This following letter was not published.
To the Editor:
Martin Kramer's attack on the Middle East Studies Association is politically motivated and misrepresents MESA's purpose. MESA is a professional academic association that promotes scholarship on all aspects of the Middle East from the origins of Islam in the seventh century to the present. It does so through its two journals and its annual meetings. The latter includes participation by a wide array of affiliated but independent groups including the Association for Israel Studies, Society for Armenian Studies, and 34 others. MESA is neither a policy center nor a lobbying organization. It makes no effort to control the scholarly or political agendas of its members including that of Dr. Kramer. MESA is a voluntary organization supported by the dues of its members and receives no federal funding. Its headquarters are currently located at the University of Arizona in Tucson in contrast to policy-oriented think tanks within the Beltway whose funding comes from advocacy groups insofar as this funding is disclosed at all. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which funded Dr. Kramer and published his attack on MESA falls into this latter category.
Public programs devoted to contemporary crises, Islamic movements, and U.S. foreign policy are sponsored by individual universities, think tanks, lobbying groups, and religious organizations, but not by MESA. Does Dr. Kramer believe university faculty and independent scholars should be paid apologists of the government U.S. whatever its policies be and be prepared to change their colors with each new administration? Does Dr. Kramer believe that individual scholars should not undertake an independent study of the problems and tensions that bedevil Middle Eastern societies today? Independent scholarship is a form of free expression which is, as Lynne Cheney says, one of the liberties that make America great (Oct. 5, 2001).
Following the logic of Dr. Kramer's analysis the U.S. government should stop any support for the study of U.S. history or political science since neither of the professional academic organizations associated with these subjects predicted the blowing up of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City or the current bio-terrorist anthrax attack on "liberals" in the media and government. Unfortunately, the record of the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University which Dr. Kramer formerly directed does not offer a successful alternative model. Despite the close association of many Israeli faculty, including Dr. Kramer, with Israeli political and military leaders and intelligence officers, Israeli Middle East scholars were unable to predict the 1973 Arab-Israeli war or the tenacity of the shi`a resistance to Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Would Dr. Kramer argue that this failure should lead to the end of all their financial support?
The public demand after 9/11 for more information has resulted in trained faculty at universities throughout the United States, not just at the dozen federally supported Middle East Centers, offering thousands of lectures, workshops, and pre-collegiate presentations. Even with all these efforts the demand has not been met. Would Dr. Kramer recommend that Washington-based think tanks guide or dictate these discussions? The sad truth is that the United States is woefully short of specialists who work on the cultures and in the languages of the peoples who live in the Middle East and Central Asia. Dr. Kramer's call to end federal support for less commonly taught languages and regions outside the United States will only result in a greater lack of knowledge and leave ourselves, our government, and those bodies charged with protecting us even less prepared.
Jere L. Bacharach, Immediate Past-President, MESA [University of Washington]
Joel Beinin, President-Elect, MESA [Stanford University]
R. Stephen Humphreys, President, MESA [University of California, Santa Barbara]