Radical Middle East Studies Establishment Does Not Like Criticism

Thirteen years after Campus Watch (CW)’s inception in 2002, radical, politicized Middle East studies academics remain indignant that an organization dared confront them with the horror of outside criticism, which they falsely equate with censorship, McCarthyism, and other paranoid clichés. Case in point: at a recent Stanford University lecture featuring Steven Salaita (which CW covered), respondent Joel Beinin -- Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History and a past president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) -- concluded a lengthy treatise on his “generation of Middle East scholars” by deploring CW’s ascension in the “post-second intifada-9/11 environment” and mischaracterizing its purpose:

This gave rise to an organization that still exists, a neo-McCarthyite organization called Campus Watch, whose purpose was to supervise the discourse of people who taught Middle East studies on campuses.

To the contrary, CW, a project of the Middle East Forum founded by Daniel Pipes, is hardly in a position to “supervise” anyone’s discourse and wouldn’t want to if it could. CW simply critiques a subsection of coddled academics unused to being held accountable for what they say or write.

Beinin then declared of CW, “I am proud to be one of the first five people on their list,” when, in fact, no such “list” exists (unless he was referring to the “Solidarity with Apologists” list, which does not include his name, or the now-defunct dossiers, which were removed from the website after being up only two weeks).

However, Beinin has been a frequent subject of CW’s attention, and for good reason. His long history of anti-Israel, anti-American bias -- not to mention his engaging in the last bastion of desperate Middle East studies academics: false death threat allegations against critics -- is well-known. Indeed, he boasted at the Stanford lecture, “I have no problem with anybody calling me a radical,” although his strenuous objections to external criticism indicate otherwise.

Maintaining the false bravado, and bashing another critic of higher education in the process, Beinin added:

David Horowitz published a book called The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. I’m on that list too. I’m really proud of that.

Robert Crews, director of Stanford’s Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, chimed in by noting jokingly:

I am not as dangerous as Joel, my colleague in history. I’m not on any 101 list. I am on Campus Watch. I’m working on it. We can all have goals.

Crews recently drew CW’s notice for his participation in a Stanford panel discussion on the Charlie Hebdo attack that consisted largely of apologetics and obfuscation. Given his contention during the present lecture that, “I think we largely reject the idea that historians write with objectivity. . . . It’s not a case that what I teach [Islamic studies] has two discrete points of view,” or the fact that Crews, along with Beinin, is a signatory to the Stanford Undergraduate Senate’s recently passed “resolution to divest from the occupation of the Palestinian Territories,” he may yet attain his goals.

As it appears has Beinin, who can claim credit for the decline of Middle East studies into politicization and radicalism “in the late 1980s,” when, as he put it:

[A] whole series of people whose opinions on Israel/Palestine were not the approved one by the powers that be in this country were elected president of the Middle East Studies Association, people like [Columbia University Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and mentor to President Barack Obama] Rashid Khalidi.

He lauded Stanford for “having hired me in the first place” prior to this shift, “when my views on Israel/Palestine were on the record and then even doing the crazy thing of tenuring me.” Nonetheless, according to Beinin, he and his cohorts “felt . . . embattled and weak” during this period. That is, until their rise to MESA’s leadership and the implementation of their post-Zionist “historical scholarship . . . seemed to end the discussion,” leading him to conclude smugly that, “the argument was over.”

Yet, in Beinin’s telling, the pesky upstart CW then emerged to threaten the radicals’ hold on the field. Undeterred, he concluded by declaring with the confidence of a fanatic that, “in the historical trajectory of things, we are winning.”

If “winning” means that rigorous scholarship on the Arab-Israeli conflict -- among other topics -- is now dismissed by a thoroughly politicized MESA, and that scholars who refuse to toe the anti-Israel, anti-Western line are marginalized, then it is a Pyrrhic victory that rewards biased academics while cheating their students -- and the nation at large -- of accurate, useful scholarship on a vitally important region. CW and others will continue to critique and report on the gate-keepers of Middle East studies as long as politicized professors are in charge.

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at stillwell@meforum.org.

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