Minutes before Monday night's Chancellor's Forum lecture, audience members were crowding inside the cramped Oak Room in the Indiana Memorial Union. With no seats available by the start of the lecture, people began carrying in chairs from the lobby so they could have a comfortable seat for Joel Beinin's lecture, "Scholars, Neo-Conservative Pundits, and U.S. Middle Eastern Policy."
Beinin is a professor of Middle Eastern history at Stanford University, and he has authored numerous books on the subject, including his most recent, "Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East." Monday's lecture was co-sponsored by the department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program.
At the heart of Beinin's lecture was an attack on "neo-conservative pundits" who he says have undermined the importance of Middle Eastern studies in order to protect their own interests.
On more than one occasion Beinin attacked President Bush and said he has noticed a shift in the opinions of Middle Eastern scholars over the last decade due to their hunger for more power.
"Attacks on Middle Eastern studies is an attempt by neo-conservatives to suppress criticism of the Bush administration," he said.
Beinin's visit to IU marks the final installment of the Chancellor's Forum lecture series for this semester. The program, which was started after the Sept. 11 attacks, invites three to four speakers each semester. Cyndi Connelley, the administrative assistant for the Dean of Faculties, said the chancellor's office tries to invite speakers who will discuss up-and-coming events that students will find interesting.
Nazif Shahrani, professor of Central Eurasian Studies, said discussing Middle Eastern policy is often neglected in the United States, and Beinin's expertise on the subject will benefit students' awareness of our current foreign policy.
"Tonight we have one more chance to discuss this important issue, and I can think of no one better to hear from than Professor Beinin," Shahrani said.
A controversial issue like current Middle Eastern policy in the United States is almost certain to stir strong emotional debate. In a question-and-answer session, audience members were not afraid to stand up to Beinin's opinions.
One discussion dealt with the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. While one audience member believed it was too early to dismiss the idea that Iraq might still possess weapons, Beinin disagreed.
"Iraq most certainly had chemical weapons, but they did not have any weapons of mass destruction," he said. "The question then becomes: if Iraq does not have these weapons and countries like North Korea do, why not invade them? It seems like the message behind this war is, if you don't want us to invade your country, you must have weapons of mass destruction."
But despite the sometimes-heated moments with the audience members, Beinin said he welcomed the criticism.
"I will say some things that will upset some of you, but that's fine," he said. "I'm looking forward to a lively debate."
One of Beinin's final statements was an encouragement to students, in which he urged them to absorb as much information as possible on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in order to form their own educated stance on the matter.
"Our universities are failing America," he said. "Students need to learn and hear about the different opinions of scholars in order to come up with their own beliefs."