From some of the same folks who tried to convince you about weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussain's friendship and cooperation with Osama Bin Laden, and the irrelevancy of the United Nations, comes House Resolution 3077.
House Resolution 3077, a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, would create an "advisory" committee to monitor and evaluate Middle Eastern studies programs at American colleges and universities. Its stated goal is to fulfill national needs, and to fulfill the purpose for which international studies in our colleges and universities exist. The politically appointed committee, which would not be accountable to the American people, would review grant proposals, evaluate activities, and make recommendations.
Personally, I believe the government has no business censoring the activities of academic centers. Recent events in international affairs, in fact, indicate such monitoring should be the other way around. Had we listened to any number of excellent Middle Eastern studies centers around the country, we would not have made so many mistakes in that part of the world—nor would we have forfeited the worldwide prestige and goodwill the U.S. had earned over the years.
Need evidence of Washington's lack of understanding of the Middle East? Take a look at something said during the debate on HR 3077:
According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA) desires to "redress the lack of balance" that "pervades Title VI-funded Middle Eastern studies programs." Lack of balance? Give us a break! This same representative regrets the "point of view that questions the validity of advancing American ideals of democracy and the rule of law around the world, and in the Middle East in particular." I wonder how Representative Berman feels about "one man, one vote" in Iraq right now? Does he actually want to advance democracy and the rule of law? Or, does he prefer Sukarno's idea of a "guided democracy"—at least for Arabs?
Campus-Watch, in a story it calls "Columbia vs. America," already has set up for trouble Prof. Rashid Khalidi, recently appointed to Columbia University's Edward Said Chair of Middle East Studies. The New York Sun subsequently labeled him "the professor of hate." Why? The professor has expressed sympathy for the Palestinian people, and he opposes the war on Iraq. Khalidi believes the demands for changes in Middle East studies will degenerate into a "political correctness test."
Do such opinions make one hateful? Are they enough to have one's patriotism called into question? Not in my America, they don't.
Of course, Daniel Pipes believes Americans "need to know what terms like ‘jihad' mean." I do know, thank you. Jihad means struggle for a noble purpose, and it usually is an inner struggle one undertakes in order to overcome one's flaws. It may mean "holy war," as well, but that is usually stretching the point. I learned its meaning from Middle Eastern specialists at American universities. Pipes, who has studied in Cairo, ought to know better.
Harvard University outreach coordinator Barbara Petzen speaks of "a right-wing thought police that is sending spies into classrooms to report on what teachers are saying in class." Michael C. Hudson, director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, believes his university, Georgetown, is the focus of a McCarthyite witch hunt.
At the very moment Middle East studies finally are generating the interest they deserve, scary things are taking place which threaten their usefulness. According to Washington Post staff writer Michael Dobbs, "the increased visibility of Middle East Studies has also spawned a cottage industry of mostly conservative critics who comb through what was once an academic backwater for signs of ‘bias' or ‘lack of balance.'" Campus Watch and other Web sites urge students to supply information about their own professors.
"‘Academic colleagues, get used to it,' wrote Martin Kramer, a Pipes ally and author of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. ‘You are being watched. Those obscure articles in campus newspapers are now available on the Internet, and they will be harvested. Your syllabi, which you've also posted, will be scrutinized. Your websites will be visited late at night.'"
What is next? Is he going to tell us he knows where we live?
Bill L. Turpen teaches history at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics and is an adjunct instructor for the University of Central Oklahoma