A visit today to the University of Toronto by a controversial U.S. scholar of the Middle East is causing an uproar among academics and students, who say that "hate, prejudice and fear-mongering" do not have a place on campus.
A university spokeswoman said that arrangements are in place for a "safe event" this evening, when the school plays host to Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and a pro-Israeli academic. The Middle East Forum at U of T, a new student group, invited Mr. Pipes.
In an unusual move, more than 80 professors and graduate students wrote an open letter pointing out that Mr. Pipes has a "long record of xenophobic, racist and sexist [speeches]that goes back to 1990."
"Genuine academic debate requires an open and free exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance. We . . . are committed to academic freedom and we affirm Pipes' right to speak at our university," the letter states. "However, we strongly believe that hate, prejudice, and fear-mongering have no place on this campus."
Mr. Pipes, who has written 12 books, is described in his biography as "one of the few analysts who understood the threat of militant Islam." He is the creator of Campus Watch, a controversial website that reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America.
In 2003, under heavy police protection, he told an audience of 180 students at York University that Arab rejection of Israel's right to exist is the root cause of violence in the Middle East, and that Western university campuses are becoming increasingly intolerant of pro-Israeli views.
Mr. Pipes also drew criticism when he suggested, following the report into the 2001 attacks on the United States, that Islam is the enemy in the war on terrorism.
Jens Hanssen, an assistant professor in history who spearheaded the letter, said the general public needed to be made aware of Mr. Pipes's visit to Canada's largest university.
U of T administration has not interfered with Mr. Pipes's speaking engagement, despite the faculty and students' concerns. Student groups are expected to hold a protest and hand out pamphlets outside St. Michael's College today.
Ahmad Shokr, organizer of the Arab Students' Collective and a third-year history student at U of T, said he expects other student groups to join him today to hand out leaflets.
"Although he has the right to speak, we don't think he should actually have a place to speak on campus," the 22-year-old said. "There should be a general awareness amongst the campus community of who this person is and hopefully with that awareness . . . groups wouldn't invite a speaker like this."
Mr. Pipes's speech is titled Radical Islam and the War on Terror. Organizers expect at least 400 people to attend the speech, which will be followed by a question and answer session.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Pipes shrugged off protesters, saying he has a right to appear on campuses.
"I've been criticized plenty, as this suggests. I'm being criticized today," he said, referring to the open letter. "I grant my critics the right to criticize me. And I retain the right to criticize them. None of us have police powers."
He added: "Freedom of speech is freedom of speech for those one disagrees with, as well as those one does agree with."
Rebecca Waserman, a second-year student who is president of the Middle East Forum at U of T, said the talk is open to the public. She dismissed the protests by faculty and students. "Anyone who wants to come deliver a talk can come deliver a talk," the 18-year-old said.
Mr. Pipes's reception on Canadian campuses has been chilly. Two years ago, the student-run centre at York University blocked him from speaking at its facility. The university administration decided to accommodate him after Jewish community leaders intervened. Protesters demonstrated outside, while police, metal detectors and photo-identification checks welcomed those attending his speech at York University, a campus where relationships have been strained between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups.
Ed Morgan, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a law professor at U of T, said yesterday that faculty members have the right to express their views in an open letter, just as Mr. Pipes is free to make his speech on campus.
"I believe that freedom of speech stops on campus if it comes to harassing students," Prof. Morgan said. "But when it comes to expressing political views, I think that we should be free to express views."