Subject: Message from Joel Beinin, MESA President
Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2002 15:26:27 -0700
July 16, 2002
Dear friends and colleagues,
You are probably aware that the public attack on American Middle East studies and MESA in particular that began with the publication of Martin Kramer's Ivory Towers on Sand has continued throughout the year in the mass media with articles in The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The National Review, The New York Post, and many other places as well as articles and radio shows by one Stanley Kurtz (a fellow at the Hoover Institution located uncomfortably close to my office).
While the intellectual criticisms of MESA members are mostly mean spirited, ad hominem, and spurious, there is a significant threat to Middle East studies from this assault. Many of the individuals associated with it (Kramer, Kurtz, and Daniel Pipes most prominently) are explicitly calling on Congress to defund Title VI Middle East Centers and to put federal money into building more reliably "patriotic" sources of Middle East expertise. In practice, it would be difficult if not impossible to do this without relying substantially on individuals and institutions already in place. Nonetheless, in the xenophobic current atmosphere of the United States, we would be seriously remiss if we failed to make a public case for the value of our scholarly enterprise not only for its own sake, but also for the public goods it provides to American society at large.
I am, therefore, urging you to try to publicize the activities of your Middle East Centers/Programs and any related public service or outreach activities through all means possible. We should actively advocate the idea that lively discussion of Middle Eastern affairs, not slavish parroting of whatever pronouncements come from Washington policy makers, is the best way to promote good public policy and an informed citizenry. We need to explain why our understandings of the Middle East are often at variance with popularly held views. Our scholarly enterprise is uniquely positioned to address issues which are at the heart of current concerns in the United States and throughout the world. This gives us an exceptional opportunity to make the case for the value of what we do, to participate actively in shaping opinion, and otherwise acting as public intellectuals.
This can take many forms: op-eds in local newspapers, interviews on the radio, or speaking to community groups. Here are some specific outlets you may avail yourselves of:
* Pacific News Service has expressed an interest in receiving op-eds and other material from MESA members. The contact there is Mary Jo McConahay (415-438-4755).
* AlterNet, a web-based on-line magazine and syndication service run by the Independent Media Institute, has been open to running critical articles on the Middle East. You can find them at www.alternet.org. To submit something write a plain text email-no attachments-to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "submission" in the subject line.
* History News Network, run by the Department of History at George Mason University, features articles from the left and the right on historical background of current events (Much of the Middle East commentary has been from the right, for example a commentary by Daniel Pipes savaging a 7th grade curriculum unit on medieval Islam which encourages students to empathize with Muslims at http://hnn.us/articles/844.html A more reasonable item is Juan Cole's op-ed at http://hnn.us/articles/842.html). The History News Network home page is at http://hnn.us/
* Local newspapers are often particularly receptive to articles from nearby university faculty members. They are often read by congressional staffers to gauge public opinion
If you do write or speak for the general public it is best to keep the focus on the positive work of MESA, its members, and the Middle East Centers/Programs providing a broad range of expertise and opinion based on solid scholarship. It is better to avoid engaging with the calumnies that have been directed against us.
If anyone has had notable successes in doing this kind of work, please inform the MESA secretariat and our new executive director, Amy Newhall, so that we will be able to let others learn what has worked well. Suggestions for specific avenues to pursue are also welcome.
Please do not neglect this important aspect of our public responsibilities.
Best wishes for a pleasant summer wherever you are.
MESA President, 2001-02