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"The totalitarian impulse is just too strong, huh?" says Pipes.
The failure of the Oslo accords, Pipes maintains, can be blamed on two factors: Palestinian duplicity and the disgruntlement of the Palestinian population. "Settlements! Settlements!" the hecklers start to chant.
"When you have a PhD from Harvard, you can speak!" a Pipes supporter shouts.
In assessing the failure of the peace process, I note that neither Pipes nor his opponents mention the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. It's a rare moment where the bigotry of both finds common ground.
But interestingly, it isn't the last. When we get to Iraq, Pipes, who declared defeat a few months back, almost brings the hecklers up short. "I supported the war in Iraq, as all civilized people did," he says. "But I'm not happy with the way the situation has been going since... So I believe we should rule Iraq—excuse me, I believe we should not rule Iraq."
"Freudian slip!" a heckler shouts. "Freudian slip!"
"Isn't it interesting," Pipes says after a pause, "that the same people support militant Islam, support Palestinian suicide bombers, and support Saddam Hussein?"
"Speak for yourself! Speak for yourself!" the hecklers chant.
The section on Campus Watch rounds out the show, but by now the point has been made, with maximum grunting and sweating, that the American university is a madhouse... a madhouse! Pipes wraps promptly at nine; the hecklers rise en masse and shuffle out, shouting and ruckusing all the way. The rest of us stay seated. This can't possibly be all there is!
It's not. Our Hillel hostess announces that the professor will be answering our questions. Pipes comes out for the encore. Two women in hijabs are still in the room, seated and seemingly quiet and attentive; but by now the audience is through with nice distinctions and wants to see some of the old stuff. Four cops move in, and both women are cleansed.
Still, a few hecklers remain: When Pipes refers to a $5 million grant to Berkeley from the Sultan's Fund, the "You deserve to be killed" guy from outside stands up and starts shouting, "What about the $5 million from the Zionist lobby! Racist Jew! Racist Jew!" He gets the boot.
But the Q&A session is as perfunctory and low-protein as the speech itself. On the question of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, for example, Pipes explains: "He's not a Khomeini. He's not seeking power. His agenda is not to repeat the same mistakes the Iranians made." This is the best a Middle East expert can do? I could have given that answer, and these days I spend a lot more time watching Jay Jay the Jet Plane than following the major players in Iraq.
But by now I realize I'm the real dummy—not for schlepping out to the East Bay just to see a cockfight, but for not realizing that everybody else in the room is a ringer. Pipes himself, the hecklers, the supporters—they're all here to put on the same show. If it hadn't been for the constant interruptions, Pipes' performance would have been the biggest nothing to hit California since Webvan.
I do, on the other hand, have a more refined appreciation of the Pipes method. I realize now that it was pointless to regret his passing as a serious scholar—to feel this way is to take too literally his persona as a tough-talking firebrand. Pipes is much closer to the grand tradition that stretches from Jack Paar to Regis Philbin and beyond: a low-impact, low-information, soft-edged performer, a channeler of looniness rather than a creator of it. At Berkeley, his act was refined to its core. He's a mild-mannered Bob Newhart in a world full of Mr. Carlins.