Norvell B. De Atkine is the Middle East Director of Studies in the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. He spent eight years in the Middle East on active military duty as a foreign area specialist and was on the reviewing stand when President Sadat was assassinated in 1981. The views expressed here are purely his own.
The president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), America's leading academic organization concerned with matters Middle Eastern, recently lamented the lack of influence exerted by its membership on Washington. In the words of Rashid Khalidi: "Expertise on the Middle East is simply ignored by governments and to a lesser degree the media and other institutions of civil society." Khalidi then ruminated about the reasons for this situation, speculating that perhaps politicians never listen to experts; or that the specialists are not doing enough to make the policy makers listen.
The dilemma is a real one; scholars in the aggregate do indeed have little influence on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Of course, there are exceptions: such diverse figures as Anthony H. Cordesman, John L. Esposito, Bernard Lewis, William Quandt, Robert B. Satloff, and Marvin Zonis supply valued and important help to policy makers, who do recognize their need for the benefits of scholarship. But, as a whole, the academy has little influence in policy-making circles. This is all the more remarkable given that American specialists on the Middle East are not just talented but have replaced their British colleagues as the greatest source of knowledge on the region. Why, then, are they out of the loop? What can they do to remedy the situation?
The writings and arguments of leading Middle East specialists point to a number of causes: (1) their bias; (2) the many scholars coming from Middle East; (3) the obsession with Arab-Israeli issues; (4) the factional fighting; (5) the prevalence of leftist dogma; (6) the trend toward abstract and compartmentalized inquiry; and (7) the reluctance to approach Islamism critically. In brief, viewing issues from a narrow focus based upon doctrinaire ideologies and nativist hatreds has eroded the credibility of Middle East scholars. To gain more influence, Middle East scholars need to remedy these weaknesses.
I. ARCANE AND OVERSPECIALIZED
When Middle East specialists deal with issues of potential interest to government employees dealing with political or military policy, they tend to write in the indecipherable hieroglyphics of political science. Papers are far too long and detailed, and often rely on incomprehensible jargon. The Foucaultean, neo-Marxist, deconstructionist views of Middle Eastern scholars have little relevance to the policy maker, who deals in the everyday world of contending personalities, ideas, and constituencies, and who worries about polls, interest groups, and foreign capitals.
Because few academicians provide a general assessment of a situation, drawing on geography, history, culture, and economics, they do not speak in the terms familiar to policy makers. The ability to analyze, synthesize, and cull salient points from a mass of information is a rare talent among these academicians. In a crisis, what decision maker has the luxury of listening to a parade of experts in search of a few nuggets of wisdom? While policy makers can sometimes be rightly accused of looking for simplistic answers, they just do not have time for ten-thousand-word research papers with anti-American premises and a conclusion that calls for further research.
Even Edward Said, usually laudatory of MESA, despairs of this trend, telling an interviewer that "MESA has been taken over by a younger generation of scholars who use modern methodologies, who are influenced by Marxism, by the computer, by all the up-to-date research tools, but whose field of interest is much more narrowly defined" than the older, more generalist observer of the Middle East.
In addition, scholars betray a woeful lack of knowledge about American political-military realities. Jo-Anne Hart, a panelist on "State and Society in the Gulf Arab Countries" at
The 1993 MESA meeting, seemed chagrinned to learn from her research that American arms sales abroad are largely driven by domestic concerns like jobs. She was also incredulous that so many billions in arms could have been delivered to Saudi Arabia without any significant increase in military prowess. This naïvete is common. And when Middle East specialists foray into military strategy, watch out! For example, Joel Beinin castigated the U.S. government for not having as one of its objectives in the Kuwait war the securing of basic rights for women.
The 1993 MESA meeting offered more papers on gender issues than on religion, economics, sociology, or language and linguistics. The post-modern practice of stuffing the complexities of political science and history into bottles labelled race, gender, and class contributes to the erosion of analytical standards.
