Academic Freedom and Middle Eastern Studies

By Conway-Long, Don | St. Louis Journalism Review, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Academic Freedom and Middle Eastern Studies


Conway-Long, Don, St. Louis Journalism Review


A few selected events, drawn from a report released by the American Association of University Professors, highlight the evolution of academic freedom issues in Middle Eastern Studies, beginning with 9/11 and the subsequent Patriot Act. In the aftermath there was a tendency to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. A movement emerged to deny federal funds to any university "harboring" such a critic. Daniel Pipes (non-academic medievalist) was appointed to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Pipes was instrumental in founding Campus Watch, which claims that it's nothing more than an organization that "reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them" by addressing "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics and the abuse of power over students."

In reality, Campus Watch seeks to intimidate professors of Middle Eastern Studies who criticize either the United States or Israel. It published on its Web site dossiers impugning the work of some of our best scholars, whom it deems left-wing. Some of these professors have received death threats as a result.

Pipes' friend, Martin Kramer of Middle Eastern Forum, has warned scholars: "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 Web sites will be visited at night."

Kramer advocates cutting all government funding to university Area Studies centers, redirecting it all to a Defense Department program called "the National Flagship Language Initiative," specifically designed to train Americans who will undertake careers in the Defense Department, the CIA or a few other government agencies. The Middle East Studies Association opposes this initiative, of course.

Pipes works closely with the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), which has a powerful hold on U.S. media reporting about Israel and the Middle East. Pipes also campaigned to deny a visa for Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss scholar who had been selected to assume a position at Notre Dame's Institute for International Peace Studies.

One threat to area studies in general is a bill, HR 3077, to establish an International Higher Education Advisory Board with investigative powers "to study, monitor, apprise and evaluate" the activities of foreign area studies centers. …

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