WASHINGTON, April 7 (UPI) -- The Middle East Forum, which is headed by a controversial Jewish scholar, is seeking support to form a progressive Islamic institute that would represent liberal Muslims living in the United States.
The problem is that many Muslims see the Forum as too pro-Israel and fear its chief, Daniel Pipes as someone "out to destroy both Islam and Muslims," as one of his critics said.
This image is so well entrenched that those few Muslims who sympathize with him are afraid of expressing their sympathies in public.
"I don't want to be led out of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant," said a Washington-based Muslim scholar when asked if he could be quoted as praising Pipes.
"In the past, people Pipes had listed as Muslim supporters had issued statements saying they did no such thing," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
People like Hooper are confident that any Muslim organization that Pipes forms will not take off.
"If Mr. Pipes wants to form an organization, he is free to do so. Unfortunately, his institution seems to be designed to block Muslim empowerment and enfranchisement," said Hooper whose organization, CAIR, is one of those U.S.-based groups identified in the Middle East Forum's proposal as advocating "a supremacist and totalitarian form of Islam in the United States."
The paper, sent to various foundations across the United States for raising fund for the proposed Islamic Progress Institute, also names the Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America as advocating militant Islam.
These three are among the largest Muslim organizations in North America and enjoy much support in both the United States and Canada.
"It is a troublesome fact that Muslim life in the West is dominated by Islamist ideology. While Muslims in some Muslim-majority countries have demonstrated a commitment to moderate Islam, Muslim communities in the United States, Canada and Western Europe are dominated by a leadership associated with Wahhabism and other radical trends" in Islam, argues the proposal for founding a new Islamic group in the United States.
Privately, many moderate American Muslims also have similar complaints against the groups that claim to represent them. But will they support an organization founded by someone seen as rabidly anti-Muslim?
"I don't think if that kind of organization is going to draw support," said Hooper.
A moderate Muslim scholar, who did not want to be identified, agreed. "I think people like Pipes should be quiet for a while. Let moderate Muslims speak for themselves. If people like Pipes are seen as leading the movement for moderation, it will scare other Muslims away."
Most Muslims have no first-hand knowledge of Pipes and his thoughts. Few have read his books on Islam and many don't even know that he taught Islamic studies at leading U.S. universities before he became prominent as "a Muslim basher" after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
Some of the excerpts of his writings, often published in Muslim community newspapers in the United States, only confirm the view that he dislikes both Muslims and Islam.
Within the United States, "all Muslims, unfortunately, are suspect," Pipes wrote in a recent book. The book urged U.S. authorities to closely watch those Muslims who work for the military, police or are in the U.S. Foreign Service.
Muslims also remember Pipes as the founder of Campus Watch, a group that monitors teachers of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies in American universities to ensure that they don not teach anti-Israeli and anti-American views.
In addition, Pipes has criticized President George W. Bush for meeting with the leaders of the Muslim groups he projects as propagating radical Islam. By meeting them, he says, Bush has legitimized radical Islamic politics.
In Muslim circles, Pipes is also seen as a staunch supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's anti-Palestinian policies, including the assassination of Palestinian militants. Some Muslims say Pipes also opposes Bush's "road map" for peace in the Middle East and instead wants Israel to retain all the occupied lands.
Pipes, however, says that despite these beliefs, his proposal for forming a new and moderate Islamic group will succeed.
"There are plenty of non-Islamist Muslims who resent that major mouthpieces of Islam in this country are dominated by Islamists," he told United Press International. "It is very important that there is a non-Islamic Muslim organization in the United States to provide an alternative to the Muslims living here."
Pipes said he is aiming his message at "substantial numbers of alienated Muslims in this country" for whom "having a moderate organization would be a good influence and will help moderate their views."
Such an organization, he said, should be "compatible with Americans values ... of pluralism and tolerance."
Pipes pointed out that last year one radical Islamic group, the Washington-based American Muslim Council, had to close down after one of its leader was found receiving money from Libya. "The Islamist organizations will perform poorly as U.S. law enforcement agencies continue to look at them, one -- AMC -- has already gone and others will as well, as their activities are looked into."
"That's his plan," says Hooper. "He is trying to get everybody shut down so that Muslims have nowhere to go. I think that's a fairly faulty plan."
Hooper says Pipes believes that even enfranchisement of the Muslims is a threat to the American society. "He is even attacking the U.S. Institute of Peace, his own organization, for inviting people from other Muslim organizations to speak."
According to Hooper, Pipes' idea of forming an organization of non-religious Muslims "fits with his theory that the only way to block Muslim empowerment is to deal with the Muslims who have loose connections with Islam, at best."
Hooper sees no problem with strong pro-Islam figures leading Muslim organizations in America. "If someone wants to have Islam as the guiding force in society, Pipes defines it as evil. Muslims don't look at it that way."
"I think ordinary American Muslims will see through his agenda and Mr. Pipes will not go beyond the cottage industry of Muslim bashers unfortunately growing in America."
Syed M. Saeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America, whose group is also described as a radical organization in the Forum's proposal, says that Pipes is misrepresenting ISNA's views.
"We have representatives of every sect and ethnic group. ... We have women leaders; ... we work with churches and inter-faith organizations. We are not what Mr. Pipes says we are," said Saeed.
He also disagreed with the suggestion that ISNA leaders had been associated with Islamic radical groups in the Muslim world before coming to the United States.
"Most people who are active with us do not have any history of affiliation with groups back home. If our members were not associated those groups, they would not select leaders with that background," he said.
Saeed said groups like ISNA were more concerned about the problems the Muslim community faces in the United States, such as "raising children here, interacting with other faiths."
He also rejected the allegation that his group receives funds from Islamic nations. "This is a national umbrella organization and our funds come from members.
Saeed, however, acknowledges that "some small projects here and there might have been supported by former members who moved to other countries, but it's not a big proportion of ISNA's funds."
"We have never received funds from Muslim governments, maybe from Muslim philanthropist organizations for particular projects."
But such clarifications do not impress the Middle East Forum. "This situation is fraught with dangers for moderate Muslims as well as for non-Muslims," it warns.
"If Islam is to find its place in American society, it must do so by accepting the American rules of religious pluralism. Islam in America must be American Islam or it will not be integrated; there can be no place for an Islam in America that functions as a seditious conspiracy aimed at wiping out American values, undermining American interfaith civility, and, in effect, dictating the form of Islam that will not be followed in America."
"The Islamic Progress Institute is founded with an intent to help achieve these goals," the proposal declares.
But as a moderate Muslim sympathizer of Pipes said, "claiming to invent a new version of Islam, an American Islam is like founding a new sect of Mormon Muslims. How many Muslims would like to be associated with that sect?"