II. PREOCCUPATION WITH ARAB-ISRAELI ISSUES
Middle East scholars tend to see the Arab-Israeli conflict as the force that drives all else in the Middle East. For example, scholars sometimes try to link Persian Gulf issues to the Palestinian problem.5 During the Kuwait war they interpreted the crisis in the Persian Gulf in terms of Arab-Israeli issues. Thus, Hisham Shirabi wrote that "every major crisis in the region, including the Gulf Crisis, has been directly or indirectly connected to the question of Palestine." On occasion, scholars go so far as to see Arab-Israeli issues as key to global developments: Meir Porat thinks the "new world order" resembles the old one because "the essential composition of the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts remain intact." In a report on the impact of the Gulf War, Shibley Telhami of Cornell University wrote that the United states would have to face the two biggest issues, "Palestine and economic disparity": "As the question of Palestine will no doubt be revived, the absence of a Palestinian-Israeli peace will put stress on popular perceptions of the United States and its regional allies."
More generally, scholars overemphasize Arab-Israeli affairs in their teaching and writing. A 1990 survey of Middle Eastern studies in the United States found that Arab-Israeli issues dominated all others: 73 percent of the courses emphasized the Arab-Israeli dispute, making it taught more than any other topic. Nationalism in the Middle East was second with 68 percent; fundamentalist Islam came in third, with 59 percent.
The avalanche of literature on the Arab-Israeli issue continues. A search through the Pro-Quest Social Sciences Index for the first five months of 1994 turns up 1,309 articles on Israel, 258 on "Palestine," (including 39 on Gaza and 63 on the West Bank), 122 on the PLO. In contrast, there are 560 entries on Iran, 287 on Egypt, and just 280 on Turkey. A mere 44 articles deal with fundamentalist Islam. The periodical Middle East Policy, whose stated purpose is "to provide a forum for viewpoint on recent developments that affect U.S.-Middle East policy," has printed seventy-seven book reviews since the first issue of 1992. Of those, nearly half (thirty-three) were on Arab-Israeli issues.
This preoccupation with just one of the Middle East's many conflicts is not entirely surprising, for the U.S. government and media similarly overemphasize Arab-Israeli issues. But scholars are supposed stand apart from domestic politics and group-think; their role is to understand the larger picture. Too much attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict limits their ability to do this.
III. APOLOGETIC ABOUT ISLAMISM
The mainstream American press presents a distorted vision of Islam, not owing to malevolent prejudice toward Islam but, as any traditional Christian or Jew can attest, because of its disdain toward religion in general. Yet, the political and military American policy makers need an understanding of Islam, for both foreign and domestic policy reasons. Again, the Middle East scholars come up short.
Foreign. The growing power of Islamism (fundamentalist Islam), especially in Algeria, Jordan, and Egypt, has become a major issue for American policy makers. Unfortunately, most American scholars of Islam tend not to offer a balanced, commonsense assessment of this phenomenon but see their role as countercultural apologists. John Alden Williams, of the College of William and Mary, writes that Americans "must become aware that these people [fundamentalists] are not our enemies, but our partners and potential friends, who can be talked to and who can be understood."
Most proponents of this "potential friend" theory believe that bringing the Islamists into the tent and opening dialogue with them will result in their moderation. Lisa Anderson of Columbia University holds that participation in government will make the Islamists accountable to the people. John Voll of the University of New Hampshire and John Esposito of Georgetown University play down the extremist elements, emphasizing Muslim diversity and lack of central direction; in their writings, fundamentalist Muslims seem not much different from Methodists down the street.
Scholars often argue that fundamentalist Muslims are not necessarily hostile to the United States; if Washington abandons Israel, withdraws all military forces from the Middle East, and welcomes Islamist politicians, we would all get along. Some scholars go further and advocate a policy of facilitating the fundamentalists' rise to power in the hope that the burden of governing will moderate their appetites for power. For instance, John Esposito writes that
U.S. interests will be best served by policies that consist of selective and discreet cooperation with friendly Muslim governments, combined with a clear and consistent public policy concerning the rights of citizens to determine their future democratically.
