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Middle East Studies Blacklist

May 9, 2009 | by Stanley Kurtz

The West stakes a claim on campus.

Courtesy of National Review

An important new organization that promises to focus public concern on "blame America first" bias in the academy is in danger of being discredited. The Middle East Forum, under the direction of Daniel Pipes, has established a project and website called, "Campus Watch." Campus Watch is designed to monitor Middle East Studies in the United States, analyzing and criticizing errors and biases, and drawing public attention to controversies over funding, academic appointments, etc. Campus Watch maintains that Middle East Studies in the United States is dominated by professors who are actively hostile to America's interests in the world. The organization's purpose is to make this problem known to the American public.
Already, however, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and a number of professors whose work is listed and criticized on the Campus Watch website, have begun a campaign of attack. Campus Watch, they say, is "a hate website," an inappropriate "blacklist," and a "fear mongering" enterprise that could have a "chilling effect" on campus free speech, especially for faculty without tenure.

For those unfamiliar with the upside-down world of today's academy, these complaints might seem plausible. After all, if some scholars of the Middle East are biased or in error, wouldn't it be better for other scholars to challenge them to reasoned debate within the walls of the academy itself? Why stir up partisan passions on matters best fought out in seminar rooms, scholarly journals, and university press books?

Well, yes. The best way to challenge anti-American bias within the academy would be to do so in scholarly venues. Trouble is, there are virtually no scholars left in the field of Middle East Studies (or anywhere else) to mount such a challenge. For the most part, scholars who actually share the perception of America's vital interests held by the vast majority of the American people have long since been purged from the discipline of Middle East Studies.

As for blacklisting and its chilling effect on speech, Middle East Studies today is a field literally founded upon the principle of the blacklist. Edward Said's "post-colonial theory," which provides the intellectual framework for contemporary Middle Eastern Studies, is nothing but the program of a blacklist, disguised as high theory.

Edward Said objected to the view of the Middle East portrayed in the work of such renowned scholars as Bernard Lewis and Ernest Gellner. But instead of presenting a competing portrayal of the Middle East, Said proceeded to attack Lewis, Gellner -- and a whole list of other scholars -- as anti-Muslim bigots in league with "the Zionist lobby." And Said named names, from Lewis and Gellner to such eminent scholars and public intellectuals as Elie Kedourie, Walter Laqueur, Connor Cruise O'Brien, Martin Peretz, Norman Podhoretz...and of course, Daniel Pipes himself.

What Said saw as shameful and bigoted in the work of these scholars and writers was the way they insisted on connecting Islam with terrorism. (Osama bin Laden is the fellow Said ought to be complaining about on that score.) Having labeled a long series of respected scholars as anti-Muslim bigots for their daring to note connections between some strains of contemporary Islam and terrorism, Said concocted the name "Orientalism" to describe their alleged crime. And Said made it clear that "Orientalism" was indeed an accusation of bigotry -- a word meant to denote a form of "scarcely concealed racism."

What bothered Said was that "the Zionist lobby," working in league with these (racist) "Orientalist" scholars, had garnered "a vastly disproportionate strength," given how few Middle Easterners were actually Israelis. How, fumed Said, could important public journals and newspapers make themselves open to such bigoted scholars, "with no counterweight" to oppose them?
Having successfully branded nearly all Middle Eastern scholars who did not fall in with his perspective as scarcely concealed racists in league with the Zionist lobby, Said and his followers went about taking over the discipline of Middle East Studies (and many other precincts of the academy as well).

The extent of the blacklisting was truly breathtaking. In South Asian Studies, for example, scholars who had nothing at all to say about politics or foreign policy were branded as bigoted and neo-colonial "Orientalists," simply for studying religious ritual or family psychology. The very practice of scholarship outside of Said's leftist political framework was considered to be a subtle form of imperialism. For example, by writing about Hinduism, or by dissecting the dynamics of Indian family life, scholars were said to be turning Asians into "exotic" foreigners -- with the subtle implication that such strange and irrational creatures deserved to be deprived of the right to self-rule.

Perhaps most extraordinary of all, under the dominance of Said's post-colonial theory, the very subject of scholarship was transformed. Although some studies of the Middle East or South Asia continued to be written, much of the work of post-colonialists was taken up with critiques of previous scholarship. Study after study was produced, the subject of which was the "subtle" bigotry of conventional scholarly treatments of non-Western societies.

In effect, the message of Said's followers to other scholars was, if you're not with us, you're against us. Having dismissed conventions of liberal tolerance as window dressing for the oppression of the powerful; having branded nearly all scholarship from other perspectives as a species of bigotry; having condemned those who refused to mouth the new academic catechism as fellow-travelers of the despised Israeli lobby; and having named names and written volumes detailing the supposed ethical and political sins of the most respected scholars in several fields, the post-colonialists succeeded in delegitimizing and purging their opponents, thereby taking over much of the academy.

