The attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath drew attention to America's ignorance of Islam and the Arab world. The government put out a call for Arabic speakers, because so few officials were fluent in the tongue. The nation's policymakers and its citizens simply must learn more about peoples, countries, faiths, and movements they do not understand. Departments of Islamic Studies or of Mideastern Studies fill a void.
They also can fall victim to ideology and to proselytizing on behalf of dubious points of view. Harvard's Ruth Wisse explains:
"Indeed, Middle East-style anti-Semitism plays a larger role in the international arena today than its European-style equivalent did a century ago. But our universities provide almost no academic or extra-curricular opportunities to discuss the issue.
"If anything, as the scholar Martin Kramer has shown, the hate-ridden attitudes within the Arab world find a natural reflection in the highly prejudicial bias of the academic discipline known as Middle East Studies. The current director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard, as well as a number of others who teach in the field, were among the signatories of a Harvard-MIT petition urging divestment from Israel - a petition meant to echo and give a highbrow patina to the currently fashionable calumny of the Jewish state as an 'apartheid' regime."
Centers for Middle East Studies do an admirable job of dispelling stereotypes applied to Muslims and Arabs. Their attitudes toward Israel do not always reflect similar enlightenment.