Esposito also holds that "contrary to what some have advised, the United States should not in principle object to implementation of Islamic law or involvement of Islamic activists in government."
But this is wrong. Islamists see Western culture as not just alien but hostile; they despise the West not just for what it does but for what it is. The intolerant and polarizing aspects of politicized and fundamentalist Islam need to be challenged. That does happen occasionally (Mahmud Faksh of the University of Maine asserts that fundamentalist Islam cannot coexist with any other political system), but not often enough.
One reason has to do with the caricature and attacks on those who do dare speak up. For his honesty, Bernard Lewis is assaulted by Edward Said, who depicts Lewis's work as "polemical," "not scholarly," and "political propaganda." Judith Tucker of Georgetown University skewered the contributors to a book critical of Islamism as having written articles "seriously marred by thinly-veiled racism and psychologism born of an apparently deep-seated fear, even loathing of their subject." With this kind of reception awaiting anyone who leaves the confines of group-think, who can blame young scholars for sticking within the approved consensus? Interestingly, Esposito identifies the environment of intimidation that limits debate on Islam and democracy by averring that many scholars "privately" question the incompatibility of the two.
Domestic. Policy makers need to understand Islamic movements not simply as a foreign political force but also as a domestic one. For there are now more Muslims than Episcopalians in the United States, and Muslims represent a significant minority in Europe. Their presence creates new pressures on democratic infrastructures already creaking under the demands of various ethnic, linguistic, and racial groups. As Bernard Lewis writes, Muslims in the Western world are different, not just because they profess a different faith "but also because they hold a radically different conception of what religion means, demands, and defines."
When it comes to Islam in the United States, the scholars again seem overly accommodating. John Esposito writes that "Muslim citizens in the West cannot be expected to forego certain rights in society, (e.g., school accommodation to dietary laws, dress codes, and holy days, and the right of workers to observe their "Sabbath" by attending the Friday congregational prayer)." This seemingly innocuous statement is actually a harbinger of problems to come from accommodation to Islamic practices. In the United States, where students cannot even deliver a nondenominational prayer at graduation, will Muslims expect laws to be passed to allow only them to pray? Will school systems on the verge of bankruptcy install Islamic versions of a kosher kitchen? A major furor erupted in France in 1989 over three Muslim girls who insisted on wearing their hair kerchiefs in a state school, and they got their way. But we are on the road to perdition if one religious community wins privileges not granted to others.
IV. PERSONAL BIAS
Scholars tend to speak on behalf of vast populations - the Egyptians, the Arabs, or even Muslims as a whole. In general, however, their pronouncements are not accompanied by proof; rather, personal views are imbedded in what purports to be reasoned academic analysis. For example, in a presentation at the Middle East Institute (MEI) annual conference in 1992, Yvonne Haddad, a specialist on Islam, lectured on what "Muslims think." She informed the audience that Muslims are aware of pejorative Western views of Islam and that these views, along with Western support for Israel, are the most significant barriers to an understanding between East and West. Perhaps so, but she cited no evidence for this interpretation.
Fortunately, ungrounded assumptions are sometimes exposed. During the Kuwait crisis, scholar after scholar announced that Muslim antagonism to the U.S. position would lead to uprisings throughout the Muslim world. Thus, Mamoun Fandy of Mount Mercy College in Iowa compared Saddam Husayn to Saladin and foresaw the Iraqi leader launching a widely popular jihad. He also predicted an Iraqi-led revolt of the Shi`a throughout the Arab world. Bahman Baktiari of the University of Maine foresaw a U.S. war with Iraq leading to upheavals in Iran and Saudi Arabia, while Stephen Humphreys of the University of California blithely predicted "massive unrest throughout the Arab world." Conjuring up images of Indonesian peasants throwing away their rice shoots, scythe in hand, seeking transport to the land of Ishmael, these Middle East scholars in fact vastly overstated the case. Of course, these predictions proved completely wrong; no Iraqi-led jihad took place, nor massive unrest, nor even significant terrorism against Americans. This complete misreading of the mood in Arab countries suggests that evaluations by academics often derive more from personal predilection than from scholarly inquiry.