Nothing Daniel Pipes's Campus Watch has come up with can hold a candle to the hate-filled, fear-mongering, intellectually intimidating technique of blacklisting already invented by Edward Said. And you know what? As deeply as I reject and repudiate the views of Edward Said and his many followers, I do not argue, and have not argued, that the post-colonialists ought to be banned from making their case. Let them name names. Let them attack the Zionist lobby. Let them write volumes that purport to reveal the subtle racism of anyone who dares refuse to follow them.
My only concern is that a substantial number of scholars who take issue with the post-colonialists -- scholars who see things more along the lines of Bernard Lewis, Ernest Gellner, and the rest (yes, and even Dan Pipes!), be allowed back in to the academy. My hope is that someday, the argument with Said's followers that today can play out only on the website of Campus Watch might someday be readmitted to the academy itself.

How piddling and pathetic are the few and brief little "dossiers" that Pipes has compiled on the most egregiously biased scholars of Middle Eastern Studies. How these "dossiers" pale by comparison to the battalions of university-press books already launched against Dan Pipes and his colleagues. And how unsurprising that even Pipes's limited efforts to start a real debate should have brought down on him the same old bogus accusations of bigotry by which a generation of less-than-leftist scholars have already been purged from the academy.

Post-colonialists without tenure afraid of a challenge from someone who actually disagrees with their premises? Perish the thought! But where were the reporters when grad students who refused to hold with post-colonial theory were prevented by tenured radicals from ever making it into junior faculty positions to begin with? The most effective way to stifle debate, after all, is to deprive a scholar of the chance of trying for tenure in the first place.

Come to think of it, why aren't our finest colleges and universities wooing scholars like Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer with offers of fabulous salaries and department chairmanships? Why does this happen only to Cornell West? When Daniel Pipes steps onto a college campus, he's got to be surrounded by body guards and protected from attack -- no doubt, attack by the same sort of people who recently prevented former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Montreal's Concordia University. But maybe -- just maybe -- if proponents of more than one point of view on matters Middle Eastern were actually allowed to teach on our college campuses, we would see less shouting down of speakers, and more civil debate. That is the state of affairs Campus Watch is trying to bring about.

As for me, I very much hope that college administrators do take Campus Watch seriously when it comes to tenure decisions. If some untenured follower of Edward Said has made statements worthy of criticism, let him be criticized. He is free to answer back. The debate will be healthy (and in today's academy, unfortunately, totally unprecedented). But what administrators really need to attend to is the dearth of scholars on campus with views compatible with mainstream public opinion. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, with Campus Watch's claim that our colleges and universities are failing if they cannot make a place for honest debate between scholars of many shades of opinion -- certainly including mainstream opinion.

And more power to Campus Watch for inviting students to alert it to egregious cases of professorial bias. True, such reports must be taken with a grain of salt. Student complaints about professors are often themselves biased and self-interested. In only very rare circumstances should a professor be disciplined for a statement made in class. It is important that Campus Watch exercise caution in vetting students complaints. But it is fair to criticize professors for their substantive views, and fair as well to express concern about professors who do not allow balanced discussion in their classes. Students are often at the mercy of professors for grades and recommendations, and are themselves often under tremendous pressure to toe a professor's political line.
No, it is not ideal to have to create an organization like Campus Watch. Far better to have the kind of intellectually diverse faculty that would make honest and substantive intellectual debate possible on campus. Far better to have professors with sufficiently diverse views that students could find and work with like-minded mentors, while also challenging themselves by taking classes with professors with whom they disagree. Far better to have a college or university that functions the way an educational institution was meant to, instead of as a training camp for leftist activists. But that is not the world we live in. And until it is, projects like Campus Watch must be welcomed and nurtured.

Edward Said was concerned about the disproportionate influence of a few million Israelis on American opinion. (Could it have had something to do with Israel being a democracy?) Edward Said was concerned about exposing Americans to divergent perspectives on the Middle East. Edward Said named names. And Edward Said and his followers prepared prosecutorial dossiers at multi-volume length. The problem is that Edward Said got his way — and proceeded to commit every sin he once condemned. Divergent opinions were driven out of the academy, a minority opinion was allowed to silence mainstream American views, and blacklisting was raised to a high art.

Daniel Pipes's attempt to right these wrongs isn't even close to committing the sins of Said. And the very folks now screaming about Pipes are the ones who have prosecuted the most vicious and successful campaign of blacklisting in the history of the American academy. Long live Campus Watch — as long as it takes.

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