ASMEA: Association for Study of Middle East & Africa

Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa

October 4, 2016

Failing to name Islamic terror has cost Turkey hundreds of lives and will likely cost it hundreds more, as the country's leaders -- and many others,especially in the West -- are still too demure to call Islamic terror by its name.

In the above quote Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil succinctly states what should be obvious to all but isn’t for reasons of fear, ignorance, or political correctness. This failure to name Islamist terror as the main source of modern-day terrorism leads to confusion in the classroom and disaster elsewhere including wanton savagery against women, the destruction of indigenous communities (the real “first nations” of the M.E. region), and persistent attacks around the globe. Yet, little has changed among those who pontificate on the subject.

For example, among those who deny the leading role of Islamism is Michael Scheuer, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, and formerly the head of the CIA’s Usama bin Laden Unit. His state of disbelief allows him to conclude that the Islamists have legitimate grievances against the West, especially American support for Israel. Fortunately, his view is neatly dissected simply by referring to the Islamists’ own statements.

A related, and no less distorted, view of Islamist terror is held by Prof. Gilles Kepel of SciencesPo in Paris who predicts civil war across Europe as more young Muslims facing poor job prospects turn to radical groups. Never mind that there are all sorts of poor people in the world that don’t follow this path. 

Despite the prevalence of this view on campus there remains a small number of scholars, usually tenured, who are willing to confront the threat of Islamism. They include Prof. Franck Salameh of Boston College who will address the Islamic authenticity of ISIS at the ASMEA conference next month. Another, is our conference keynote speaker, Prof. Martin Kramer of Jerusalem’s Shalem College, and author of the forthcoming War on Error: Israel, Islam and the Middle East. Fittingly, he will be speaking on “The Pathology of Middle East Studies.”

Corruption and bias in Middle East studies is nothing new but it has received unique exposure in the wake of the coup attempt that took place in Turkey 2.5 months ago. Our principal rival, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), has been speaking out since President Erodogan beganpurging his opponents including firing tens of thousands of teachers and professors, and revoking the travel rights of many more. In MESA’s most recent letter to the Turkish government they made the following request: “We respectfully ask that your government take immediate steps to reverse the dismissals announced…. We also ask that your government desist from broadening the definition of terrorism to encompass…academics, journalists and NGO advocates.”

The letter is spot on. But why can’t MESA bring itself to support an academic boycott against Turkey as it does against Israel? After all, MESA has issued  eleven letters of protest against Turkey for what it considers to be violations of academic freedom and only 7 against Israel since the beginning of the year. While I’m at it, why do they oppose the State of California’s efforts to fight the boycott of Israel and discourage anti-Semitismon campus through economic measures when their concern is the field of Middle East studies (similar letter to NY Gov. Cuomo here)? And, why have they written letters in support of violent protesters that have disrupted pro-Israel events on campus (here and here)?

MESA isn’t alone in insinuating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views into the campus debate, and, with the start of the academic year many are following their lead. For example, at UC-Berkeley a course titled “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis“ was offered at the beginning of the semester, thencancelled, and finally reinstated under the amended title “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Inquiry” (see syllabus). Sponsored by a notorious anti-Israel activist and co-founder of the group Students for Justice in Palestine, the objective of the course was to “explore the connection between Zionism and settler colonialism….”

The retired professor from U. Cincinatti who first exposed the course has an interesting take on the matter.

But good will come of this. Since there are no constraints on what universities do, they are increasingly moving toward the extremes. In doing this, they undermine their own legitimacy and their bogus claims of serving a societal good or promoting civic virtue. Eventually, such a system will collapse because the larger society will recognize that it is paying for its own delegitimation and destruction through courses that view America and Western Civilization as the roots of all evil in the world.

Amen. Of course, the trick will be to ensure that whatever replaces the higher educational system we know and often loathe (Middle East studies included) will be an improvement rather than the faster, cheaper regurgitation of biased scholarship that appears ready to take over.

