Arab and Muslim professors at the Middle East and Islamic Study Centers at the US universities are target of the neoconservatives and the Evangelical Christian right while the funding coming from the Arab and Muslim endowments is labeled as "blood money," says Dr. Hatem Bazian, Professor at the Near East and Ethnic Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley.
In a recent speech entitled "Empire's embedded intellectuals" at the University of California Berkeley, Dr. Bazian pointed out that the case of Colombia University of New York is the latest attack on Arab and Muslim professors where four professors are under attack by pro-Israel students.
He said that the Colombia University President, based on the film Columbia Unbecoming developed by the David Project, has established a special committee to investigate the Middle East Studies program. While forming this committee the university has by passed the normal procedure to entertain students' complaints against a professor,
The 40-minute film was first screened in March 2004 to a handful of university alumni. Then it was shown to high-level in the university administration and eventually to the Columbia University president, Lee Bollinger. In October, Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, also watched and admired the film.
In the film a number of selected students gave testimony about the alleged intimidation they face in the class room, in particular about Joseph Massad which resulted in canceling his class on Palestine this semester. The other professors under attack are Hamid Dabashi, George Saliba and Rashid Khaldi.
Rashid Khalidi has been under attack since he took over the Edward Said Chair. The opponents went after Colombia University for instituting the chair because it receives a portion of endowment from the UAE, although it is not a considerable portion. This campaign is on the plea that the Edward Said Chair will produce softness on terrorism, so this chair is somewhat illegitimate.
New York Governor Pataki is on record condemning the Colombia University for its excess and the New York Board of Education forced Prof. Rashid Khaldi to cancel participation in an educational program that was going on for 10 years and Colombia University was part of it.
Attack on Arab and Muslim endowments
Dr. Bazian said that the second attack is directed at the endowment funding that can be traced to Arabs and Muslims which are mainly from Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries, and even some who are American-born.
A number of programs across this nation have received generous gifts from rich Arabs and Pakistanis, with or without governmental tie and the defining character of these endowments is the lack of any strings from the donors at the time of giving. More often than not, the gifts were for recognition and affiliation with an American University for a possible admission purposes or a thank you gesture after graduation which also is the case for many donations by others, not only of Arabs and Muslims.
However, he added that the attack on the Arab and Muslim source of funding has strong racial undertone as it implies that Arab money is somehow illegitimate or is often expressed as being blood money as in the case of the Edward Said Chair. "Just consider the gifts sent by the US Agency for Aid and Development, throughout the world. Why we accord for ourselves something that we deny to others?" Also how many programs are funded through Israel centric individuals, groups and organizations in US universities, he asked?
In a comment concerning the purported statement given by Prof. Rashid Khaledi to Al Jazeera, Martin Kramer, the author of "Ivory Tower on Sand" the failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, once again defended the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, by stating that it accepts funds only from American sources," in contrast with "terrorist money." This language was used for funding of Said Chair in Colombia.
Another attack on Arab and Muslim endowment was contained in an article by Ben Shaprio, "King Fahad Plan to Conquer America," which begins with a listing of different programs funded by Saudi personalities and then complains of an awful lot of Arabs and Islam.
An attack on Arab and Muslim funding was also directed at the UC Berkeley Center for Middle Eastern studies itself and Al Falah and Sultan Endowment programs. In a venomous article two writers made connection between the Sultan and Al Falah donors and a host of terrorist enterprises and argued that UC Berkeley administration ignored this fact and its Middle East program has accepted donations from groups and individuals linked to terrorism by the US State Department.
Even though the article was published in a minor campus student publication, the extent of its impact reached far beyond the confines of Berkeley campus. Both had cited purported accurate record of what was or what is taking place at campus. The intent of the article and the debate it generated was to cast a shadow over all Arab or Muslim funding programs in the US universities.
Dr. Bazian is of the view that immediate objectives of this campaign against the Arab and Muslim endowments are:
First, bring public attention to the presence of Saudi funded programs at our universities. Now if you notice all the press is speaking about Saudi Arabia. Not to mention that Saudi Arabia has been the key ally of US for the last 50 years.
Basically if you put the tag of Saudi Arabia, it is immediately rejected and delegitimized. When we say a Saudi funded program, then what it implies is some type of a sinister design behind this endowment. In addition the mentioning of Saudi Arabia is used for the purpose of generating an immediate negative response from individuals, considering the low standing the country enjoys at the international level post 9/11. The use of such terminology is an attempt to make some type of philosophical connection between the programs funded and those who carried out the terrorist activities in 9/11.
