Franck Salameh discusses the new alternative to the Middle East Studies Association: Seeking True Diversity in Middle East Studies
The Middle East Studies Association has finally met its match. In a move long overdue, the doyen of Middle East Studies—Bernard Lewis—and its laureate poet—Fouad Ajami—have just joined forces to launch the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa.
One hopes that this new professional association will rejuvenate and mop clean a field that has long since shirked its obligation to academic objectivity to transform Middle Eastern studies into platforms for agitprop and partisanship. The complex and richly textured Middle East deserves far more than the bromides and reductionist commentary that have of late become the hallmark of some of our day's most influential scholars in the field. ASMEA promises to provide such critically needed diversity of perspective...
...The pathologies of the Middle East are largely homegrown, and Middle Easterners, as Ajami has noted, are quite proficient at cracking their whips at their own without the benefit of American assistance and Western interference. Still, MESA, the scholars it props up, and the specialists they churn out would tell us otherwise. Their narrative dictates that the our only concern should be the Arab-Israeli conflict: all else is ancillary.
Yet the Middle East is rife with endemic problems that not only predate the Arab-Israeli conflict, but will outlast it if specialists in the region continue to ignore them. The academy has an ethical and intellectual obligation to study the region in all its complexity, including its warts and blemishes, rather than forgo accuracy for pursuit of a single issue that is the obsession of too many scholars.
The Middle East is a hotbed of rivalries above and beyond that of Arabs and Israelis. To name only the most important: Iranian vs. Arab; Sunni vs. Shiite; Turkish vs. Kurdish; Arab vs. Kurdish; Islamist zealots vs. modernist secularists; nationalists vs. Islamist; dictators vs. democrats; pan-Arabists vs. sundry localisms.
Yet MESA's leadership would have students of the Middle East ignore complex historical data and adhere to approved lines of group-think. The treatment of historical information, be it flouted, suppressed, fabricated, or dismissed in classrooms and faculty lounges, depends entirely on the whims and ideological predilections of the academy's keepers and the dictates of their favorite narratives. They have ruled that the region can be interpreted meaningfully and equitably without reference to histories other than those of Muslims and Arabs...