Meanwhile, Syracuse U. disinvited filmaker and Israeli citizen Shimon Dotan from a proposed campus lecture and screening of his very left-wing film “The Settlers” because of a perceived threat of trouble from campus anti-Israel activists. Dotan is an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Journalism (more here).

At Swarthmore College, swastikas were spray-painted in a “gender neutral” bathroom prompting the campus “Bias Response Team” to conclude the incident reached a “critical level” necessitating a campus-wide email describing the incident. The good news is the school condemned the vandalism. The bad news is that when grown-ups feel compelled to use ridiculous language to describe a nasty bit of vandalism then it’s clear the rot runs deep and wide on that campus (more here). Swastikas also were found at San Jose State University.

At Georgetown U., a panel discussing the career of P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu was disrupted by protesting students who waived signs and yelled slogans before being led away by police. At Oberlin College, the student senate condemned an alumni group that combats campus anti-Semitism. The City University of New York issued a report documenting recent anti-Semitic incidents including a litany of extreme anti-Israel activity. And, at UCLA, a law school student who made the mistake of opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel was forced to transfer elsewhere citing a hostile and unsafe environment for students, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Of course, all of this comes on top of the tendentious lecturesnasty op-eds, and related campus demonstrations of anti-Israel/anti-Semitic bias in Middle East studies and elsewhere on campus.

Aside from dishonesty in M.E. studies what drives students to adopt such bizarre views and what do they want? For the members of Students for Justice in Palestine franchises (a major driver behind such views) it is a combination of narcissism, ignorance, radical left-wing politics, bigotry, and faculty support. For example, at UC Berkeley the SJP franchise believes that:

Zionism’s core idea is establishing a Jewish state that excludes, oppresses, and denies the rights of Palestinians in various ways. While we undoubtedly oppose Zionism and Israel’s occupation, we prefer to think of ourselves as a group that promotes a positive alternative vision—in which indigenous rights will be recognized and Israel’s racist foundations will be dismantled for the benefit of all people living in the area.

The UC Santa Cruz franchise is even bolder in its public stance:

We have only ever focused on broader anti-Zionist politics, because our group politics are further left than the broader Palestine solidarity movement. We have never been in a situation where we have to eschew a broader critique of Zionism in favor of just highlighting the occupation.

At one point we tried to actually do some actions with J Street. The reasoning behind this was that we had become so powerful on campus that the norm was anti-Zionism and by participating in events with us they would be normalizing with us.

At Temple U., the SJP is no less outspoken:

Our SJP chapter focuses on anti-Zionism, which is the principle guiding our organizing, and the other side of the coin of our ultimate goal, national liberation for the people of Palestine. We do not believe anti-occupation politics are sufficient in addressing Israeli settler-colonialism, which encompasses not just the West Bank, but also historic Palestine. We understand that Zionism is not just an oppressive ideology, but a system of racism and colonialism….

Click on the links above to read the interviews in their entirety.

With Turkish scholars under assault from their own government, Israeli scholars effectively threatened everywhere, and the search for truth held hostage to political correctness one might be tempted to ask what the future holds for schools that entertain Middle East studies and its various offshoots. For the immediate future it’s likely to be more of the same.

But as suggested above good will come of this not just because of M.E. studies but because too many universities have devolved into unserious, outrageously expensive institutions that offer a decreasing return on investment. At a time when Georgetown U. is offering priority admission to slave descendents (Jewish descendents of Egyptian-held slaves, Christian descendants of Turkish-held slaves, descendents of Russian serfs, and slaves currently held in Saudi Arabia need not apply); Brown U. is providing free feminine hygiene products in all campus bathrooms (to avoid gender discrimination); Cal. State-L.A. provides segregated housing for blacks at their request, and; 9/11 memorial posters are torn down by facultymembers because they weren’t in a “free speech zone” then it becomes clear that Middle East studies isn’t the only problem. Let’s hope that a change for the better is quick in coming.