After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it became painfully clear that if America was to become more engaged in the Middle East, it would need to develop a greater understanding of the area. Scholars of Middle East studies at our nation's universities were called upon to explain the religious, cultural and political dynamics of the region to students, journalists, and politicians
Unfortunately, many of the leading academic lights in the field proved to be woefully unprepared for the conflict at hand and-much worse, were actively hostile to the interests of the United States and its allies.
It was for this reason that in Sept. 2002, Middle East Forum director and Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes started Campus Watch, a project intended, as stated at its website, to "review and critique Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them."
Campus Watch has since focused its efforts on the West Coast, where no shortage exists of Middle East studies academics with problematic perspectives. Consider the following views publicly expressed by denizens of the ivory tower:
"As far as I can tell, American empire is safe and secure, despite my best efforts to topple it (although Musab al-Zarqawi seems to be doing a good job in Iraq)."
UC Irvine history and Islamic studies professor Mark LeVine
"Israel is an 'apartheid state' and a 'colonial state,' but Hamas and Hezbollah are 'liberation movements.'"
Diablo Valley College Middle East studies instructor Imam Amer Araim
"America's military presence is metastasizing throughout the Arab world to the point of malignancy. Isn't it curious that Muslims are the ones under pressure to proclaim that their religion is the 'religion of peace'?"
UC Berkeley Islamic studies professor Hamid Algar
"You can't have a Palestinian state with its own rights, when you have 150,000 Jewish extremists sitting in the middle."
UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg
"It's about time that we have an intifada in this country that change[s] fundamentally the political dynamics in here. ...They're gonna say some Palestinian being too radical - well, you haven't seen radicalism yet!
UC Berkeley Islamic studies lecturer Hatem Bazian
Unfortunately, such sentiments are par for the course at California colleges and universities where a culture of political correctness has allowed apologists for radical Islam to dominate Middle East studies.
Instead of offering college students the historical basis and intellectual tools to help them better understand the realities of a changing world, far too many Middle East studies professors engage in indoctrination. The classroom has become merely a tool for pushing a political agenda.
At the same time, students that dare to buck the prevailing orthodoxy often find themselves the victims of intimidation and suppression at the hands of their own professors and administration. Professors that diverge from the party line can also face ostracism and, at times, discrimination.
In working to stem the tide of intolerance and academic dishonesty on California's colleges and universities, Campus Watch will inevitably run up against the sort of smears to which it has long been subjected. Critics often accuse Campus Watch of practicing "McCarthyism" or "censorship," but they couldn't be further from the truth.
In reality, Campus Watch analyzes and critiques Middle East studies, employing specialists in the field, original research, and the largest archive of related news and information available on the Internet.
Campus Watch holds no governmental power, nor does it control academic and financial decision-making at colleges and universities. Campus Watch takes no position on debates over tenure and, according to its mission statement, "fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds."
Only those who equate criticism with censorship could confuse Campus Watch with being anything other than what it is - a participant in the free exchange of ideas. After all, rigorous debate should be the very essence of higher education.
Yet in the rarified, insulated world of academia, professors arrogantly assert that they should be answerable to no one: Not even the taxpayers who foot the bill for keeping the universities running. In what other profession would such a demand for unaccountability be tolerated?
Simply by shedding light on the discipline, Campus Watch is bucking that trend. Judging by the level of vitriol generated in response, its efforts are paying off.
The state of Middle East studies should concern us all. And, lest one be misled, the issue at hand has nothing to do with political or religious affiliation. Rather, it's about the importance of providing students, politicians, and journalists with accurate and fair information on this most important of fields during this crucial time.
The next generation deserves no less.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the Northern California Representative for Campus Watch.