Middle East studies in the News
CU Professors Mull the Future of Iraq Government
The Faculty Peace Committee hosted a panel last night in which prominent Columbia professors looked at the future of Iraq, presenting different critiques of American policy in Iraq.
The participants were all renowned professors in their fields: Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arabic studies and Literature; Charles Tilly, professor of sociology; and Nadia Urbinati, associate professor of political theory. The topic of the panel, which was held in Jerome Greene Hall, was "Nationalism, Fundamentalism, and the Future of Popular Protest". Following the speeches given by the professors, the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
The forum, the first of three to be held over the next two weeks, follows a series from last semester which also was sponsored by the Faculty Peace Committee and was meant to address the repercussions of the Iraqi war.
Khalidi, a historian who studies the Middle East, spoke first. He argued that historical precedents show that Middle Easterners naturally resist occupation, and that Iraqis will probably reject the U.S. presence in the same way. He compared the current American occupation to Napoleon's in 1798 and that of the British in the first half of the 20th century, claiming that statements from government officials in the two occupations could be interchangeable.
Khalidi cited one quote from a British administrator who was speaking after World War I as proof: "'They have tricked us into it by a steady withholding of information. ...Things are far worse than we have been told ... We are today not far from a disaster, paying everyday in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the Baghdad administration.'"
Khalidi went on to say that a war in Iraq might have been necessary, but not the way it was conducted by the Bush administration. "It had many bad effects and only a few good ones," he said. "Among those few good effects was, of course, the removal of the reprehensible Baathist regime. But ... this laudable aim could have been achieved without the effect. It might not have been achievable without a war, but this war, fought by this administration, with these objectives, is having consequences that far outweigh the destruction of this regime."
Tilly spoke next, distinguishing between "top-down" nationalism, which is sponsored by the government, and "bottom-up" nationalism, which is when a group of people claims that it does not belong to a government and demands sovereignty. He said that, ever since the American Revolution, the U.S. has much more frequently sponsored "top-down" nationalism than "bottom-down" nationalism.
Tilly argued for promoting democracy, but he argued that democracy depends on equality between countries, which is not now being achieved, and the reduction of violent means of political activities like small arms, many of which are supplied by the United States. He does not think the Bush administration will listen to his arguments, though: "The conclusion I draw does not seem a likely one to draw a government response," he said.
Urbinati, the third speaker, argued against equating nationalism with political determination, claiming that arguments for self-determination should not be bound by the restraints of any country's history, which nationalism inevitably does.
She noted that the "emancipatory" function, which the United States performed in Iraq, needs to be performed for higher goals. "Not as an end itself, but ... as the realization of principles of justice and freedom."
Questions and comments from the audience were mostly sympathetic to the arguments of the panelists, though one man challenged Khalidi, arguing that his position on the Iraqi war was not sufficiently nuanced. Khalidi responded that he was not able to fully develop his thoughts because of the time constraints.
About one hundred people attended the panel, not enough to fill the room in Jerome Greene Hall. By the time the event had finished, most students had left.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org