The latest development in the right's never ending campaign to drive serious foreign policy and area-studies scholarship out of the American academy and to replace it with mindless propaganda parroting the State Department/Pentagon line of the day. What's next? American Lysenkoism?
Middle East Studies Under Scrutiny in U.S.
Watchdog Groups Allege Left-Wing Bias
By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 13, 2004; Page A01
When Rashid Khalidi took over the newly established Edward Said Chair
of Middle East Studies at Columbia University last fall, the
appointment was generally viewed as an academic coup for the school,
which had succeeded in wooing away a prominent Middle East expert from
the University of Chicago, a longtime rival.
But Khalidi soon became the target of an Internet campaign that
questioned his patriotism. Conservative critics zeroed in on his
outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and his public expressions of
sympathy for the Palestinian cause.
"Columbia vs. America," declared a story on Campus Watch, a Web site
dedicated to revealing the alleged bias of mainstream Middle East
studies programs at U.S. colleges and universities. The New York Sun
dubbed Khalidi "the professor of hate."
These are the best of times and the worst of times for the
once-neglected field of Middle East studies. Enrollments in
Arabic-language courses and area studies programs have boomed in the
wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Government funding is up. Universities and
colleges are recruiting Middle East experts as fast as they can.
At the same time, academics who specialize in the region complain that
they are under siege from conservative think tanks and self-appointed
campus watchdog organizations. They say these efforts have resulted in
a flood of abusive e-mail and calls for tightening congressional
control over the funding of Middle East studies programs, which, they
contend, could undermine academic freedoms.
Barbara Petzen, outreach coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern
Studies at Harvard University, denounced a "right-wing thought police
that is sending spies into classrooms to report on what teachers are
saying in class." Michael C. Hudson, director of the Center for
Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, said his campus has
become the target of a McCarthyist "witch hunt."
"Middle East studies have not served us well," countered Daniel Pipes,
who founded Campus Watch a year ago as an offshoot of the Middle East
Forum, a private think tank dedicated to "promoting American interests
in the Middle East." He said mainstream academics had failed to
adequately explain the threat posed by Islamic terrorism and were prone
to overlook political repression in Arab countries.
"Americans need to know what terms like 'jihad' mean, and why we are
being attacked," he said. "This is at the very heart of our foreign and
In recent months, Pipes and other conservatives have begun pushing for
stronger congressional oversight of the $95 million in government
subsidies for Middle East and other area studies programs. Legislation
under consideration by Congress includes a provision for the
establishment of an advisory board to ensure that government-funded
academic programs "reflect diverse perspectives and [a] full range of
Some Middle East experts fear that the seven-member board would be
dominated by spokesmen for the Bush administration and strong advocates
"It's the thin end of the wedge," said Khalidi, who argues that the
demand for "balance" in Middle East studies could degenerate into a
"political correctness test."
Pipes, who has angered Arab American groups by calling for stringent
background checks on Muslim visitors to the United States, said the
McCarthyism charge is "silly." Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) was "a
high government official with coercive powers at his disposal," Pipes
said. "We are a tiny think tank, with few resources." He described
Campus Watch as a kind of consumer guide to Middle East studies.
"We are like the toaster specialists who want to see how the toaster
works," he said.
Government funding of area studies programs goes back to the height of
the Cold War, when the launch of Sputnik in 1957 appeared to
demonstrate an "education gap" between the Soviet Union and the United
States. The Eisenhower administration responded with the National
Defense Education Act, which authorized the public funding of
foreign-language studies and national resource centers for politically
sensitive areas, including the communist world and the Middle East.
Area studies went into a sharp decline after the end of the Cold War
and the collapse of communism, and grant money began to dry up. At many
leading universities, including Harvard and Princeton, it was much
easier to raise money for political science programs than for area
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reversed the
trend. Within a few weeks of the attacks, Congress authorized an
additional $20 million for area studies and language programs, with
much of the money for focus on the Middle East and Asia. There are now
17 national resource centers for Middle East studies at U.S.
universities, up from 14 in 2001. Grants for graduate research have
increased by 250 percent, according to data collected by Miriam
Kazanjian, a consultant for the Coalition for International Education.
Colleges across the country are scrambling to recruit Middle East
experts, said Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East
Studies Association, who teaches an introductory course in Arab
literature and culture at the University of Arizona. Last fall, about
400 students signed up for Newhall's course, nearly double the pre-2001
The increased visibility of Middle East studies has also spawned a
cottage industry of mostly conservative critics who comb through what
was once an academic backwater for signs of "bias" or "lack of
balance." Campus Watch and other Web sites urge students to supply
information about their own professors.
"Academic colleagues, get used to it," wrote Martin Kramer, a Pipes
ally and author of "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern
Studies in America." "You are being watched. Those obscure articles in
campus newspapers are now available on the Internet, and they will be
harvested. Your syllabi, which you've also posted, will be scrutinized.
Your websites will be visited late at night."
Kramer's comments were cited by Lisa Anderson, dean of international
and public affairs at Columbia, as evidence of an atmosphere of
intimidation that now surrounds Middle East studies at many
Kramer, who teaches Arab history at Tel Aviv University, described his
remarks as "tongue in cheek" and accused many Middle East scholars of
being overly sensitive to criticism. "Academics make their living
ridiculing government policies and the superficiality of the media, but
when anybody examines their performance, they throw up their hands with
cries of McCarthyism," he said. "There's a real asymmetry here."
Some professors, including Khalidi, said they became the target of
massive e-mail campaigns after they were denounced as "left-wing
extremists" by Pipes in a June 2002 article in the New York Post.
Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi said his voice mail was filled with
"racist and obscene" messages, including one denouncing him as "a
stinking, terrorist Muslim pig."
Pipes has also become a divisive figure on American campuses. Many Arab
Americans were outraged last year when President Bush appointed him to
the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a
government-funded think tank in Washington. When Pipes addressed a
recent meeting at Yale University, he was greeted by dozens of student
protesters dressed in black with black gags across their mouths.
A favorite target for Campus Watch is the late Edward Said, a Columbia
University professor best known for his book "Orientalism," which
denounced the "neo-colonialist" policies of successive U.S.
administrations. Its hero is Bernard Lewis, a professor of Near Eastern
Studies at Princeton and the author of several books that analyze the
rise of Islamic terror movements.
Pipes said the push for an advisory board to supervise the
distribution of government funds for area studies programs was designed
as a "shot across the bows" of what he considers to be the radical
Middle East studies lobby centered in universities such as Columbia,
Georgetown and the University of Chicago. "It is important
symbolically," he said. "It will not materially change anything, but it
will alert Congress to the problem."
The proposed changes are now under consideration by the Senate after
receiving unanimous approval in the House. Officials at Columbia and
other universities say the subsidies represent less than 10 percent of
the money they spend on Middle East studies, and they would prefer to
reject government funding altogether than to accept outside supervision.
Last year, Georgetown was accused by Campus Watch of using government
money to organize a symposium on the war in Iraq dominated by critics
of the Bush administration. University officials are unrepentant,
saying it is pointless to look for political balance in every single
seminar or lecture.
"We are very sensitive to having strings attached to what we do," said
Hudson, the director of Georgetown's Arab studies program. "If an Arab
government came to us and said, 'We will give you money, but we will
have an advisory body check up on what you do with it,' I don't think
we would take the money."