November 13, 2007
The battle for Middle East Studies
Eminent intellectual dissidents have arisen and are taking on the leftist establishment which has dominated the study of Middle East affairs in the United States. Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami have given up hope of ever restoring balance and sanity to the hyper-politicized Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), and have now founded an alternative organization, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA).
Academic associations sponsor academic conferences and publish journals, but they also set the tone and help establish the intellectual agenda of an entire field. Based on my own experience as a member of three different academic associations, leadership roles tend to fall into the hands of people willing to do the grunt work. Which in practice means those burnishing their resumes and those with a political agenda. With the massive amount of Saudi money flowing into the American academy, it is hardly surprising that career opportunities have been so available to those who blame the West for all the problems of the Muslim world, shy away from real problems, and are obsessed with the usual left wing academic fads.
Nibras Kazimi of Talisman Gate provides an enlightening view of the situation, and some telling anecdotes revealing some of the rot within Middle East Studies. If you wonder what's the problem, try this:
Hat tip: AD...MESA shies away from discussing contemporary Middle Eastern issues for fear than any controversy may scare away the funders.
Can we all agree that Iraq is an important issue, and that such important issues should be front and center among the priorities to be discussed by Middle Eastern scholars? Yes? Good. Then why is it that during MESA's upcoming annual conference only five (yes, FIVE) panels are dedicated to Iraq out of a total of 206! Whereas there are at least a dozen panels dedicated to gender and sexuality studies!
Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be a single panel that seriously sets out to discuss jihadism during the whole four day stretch of the conference.