Second, the attack on the Middle East study centers and professors and their Arab and Islamic endowments is a way to dismiss the scholarship emerging from those funded programs.
If you are unable to challenge the argument then make the sources argument. In any debate if you cannot argue the point, argue the source. In this case of Arab and Muslim funded programs at the US universities, consider the public response when they discover that a research on smoking was funded by tobacco company. The critiques are seeking similar response from the public.
This approach is a wholesale rejection of scholarship funded by Arab and Muslim endowments to be replaced by tried and trusted traditional venues who are ready to serve the purpose of empire.
Third, the attack will bring about a level of self censorship and a pullback of funding of controversial research. The internal discussion at each of the existing centers was most likely to be impacted and possibly a self censorship developed, where particular type of research will not get the nod.
We are not talking about an annual type of review but a systematic examination, motivated by external political consideration, the intent of which is to alter the content and scope of research undertaken. It is human nature to become cautious and this often translates to distancing oneself from those areas that are considered problematic or a source of discomfort.
Fourth, by attacking these endowments, the door can be made open to provide resources to offer counter funding for "legitimate scholarship" i.e. which support the goal of empire and clearly sympathetic to power. Every attack has a number of goals and in this context the effort is to bring about a demise of the existing paradigm in order to replace it with another more docile, towards power and ready to march under the banner of ultra-nationalism.
What then individuals are looking for is summed up in a statement given at the 2003 congressional hearing of the Tile VI funding "where are the professors with a strong sense of national interest, lots of knowledge in the field, good intelligence, connections and willingness to recruit their students and an eagerness to serve in times of war."
No such person exists in the Middle Eastern studies.
What we are seeing is a concerted effort to dismantle the opposition at the fields of Middle Eastern Studies, Arabic and Islamic studies, and not for intellectual work based on academic merit. On the contrary the basic premise behind all of this is the lack of service to empire not the quality of research itself.
Two fold attack on Islamic and Middle East studies professors at US campuses
Dr. Bazian went on to say that when it comes to the Middle East, we have a two fold attack on campus. One directed at the professors of Islamic and Arabic studies who do not toe the line on Islam, Muslims and the Arab world in an overall negative picture and most part representing it as violent and oppressive. The other target is professors who are critical of Israel and questioning the overall foreign policy and relations towards Israel itself.
Often the two targets are one and the same. We could witness the case of Prof. Sami Al Arian of Southern Florida University and its origin being in his work on Palestine cause. After 9/11 it was mixed with the war on Islamic terrorism and thus handed down a 49 count indictment of being engaging in terrorism. This should not be taken to convey the lack of many other battles not related to the Middle East, there are, but this case is intended to highlight an often overlooked area in discussing the critical issues on campuses.
The targets were chosen to facilitate a more concerted effort directed at rewarding or bringing about control structures based on Title VI funding, that will be more favorable to Israel and its supporters, Dr. Bazian said.
During the summer of 2002, one of the main academic freedom battle relative to the Evangelical Christian Right was that of Michael Sells, professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, whose book "Approaching the Quran, the Early Revelation" was a required reading for the incoming freshman students at the University. A law suit was filed (by the Christian Right) to prevent the use of the book on the ground that "it indoctrinates students on deception claim about the peaceful nature of Islam."
Before the law suit was filed, the North Carolina State Legislative Appropriation Committee voted on August 7, to ban the public funds for reading assignments on the Quran, unless other religions get equal time. So for example, if you are teaching Middle East and History of Islam, you can't have a reading on the Quran. You have a reading of Quran, the Bible, the Torah and all other religions as a way of approaching the subject.
In addition to the equal time condition, the accuser, according to Prof. Sells, attempted to equate the understanding of Islamic text as softness on terrorism. It implied that approaching the Quran as a means of study indicates being soft on terrorism.
According to Dr. Bazizn, the firestone that engulfed the university was a determined effort by the Evangelical Christian Right which wanted to build and maintain a negative construct of Islam in America and prevent an educated alternative from emerging. And this battle ended with court going and thus giving Prof. Shells victory, able to teach "Approaching the Quran, the Early Revelation" to the incoming freshmen. The focus in this case was on Islam and how to represent it inside the classroom, an area not suited to the Evangelical Christian Right and their supporters considering the dynamics.
The case was used primarily by the Evangelical Christian Right to rally the troops behind for the forthcoming assault on area studies programs and federal funding for programs that are not fulfilling the empire's project, said Dr. Bazian.
Legislating an intellectual paradigm
The Evangelical Christian Right attack on Edward Said came immediately after Michael Sells, who was used as a rationale for the congressional hearing.