Their grossly overblown predictions of disaster making it look foolish, the academy then sought to recast the issue. An avalanche of articles and books now tell us that the military victory was really a failure. Curiously, such sweeping generalizations about Arab and Muslim thinking undermine the frequent charge, made by Edward Said and others, that Eurocentric orientalists believe in an "essentialist" and monolithic Islamic world. Those who make this charge then happily generalize about the Muslim world - and so engage in the same stereotyping they reject in orientalist writings.
Admittedly, public opinion in the Muslim Middl e East is not easy to discern. It hosts few opinion polls of political attitudes, no Ahmed Limbaugh call-in shows, and, with few exceptions (Turkey in particular), little public discussion of political issues. Even where there are no constraints on the free exchange of ideas, social inhibitions can serve as equally pervasive deterrents. Jordan today is far less politically circumscribed than twenty years earlier; yet the nascent political pluralism has been accompanied by a much more restrictive social code of behavior, which causes people to be more circumspect than ever in speaking their minds. Speaking of the inability in Jordan to debate the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Lebanese journalist Hisham Milhem observed that "it was difficult in Amman not because of the government but because the whole mood was against this. You had a collective resignation from critical inquiry. Here I would fault the Arab intelligentsia more than the journalists because this is the function of people who claim to think critically." "Politics and Media in the Arab World," Middle East Report, Jan./Feb. 1993, p. 19. Given the difficulty of gauging public opinion, scholars should present their sweeping generalizations as speculations and not as conclusions drawn from hard evidence.
Scholars of the Middle East show a contempt for traditional America that permeates much of their writing. They see the United States as the villain of the Middle East; and the U.S. political-military establishment is the root of evil.
Thus, economic inequality in the Middle East exists because Great Britain and the United States "separated the wealth of the Arab people from the Arab people themselves." Saddam invaded Kuwait because, in a masterpiece of entrapment, the U.S. government somehow lured him in and set him up for a beating. Anne Joyce, editor of Middle East Policy, informs us that Jewish terrorists in Israel are a product of an American culture "in which young Jews learned to fear and resent their inner city neighbors. They went to the Israeli (wild) West Bank, where they could tote machine guns and harass at will." The keynote speaker at the 1993 MEI convention, Richard Falk of Princeton University, wrote of an American culture "shaped by the commercialization of violence, an addiction to entertainment built around grotesque encounters between various idioms of violence, and a culture shaped by rising crime, official corruption." To Falk, this miasmatic culture exalts in the projection of force into the Middle East.
Women's issues tend to be dealt with in a way that depicts the United States as a villain. Aljouhharah Almayman, a Saudi panelist said the U.S. government instigated the now-famous Saudi women's motorcade in 1990, then abandoned the women to the retribution of Saudi males. A film at the 1993 MESA conference equated Western treatment of women with Arab-African female circumcision. Even when the West cannot be directly blamed, some immoral equivalency" must be imputed.
The scholars conjure up a particularly malevolent American "warrior culture," where soldiers are high-tech killers who fear nothing but their own mortality. Falk holds that from an American perspective, "the ideal war would be conducted by high-tech weaponry that could inflict damage and pain at will and face no threat in return." Using quotes from journalists who themselves know nothing of war or weaponry (as David H. Hackworth notes, "Most [reporters] did not know a tank from a turd"), academics describe horrific scenes of carnage and death with facile references to Nintendo games. Contributors to the book Triumph of the Image described the Kuwait war with such terms as "video games" and "shooting gallery." Scholars barely conceal their anger toward the U.S. military for its part in the Kuwait war; in contrast, they portray Iraqis as misdirected peasants. George Gerbner of the University of Pennsylvania, describes how
Poorly equipped and demoralized [Iraqi] troops sitting in trenches, caves, bunkers without air cover were napalmed and "fuel-air bombed" to deprive those inside of oxygen, and then they were bulldozed; dead or alive alike were buried in some seventy miles of trenches. . . . Defenseless convoys fleeing in panic were bombed and strafed into oblivion in what pilots called a "turkey shoot."Said says that the media managed the war to provide "patriotism, entertainment, and disinformation." Like old maids writing pornographic novels, the Kuwait war provided scholars with libidinous release.
