Today's student newspapers bring two mischaracterizations of Campus Watch.
Hina Ahmed, a columnist for the student newspaper, Pipe Dream, at SUNY Binghamton, seems to think that Campus Watch possesses police powers.
In a column published today, titled "Freedom and Justice for Some, Division for the Most Part," she defends Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York City. Part of that defense involves an awkward attempt to tie opposition to the school to the Bush administration, which in turn leads Ahmed to make a statement that is uninformed on several levels:
What is this strong opposition to the school saying about freedom of speech and race in our country? If our education is being controlled, how can we stand for a democracy?
This is not the first time that education on the Middle East has been scrutinized. Programs such as Campus Watch, founded in 2002 by Daniel Pipes, is a perfect example of the control the government is executing over our education system.
To begin with the obvious: KGIA is a public school, and public schools are, by definition, controlled by the government. How does Ahmed think they are funded? Why does she think school boards are elected by voters? (Hint: those voters pay the taxes that support public schools.) And surely scrutiny, per se, is a good thing when directed at the use of public funds, whether for education or other purposes.
Beyond that, however, she grossly mischaracterizes Campus Watch by calling it a "perfect example of the control the government is executing over our education system."
Come again? Campus Watch is not a government entity. It has no legal power, cannot issue subpoenas, collect taxes, censor anyone in any way, or in any form or fashion act as an agent of the government. Rather, it is a program of the Middle East Forum, a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization recognized as such by the IRS under section 501 (c)(3) of the tax code. So is the American Heart Association, the Brookings Institution, and thousands of other organizations nationwide. It accepts no government funds, seeks no governmental power, and couldn't obtain any if it tried.
The second example comes from the Badger Herald of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Kyle Szarzynski's op-ed, "Israel Lobby Censors Academic Honesty," is (as the title suggests) tendentious and, like Ahmed's, inaccurate on several levels.
His piece is a defense of former DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein. Of more interest to me, however, is his inaccurate description of Campus Watch:
Dr. Finkelstein's case is not an isolated one. Indeed, it is indicative of an increasingly hostile atmosphere for pro-Palestinian and leftist academics. A perfect example of this trend is the founding of Campus Watch in 2002, a right-wing think tank designed to monitor and silence critics of Israeli and American policy in the university.
First, Campus Watch is not in and of itself a think tank, but rather a project of the think tank mentioned above, the Middle East Forum.
More importantly, CW is not designed to "monitor and silence critics of Israeli and American policy in the university," as Mr. Szarzynski erroneously claims.
We do indeed monitor scholarship in Middle East studies, but not for criticism of Israel or America. Rather, we critique Middle East studies for shoddy scholarship, abuse of students, and the general politicization of academic life common in that field at many North American universities.
And we do not, and cannot, silence anyone. As I noted above, we have no capacity or desire to do so. Our critiques of Middle East studies are performed with an eye to improving them, and we insist on our right to do so, just as we respect the rights of others to disagree with us. How this amounts to silencing anyone, or engaging in censorship, is a mystery.
The crux of the matter is that academics, including those who have influenced the two students who wrote the pieces here under discussion, have for years cried censorship whenever they are criticized. The degree of misinformation exemplified by the writings of these two students, whose universities exude an intellectual atmosphere that prides tendentiousness and political correctness over rigorous research, attests to the malfeasance and derelection of duty so common among members of the Middle East studies establishment.