Meanwhile, Almost two years prior to the introduction of House legislation 3077, Kramer and Washington Institute of Near East Policy already recommended reforms to the Middle Eastern studies in order to end post-colonial dominance in the field and bring about diversity i.e. more scholars sympathetic to the US empire construct and subservient.
No doubt, reform is always needed whenever we are dealing with humanly constructed structure, but in this case of HR 3077, the effort is directed at legislating an intellectual paradigm into academia favored among the field practitioners. Since Title VI funded programs have failed "policy makers" then a new set of reforms must be introduced to confront the problem at hand that is the restructuring the funding of Title V
One of the recommendation is to set up a board to oversee Title VI funding and this board actually excluded the State Department from being on the Board. If there is a group that should be on the board it should be the State Department since it engages with diplomacy and will put the requirement of foreign language. But here as it shows, the motivation behind setting up this program was definitely from Pentagon and the neoconservatives and the Evangelical Christian Right since they have an antagonistic view of the State department and want to push the State department.
The proposed changes are now under consideration by the Senate after receiving unanimous approval in the House. Officials at Columbia and other universities say the subsidies represent less than 10 percent of the money they spend on Middle East studies, and they would prefer to reject government funding altogether than to accept outside supervision
Government funding of area studies programs goes back to the height of the Cold War, when the launch of Sputnik in 1957 appeared to demonstrate an "education gap" between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Eisenhower administration responded with the National Defense Education Act, which authorized the public funding of foreign-language studies and national resource centers for politically sensitive areas, including the communist world and the Middle East.
Area studies went into a sharp decline after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism, and grant money began to dry up. At many leading universities, including Harvard and Princeton, it was much easier to raise money for political science programs than for area studies.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reversed the trend. Within a few weeks of the attacks, Congress authorized an additional $20 million for area studies and language programs, with much of the money for focus on the Middle East and Asia. There are now 17 national resource centers for Middle East studies at U.S. universities, up from 14 in 2001. Grants for graduate research have increased by 250 percent, according to data collected by Miriam Kazanjian, a consultant for the Coalition for International Education.
Despite the increase in funds, the program's coffers remain remarkably small. Last year, Congress allocated $90 million for Title VI programs, and of that $4.5 million went to the 17 federally funded national resource centers on Middle East studies.
According to Washington Post, these are the best of times and the worst of times for the once-neglected field of Middle East studies. Enrollments in Arabic-language courses and area studies programs have boomed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Government funding is up. Universities and colleges are recruiting Middle East experts as fast as they can.
At the same time, the paper added, academics who specialize in the region complain that they are under siege from conservative think tanks and self-appointed campus watchdog organizations. These efforts have resulted in a flood of abusive e-mail and calls for tightening congressional control over the funding of Middle East studies programs, which, they contend, could undermine academic freedoms.
Self-appointed campus watchdog organizations
Dr. Bazian said that a website launched by the purported Middle East expert Daniel Pipes – Campus Watch – targets professors who dare to criticize Israel and US foreign policy. The initial mission of the Campus Watch was to list the names of professors who are critical of US foreign policy as well as expressing "hostility towards Israel." A massive negative response forced him to alter the mission of the site that continues to provide information and links that promote, according to his self defined US interests and immediate links to his Israeli interests as well.
If you examine Campus Watch material, you will find a common thread on all the people who were initially listed or have files that can be obtained via search, they are critique of Israeli policy and continued unquestionable US support for that policy.
In this context, the nature of the Israel centric campaign is showing the immediate connection between US national interests and Israeli national interests making appear to be one and the same. At this time we need to make sure that we are speaking about the Israel centric individuals. Those individuals that have a priority of protecting Israeli interests in the US and that at least forms much of their activity in the US.
A much more extensive list of academics as well as anti-empire targets can be found in the new McArthic website www.discoverthenetwork.com. This is a new website that supposedly targets the so-called network of those who have spoken against the US policies in Iraq and the concept of empire and their list is rather extensive of the individuals that they list on this website.
The name of Prof. Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado, Rashid Kahldi, Joseph Masad, George Saliba, Hameed Abashi of Colombia, Michael Sells of the University of Carolina, Evan Haddad, John Esposito, John Voll of Georgetown, Mohammad Shahid Alam, Prof. at North East University, Prof. Norman Finkelstein, Prof. George Bashirat of UC Hastings, are but a few targets for their dissenting voices towards the war on terrorism overall and the war in Iraq and Israeli policies against the Palestinians.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Director of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective www.amperspective.com