Middle East scholars apply anti-military attitudes to their own affairs as well. The MESA Board of Directors urges its members "not to seek or accept" any awards from the National Security Board (NSB), which administers the National Security Education Program - federal grants to scholars in foreign area studies, including funds for American students abroad, in return for obligations to work for a U.S. government agency. A past MESA president, Barbara Aswad, expressed her concern for funding of American students in the Middle East under this program; citing dangers to academic freedom, she endorsed a MESA resolution deploring "the entrance of the military into educational facilities."
The ostensible reason given for avoiding NSB grants is that because they are administered from a room in the Pentagon, they would taint the research of American scholars in the Middle East and possibly put them in personal jeopardy. But who is kidding whom? Middle Eastern political culture is so full of paranoia, any American scholar in the area is automatically assumed to be underwritten by "powerful forces." A return address at the Pentagon hardly makes any difference. (Actually, this perception has its advantages. My status at the American University of Beirut in 1967-70 was considerably enhanced when word got around - wrongly - that I was working for an intelligence agency. Several of the most vocal anti-American Arab students actually sought me out to offer their services.)
In essence there is much more "Man warrahu?" to the anti-NSB resolution than concern for academic freedom or the safety of grantees. It amounts to an insistence on conforming to the political etiquette of the academic Left - mandating among other things a disavowal of all things connected to the U.S. government.
An incident in 1985 confirms this impression. When it became public knowledge that Nadav Safran of Harvard University used money provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to write a book, an apoplectic reaction followed, including an anti-CIA resolution by MESA. Ironically, there does not appear to be a parallel prohibition by MESA on accepting funds from foreign states; and indeed, universities have happily received funds from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qadhdhafi's Libya. If it is true, as MERIP Reports states, that "links between intelligence agencies and leading academics are far from uncommon in U.S. Middle East studies," how much more common is it for academics to accept foreign money?
In effect, scholars of the Middle East have - like their colleagues in other area studies - largely estranged themselves from American culture. They have pretensions to power while disdaining American taxpayers, government officials, and soldiers. In the process, the specialists bring on their own irrelevance. Advocacy of political agendas and the transitory ideological currents that dominate so much of academia have reduced much of Middle East regional studies to a caricature of itself.
VI. MIDDLE EASTERN ORIGINS
The area of Middle Eastern studies in the United States is increasingly the preserve of Middle Easterners. MESA's membership rolls indicate that 50 percent of the membership is now of Middle Eastern origin, a point verified by 1993 MESA president Barbara Aswad. And it is active; the 1993 annual meeting program indicates that more than half the presenters were of Middle Eastern origin. Their presence has many beneficial effects, providing views perhaps not otherwise available. As Albert Hourani points out with reference to Qur'an studies, scholarly analysis of the text "cannot be done from outside, but only by way of the debate between `modernists' and `traditionalists' which has continued in every Muslim society for the last century or so."
At the same time, indigenization has changed MESA from an American organization interested in the Middle East to a Middle Eastern one that happens to meet in the United States. This leads to five problems. First, when Middle Easterners predominate, they bring with them the region's conflicts, and these become the debate. Iranian students regularly disrupted Middle East Studies gatherings in the late 1970s, condemning the shah and insisting that everyone else do likewise. These days, the Turkish-Kurdish confrontation generates intense passions. Rather than demystify these conflicts, scholars from the Middle East tend to present them in a nativist fashion. Interesting and important as these arguments may be, they have little practical value for ferreting out core American concerns - such as identifying the country's national interests.
