot[ing] people out of context and stretch[ing] the truth to suit his purpose". James Zogby argues that Pipes possesses an "obsessive hatred of all things Muslim", and that "Pipes is to Muslims what David Duke is to African-Americans". Christopher Hitchens, a fellow supporter of the Iraq War and critic of political Islam, also criticized Pipes, arguing that Pipes pursued an intolerant agenda, and was one who "confuses scholarship with propaganda", and "pursues petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity".
Pipes's views gained widespread public attention when they triggered a filibuster in the United States Senate against his nomination by President George W. Bush to the board of the United States Institute of Peace. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) explained that he was "offended" by Pipes's comments on Islam, and that while "some people call [Pipes] a scholar... this is not the kind of person you want on the USIP." While defending Pipes's nomination, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer distanced Bush from Pipes's views, saying that Bush "disagrees with Pipes about whether Islam is a peaceful religion".
Pipes sparked a controversy when he was invited to speak at the University of Toronto in March 2005. A letter from professors and graduate students asserted that Pipes had a "long record of xenophobic, racist and sexist speech that goes back to 1990". but university officials said they would not interfere with Pipes's visit. Pipes wrote an article about his experience at York University, also in Toronto.
Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times compared and contrasted Pipes with Juan Cole. Kristof said that while both are "smart" and "well-informed", Pipes is less sensible, and consequently Kristof often disagrees with Pipes.
Professor John L. Esposito of Georgetown University has called Pipes "a bright, well-trained expert with considerable experience", but accuses Pipes of "selectivity and distortion" when asserting that "10 to 15 percent of the world's Muslims are militants". In summation, Esposito complains that Pipes's equation of "mainstream and extremist[s] Islam under the rubric of militant Islam" while identifying "moderate Islam as secular or cultural" can mislead "uninformed or uncritical readers".
Pipes notes that many in the Muslim world believe Barack Obama is or was a Muslim. Pipes alleged that Obama falsely claims that he had never been a Muslim, and that his "campaign appears to be either ignorant or fabricating when it states that Obama never prayed in a mosque." Pipes wrote an article for FrontPage Magazine entitled "Confirmed: Barack Obama Practiced Islam." According to Pipes, "this matters" because Democratic presidential candidate Obama "is now what Islamic law calls a murtadd (apostate), an ex-Muslim converted to another religion who must be executed", and as president this would have "large potential implications for his relationship with the Muslim world." Ben Smith, in an article on Politico responded to these accusations claiming that they amounted to a "template for a faux-legitimate assault on Obama's religion" and that Daniel Pipes' work "is pretty stunning in the twists of its logic".
Pipes was a firm supporter of the Vietnam War, and when his fellow students occupied the Harvard administration building to protest it in the 1960s, he sided with the administration. Pipes had previously considered himself to be a Democrat, but after anti-war George McGovern gained the 1972 Democratic nomination for President, he switched to the Republican Party. Pipes used to accept being described as a "neoconservative", once saying that "others see me that way, and, you know, maybe I am one of them." However, he explicitly rejected the label in April 2009 due to differences with the neoconservative positions on democracy and Iraq, now considering himself a "plain conservative". In 2016, Pipes resigned from the Republican Party after it endorsed Donald Trump as its 2016 presidential candidate.
Pipes is a supporter of Israel in the Arab–Israeli conflict and an opponent of a Palestinian state. He wrote in Commentary in April 1990 that "there can be either an Israel or a Palestine, but not both ... to those who ask why the Palestinians must be deprived of a state, the answer is simple: grant them one and you set in motion a chain of events that will lead either to its extinction or the extinction of Israel." Pipes has proposed a three state solution to the conflict, in which Gaza would be given to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan.
In September 2008, he said, "Palestinians do not accept the existence of a Jewish state. Until that change, I don't see any point in having any kind of negotiations whatsoever." He also described the Israeli public as focused on a mistaken policy that he considers to be "appeasement".
Pipes' opposition to Iran is long-standing. In 1980, Pipes wrote that "Iran made the transition to a post-oil economy. It is the only major oil exporter to abandon the heady billions and return to live by its own means." Pipes was critical of the Reagan administration for its role in the Iran-Contra affair, writing that "American actions also helped to legitimize other kinds of help for, and capitulation to, the Ayatollah."
As of 2010 Pipes advocated that U.S. President Barack Obama "give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapon capacity ... The time to act is now." He claims that "circumstances are propitious" for the U.S. to initiate a bombing of Iran, and that "no one other than the Iranian rulers and their agents denies that the regime is rushing headlong to build a large nuclear arsenal." He further states that a unilateral U.S. bombing of Iran "would require few 'boots on the ground' and entail relatively few casualties, making an attack more politically palatable."
Pipes advocates that the U.S. support the People's Mujahedin of Iran against the Iranian government. Previously listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union, Pipes had long advocated a change in that listing. Pipes had described this listing as a "sop to the mullahs". He writes, "the MEK poses no danger to Americans or Europeans, and has not for decades. It does pose a danger to the malign, bellicose theocratic regime in Tehran."On March 11, 2006, Pipes was awarded the "Free Speech Award" from the Danish organisation Free Press Society of 2004 (Trykkefrihedsselskabet af 2004).
In 2003, Pipes was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University.
In May 2006, Pipes received the Guardian of Zion Award by Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.