In a surprising act of corporate courage, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has dismissed an attempt by Philadelphia-based Campus Watch to place an ad in the program for MESA's upcoming annual conference in Montreal.
The text of the rejected ad read:
Campus Watch: Working to Improve Middle East Studies since 2002.
The bad news arrived in the form of a terse email from Amy W. Newhall, Ph.D., the executive director of MESA. She wrote from her office at the University of Arizona:
MESA's advertising policy states, ‘MESA reserves the right to refuse ads it deems inappropriate or in conflict with MESA's objectives.' On this basis, we will not accept the ad from your organization.
Amy W. Newhall
MESA is the umbrella organization for practitioners of Middle East studies (MES) in North America. Based in the Arizona desert, insiders say it breaks through the wall of silence imposed on its members by Campus Watch through stealth outreach efforts that include: frequent appearances on national and international broadcast and cable news networks and radio; articles and citations in newspapers and magazines from around the world; countless classes involving thousands of students on thousands of university campuses worldwide; thousands of publications, including academic and non-academic journals and books; and frequent public speaking gigs in every state and province and scores of foreign countries.
The organization is known to be a fearless defender of academic freedom, even in the face of intense internal pressure to increase its intellectual diversity. This spirit is exemplified by former MESA president Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, who once said, "The FBI should investigate how [Walid] Phares, an undistinguished academic with links to far right-wing Lebanese groups and the Likud clique, became the ‘terrorism analyst' at MSNBC."
Against all odds, MESA's Committee on Academic Freedom recently issued a letter expressing its "grave concern" about efforts by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to combat campus anti-Semitism.
That courageous act was made in light of its silence on this summer's now-sidelined proposal by the British faculty organization, the University and College Union, to explore the possibility of launching a boycott against Israeli academics.
In a further sign that MESA is willing to risk all for the sake of principle, it has yet to condemn the successful suit brought by Mahmoud bin Mahfouz against Cambridge University Press for publishing the now-pulped book, Alms for Jihad.
CW's goal in buying this ad was to raise awareness among MESA members and thereby remove the false consciousness that has guided their work for decades.
Given that MESA members still take Edward Said seriously, in spite of the intellectual demolition jobs visited on Orientalism by Bernard Lewis, Martin Kramer, Robert Irwin, Ibn Warraq, and many others, CW believed the time had come to toss an intellectual lifeline to the group's intellectual captives.
We were also troubled that MESA members seem to harbor a hatred of all things American, although we don't doubt their attachment to those features of American life they take for granted: the rule of law, public support of universities, loaded left-wing foundations, the First Amendment, tenure, and a society complex and rich enough to afford a large class of permanently-employed, over-schooled people who spend their lives trying to undermine it.
Despite their rejection of our overture, we remain ready to come to the aid of scholars suffering from post-colonial syndrome, post-modern rigor mortis, censorious certitude (a tragic condition whose victims cannot discern criticism from censorship), and other maladies of the modern MESA mind.
Winfield Myers is director of Campus Watch.