Secondly, Middle Easterners, led by Edward Said of Columbia University, often make the wrong and dangerously myopic argument that only an indigenous scholar can understand the Middle East; Westerners who study the region, often known as orientalists, reflect vested political interests. But this is nonsense. Just as foreign observers (including Alexis de Tocqueville and currently The Economist magazine) have some of the most penetrating insights into American culture, so I believe, along with John Waterbury of Princeton University, "that it is important to see through the outsider's eye." Further, as Waterbury acknowledges, Westerner scholarship of the Middle East remains the best. It is no exaggeration to state that nearly all the monuments to scholarship in the Middle Eastern field have been written by Westerners. (The rest have been written by Middle Eastern scholars with traditional Western liberal educations, such as Philip Hitti and Albert Hourani).
Thirdly, this author's experience as an instructor in military schools leads him to conclude that it is very difficult to have a critical discussion of controversial Middle Eastern issues with Middle Easterners present, for they display a hypersensitivity to criticism that nearly shuts off debate. The same applies to scholars, who infuse intense emotions and hyperbole into their scholarship. Here is Using unnamed sources for her references, Yvonne Haddad describes President Bush as "protector of the thieves" and "the deceiver," and American intervention in the Gulf as "duplicity and hypocrisy." Yvonne Haddad, "Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm: The Islamist Perspective," in Phyllis Bannis and Michel Moushabeck, eds., Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader (New York: Olive Press, 1991), pp. 253, 254. While these purport to be quotes from other sources, they tally very closely with her own views. Yvonne Haddad in a speech to MESA, responding to Bernard Lewis's article in the Atlantic Monthly, "The Roots of Modern Rage":
How can one study the literature produced in the last forty years and not recognize Middle East anger at United States policy which acknowledges Jewish nationalism as a legitimate expression of Jewish identity but rejects Arab and Islamic nationalism as illegitimate to U.S. interests? How can a scholar disregard forty-five years of American attempts to control the Middle East?44
Fourthly, more than a few Middle Easterners come from countries where autocratic governments place constraints on their citizens; as Waterbury observes, the "political constraints on social science research" in the Middle East "have never been stronger" than today; there is no real academic freedom in the Arab world. These constraints then reach even into the United States and sometimes shut off free speech. Having family in the Middle East also prompts some scholars to hold their tongues. For example, virtually every scholar of Syrian origin interprets politics in his home country in a way acceptable to the regime. In the current climate of fundamentalist Muslim intimidation - real or perceived - there also appears to be much self-censorship on the subject of Islam.
Lastly, and perhaps most delicate, the loyalty of scholars from the Middle East is sometimes in question. Rashid Khalidi, the MESA president, worked for the Palestinian delegation to the talks with Israel. Ayad Rahim is of Iraqi origins but grew up in United States, is an American citizen, a scholar at Harvard University, and a self-proclaimed pacifist; he writes that before the Kuwait War, when he thought ahead to the prospect of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers facing off, he felt he "would want a great number of American soldiers to be killed." When Edward Said writes that "Palestinians today are separated by geography and by Israel's designs to keep us fragmented and isolated from one another," it sounds like he is writing as a Palestinian, not an American. This was even more so when Said told a Kuwaiti newspaper in 1989 that "the Israeli and U.S. Governments are our enemies." Can Said be surprised that few American politicians choose to call on him for advice on U.S. policy?
VII. FACTIONAL FIGHTING
One would hope that scholars would debate each other's ideas: in the Middle East arena, they too quickly turn to the ad hominem attack. A 1993 article by Joel Beinin, assessing the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), typifies this approach: "To enhance its intellectual legitimacy, WINEP has solicited minimal Arab participation. Paul Jureidini, a consultant specializing in terrorism and urban violence, is probably the most frequent Arab presence at WINEP." Beinin does two things wrong here: he confronts not the Washington Institute's intellectual product but the identity of its personal; and he insults Paul Jureidini by presenting this astute American analyst of political-military affairs as merely a token Arab, thereby demeaning him.
