Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Editor's Note

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Editor's Note

Article excerpt

Sixty Years of The Middle East Journal

Sixty years ago this month, the first issue of The Middle East Journal appeared. In its "Editorial Foreword," the following mission for the new venture was offered:

Even though the American people may be suffering from a surfeit of periodical publications, no apology need be offered for adding a quarterly journal relating to the Middle East. Except to a very few Americans - Foreign Service and Army officers, educators, businessmen, travelers - this area is essentially terra incognita. Such a circumstance was a matter of no great practical consequence when the world was large and only loosely knit together. Now that the Middle East is very near the United States in point of time-distance and almost equally near with respect to matters of concern in American foreign policy, it deserves such thoughtful attention as can be initiated and encouraged through the pages of The Middle East Journal.1

Six decades later, the Middle East is no longer terra incognita to most Americans, though stereotypes and misconceptions have not been eradicated as thoroughly as we might wish, and a few new ones have been added as well. As this issue appears, the United States is engaged in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and is seeking to deter Iran's nuclear program. The Report of the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group has become a bestseller. Israel fought a war with Hizbullah in Lebanon last year, and the Palestinian Authority is torn by internal stresses. The Middle East is no longer peripheral to US interests, though how to pursue them remains a lively subject for debate. There is little doubt that the Iraq War was the single most important factor in the return of Congress to Democratic control in the 2006 US midterm elections.

When the Journal first appeared in January 1947, the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine was still several months away. European colonial powers still held a number of footholds in the Middle East. The second World War had seen major combat across the whole of North Africa from Egypt to Morocco, and smaller operations in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran. For the first time, Americans in uniform had become familiar with the Middle East firsthand. (In fact, it was really with World War II that "Middle East" began to supplant the older "Near East" in US usage.)

But there were only limited resources available to those seeking to familiarize themselves with the peoples and cultures of this critical area. The Journal of Near Eastern Studies and the Journal of the American Oriental Society were devoted to the ancient Near East with some treatment of medieval Islamic issues, but paid little or no attention to the modern period. The Muslim World, published by the Hartford Seminary, concentrated heavily on religious issues involving Islamic societies. "Orientalism" was not yet a pejorative term; in Middle Eastern studies, it was the mainstream. None of these publications provided much guidance to the diplomat, the military or foreign service officer, or the policymaker.

The Middle East Institute was founded in 1946 in Washington by a group of scholars and diplomats who sought to promote the study of the region in a modern, policy-relevant context. From its organization, one of the priorities of the Institute was "[t]he editing and publishing of an authoritative journal on Middle Eastern affairs."2 Through the decades, the Journal has continued to serve as the flagship of the Middle East Institute's activities, along with the Institute's Annual Conference, regular events and programs, and the Institute's Library and language programs.

In marking the Journal's 60th Anniversary, this issue includes a longer "Editor's Note" than usual, to offer a capsule history of the Journal. In our 40* Anniversary issue in 1987, Kathleen Manalo provided "A Short History of the Middle East Institute," and for the history of MEI as a whole I would refer readers to her work. …

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