How Do You Define Crank?

pipes.jpgNational Review’s Lisa Schiffren thinks the question of whether Barack Obama studied the Qur’an as a child is relevant to the American presidential campaign:

Barack Obama has emphatically denied that he was ever a Muslim, practicing or otherwise. Other people, including family members and teachers, remember things differently. Daniel Pipes collects the varying information here. Several elementary-school teachers in Indonesia have told reporters that he was enrolled as a Muslim — and thus studied Koran instead of the Catechism — at the Catholic school he attended. One of his various half sisters says it too, and several passages in his autobiography seem to indicated the same thing. Make of it what you will. Certainly that he may have been educated or raised Muslim is no disqualifier, but if he is lying about his upbringing for political acceptance, it speaks to character. We don’t know if he is, but we know Daniel Pipes is no crank.

I suppose it’s stating the obvious to note how transparently disingenuous it is for Schiffren to insist that Barack Obama come clean (and prove a negative) about not “having been raised Muslim,” while assuring us, of course, that this would be “no disqualifier,” after she and the gang at National Review have worked so assiduously to make it a disqualifier.

I have to agree with Schiffren about Daniel Pipes, though. I tend to regard cranks as mostly harmless eccentrics, like people who believe that our planet was seeded by aliens who will soon return to harvest us, or people who design and construct hugely complicated machines to perform odd combinations of simple household tasks, or Dr. Phil. There’s nothing harmless about Daniel Pipes, a right wing scholar-activist who, since 9/11, has made a career of trafficking in hoary old Orientalist stereotypes in order to stoke Americans’ prejudice against, and fear of, Islam.

Pipes runs the Middle East Forum, an organization which answers the question “What if the John Birch Society had its own think tank?” Pipes also oversees Campus Watch, a project that keeps tabs on scholars it deems to be insufficiently pro-Israel.

Last summer Pipes spearheaded a campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York, a public school focused on Arab culture and language. The campaign eventually caused the resignation of the school’s principal, Debbie Almontaser. Pipes based his hostility to the school on what he called “the basic problems implicit in an Arabic-language school: the tendency to Islamist and Arabist content and proselytizing.” Needless to say, Pipes offered no evidence for that claim.

In keeping with his stated belief that Arab- and Muslim-Americans deserve to be subjected to “special scrutiny,” Pipes apparently thinks the question of whether Barack Obama ever practiced Islam as a child is so important to the future of the American republic that, since December, he has penned three different articles on that subject, always making sure to apply a thin veneer of “scholarly rigor” over what is in fact nothing more than an attempt to smear by insinuation and innuendo. Despicable.

But no, Daniel Pipes is no crank. That would be an insult to cranks.