This factional infighting becomes particularly bitter in the context of the Arab-Israeli issue. More than that: Scholars turn one's view of Palestinians and Israelis into a political litmus test. For example, Fouad Ajami, the articulate interpreter of Arab culture and politics who teaches at Johns Hopkins University, has been subject to scathing criticism from Arab critics. In a review of his book The Vanished Imam, for example, Asad Abu Khalil verbally assaulted Ajami, calling him a "neo-orientalist" - a pejorative term for half-baked, political-agenda-laden, racist stereotyping of Middle Eastern peoples. Ostensibly, Arab critics find his scholarship faulty; in reality, they see him as too soft on the question of Israel and, worse, selling out to the enemy. He endured much abuse, for example, for attending a Jewish function.
Republic of Fear, a remorseless indictment of Ba`thist rule in Iraq that appeared in 1989, was written pseudonymously, its author fearful of retribution from the regime in Baghdad. After Saddam invaded Kuwait, and the book acquired renown, the halls of Middle Eastern scholarly convocations filled with speculation about the identity of the author. He must be an Iraqi Jew, went the usual thinking, for no Arab could write such calumnies about fellow Arabs. When the author's identity was revealed as that of Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi Shi`i, the speculation continued, but now with a different twist: "Man warrahu?" (Who is behind him?) The anger at Makiya came out in reviews of Makiya's 1993 book, Cruelty and Silence. Eqbal Ahmad did not just attack the book but also the writer: "With his rationalization, dual lives, pseudonymous pretensions, ill-founded hates and self absorption, Makiya is a mess, just the type the media would find suited to personify the good Arab."
With passions high, civility goes out the window. Edward Said dismisses Makiya as am "Uncle Ahmad" and insults Bernard Lewis of Princeton University as ""too shoddy a historian"; he accuses Fouad Ajami of offering "unmistakably racist prescriptions" toward the Arabs and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman of writing "racist clichés." The effect of this is that Said discredits himself, not his intended targets. And, in the end, these attacks on personalities rather than ideas, diminish the stature of the entire scholarly community.
In a recent seminar at the Mershon Center at Ohio State University, General John C. Galvin in effect replied to Rashid Khalidi's lament about scholars' lack of influence. Noting that "there may be people [academics] out there who really know things," he pointed out that "a lot of the advice that decision-makers get is not necessarily very good." There are no quick remedies to the problem of Middle East scholars languishing outside the loop; it's not a matter of better public relations or networking. To increase their role, scholars have to undergo some basic changes in their world view and approach the public arena differently.
First, if academics act as supranationalists and set themselves apart from the society in which they live, they cannot at the same time expect to gain positions of power within that society. They should remember who they are and where they live. They need to reintegrate into American culture. If Middle East specialists want a role in foreign policy formulation, they must cast off their fashionably spleenish view toward basic American values and overcome their knee-jerk aversion to the U.S. military. There is a vast difference between presenting the opinions, perceptions, and viewpoints of foreign cultures and becoming an advocate.
Secondly, young Middle East scholars should begin their studies with the works of the much-maligned orientalists, such as H.A.R. Gibb, Gustave von Grunebaum, and Wilfred Cantwell Smith. In so doing, the new generation will be able to build a foundation of sound knowledge before exposing itself to the revisionist histories, the Marxist theorizing, and other currently voguish writings.
Thirdly, scholars who want to have an impact on policy making must write in language understandable to those charged with its formulation. Trendy political science jargon and complicated formulas may impress the academic community but have little utility to policy makers.
Lastly, MESA President Aswad claimed in 1993 that "the agendas of military establishments are not those of free inquiry." Well, speaking as someone who has spent a lifetime in a military environment and a number of years in academic halls, I submit that the lockstep left-wing ideology prevalent on elite campuses inhibits free inquiry far more than the discipline in the military establishment. For scholars to make their mark in the policy realm, this has to change.
There was a time a few years ago when I tried to obtain funding for my students to attend various Middle East scholarly meetings. I do not do so today. Most of the convocations are not germane to political-military issues. Moreover, the banality of the ideas, the parochialism of the arguments, the personal pretensions of too many of the scholars, and especially their disdain of the soldier-scholar, would likely result in a shutdown of any particular student interest in the Middle East.