On behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), a private, non-profit organization of scholars and others interested in the Middle East, North Africa and the Islamic World, I would like to bring to your attention some recent and disturbing activities that have implications for all scholars and academics. Recently, a number of scholars, universities and MESA itself have come under attack in a website called campus-watch.org, a project of an organization called the Middle East Forum, "monitoring Middle East Studies on campus". The site was launched on the 16th of September, 2002. Curiously, the original formatting which highlighted "dossiers" on individual scholars was partially changed on September 30th when the "dossiers" were moved and melded with "surveys" of institutions. While this is but the latest assault in a long history of similar and well-documented attacks*, it has particular virulence because of the distribution afforded by the internet.
The purpose of the website is to suppress views differing from those of the sponsoring organization by calling into question the loyalty and patriotism of academics who specialize in Middle Eastern studies and all who hold such views. Riddled with factual errors reported as truths, selective misquotations and statements taken out of context, thus violating the most basic principles of scholarship, the site claims that "American scholars of the Middle East, to varying degrees, reject the views of most Americans and the enduring policies of the U.S. government about the Middle East". The site "monitors" a field, Middle East studies, that includes among many specialties, language and literature, environmental history, anthropology, political science, art history. While the Middle East Forum, a think tank the funding of which is not public information, sponsors the site, the wide-ranging authoritative voice on all these subjects is difficult to identify. The name of MEF's director, Daniel Pipes, is displayed, but exactly who wrote what is not clear.
The website solicits from students and the public information about the activities and statements of professors and publishes them in inflammatory language. This has resulted in massive spamming attacks, defamation by stealing identities and publishing lies under the stolen names, and personal threats against academics in the field. The fact that MESA has some 2,400 members with widely varying views is never mentioned but instead the utterly false but colorful statement that "Middle East studies in the United States has become the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs, who have brought their views with them. Membership in the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the main scholarly association, is now 50 percent of Middle Eastern origin" paints a vivid picture. The potential impact of such outright lies and intimidation on education, on scholarly inquiry and on the student-professor dialogue is alarming. It is wholly contrary to academic freedom and freedom of expression.
Other scholarly bodies and the public have an interest in thwarting this attempt to smear and intimidate the MESA membership en masse. MESA urges its sister organizations to alert their members to these tactics in their meetings and newsletters and to join us in speaking out against them. While MESA supports the free exchange of diverse opinions, it condemns activities that promote censorship, destructive behavior and personal aggression.
Amy W. Newhall
*For example, see the The New York Times, 1/30/85, p. 9 and The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/27/85, p. 5.