Middle East studies in the News
by David Wallace-Wells
Responding to a Columbia University faculty review of its Middle East studies program, bloggers debate the balance of Israel supporters and Palestinian sympathizers in academia. They also discuss a New Scientist list of the top 10 evolutionary leaps in world history and write about Al Lucas, who died Sunday after suffering an injury in an Arena Football League game.
Academic politics: Last Thursday, a New York Times editorial examined the findings of a faculty committee investigating allegations that professors intimidated students who held pro-Israel or pro-Zionist views. (The Times obtained the report on the condition that the writer not contact any of the involved parties, a violation of its own code of conduct; read about that controversy here). The editorial noted that although the report seemed "to indicate that the controversy … has been overblown," the school nevertheless "botched the handling of this emotionally charged issue from the start."
"The New York Times editorial board went over to the Dark Side on Thursday," writes eminent contrarian and Middle East specialist Juan Cole. At Informed Comment, Cole points out that the panel failed to find any wrongdoing and suggests the "the real question here is whether it is all right to dispute the Zionist version of history." He argues that such "ethnic nationalism," which distorts history in service of national goals, threatens to destroy the discipline of history and has already corrupted the study of the Middle East. "Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the academy," he writes.
Cole's statement that "nations actually did not exist in the modern sense before the late 1700s … there are no eternal nations through history," draws the ire of Daniel H. Abbot at TDAXP. "[Nations] did not somehow magically appear—they have existed for centuries," he writes. "Perhaps Cole means that nationalism did not exist before the late 1700s—but that's entirely different." Eternal Vigilance seconds Abbot: "We would like to know what history they have been reading that says the modern nation-state did not exist prior to the late 1700s."
As for that "Zionist historiography"? "This doesn't at all gel with my experience of how international relations is taught or practiced," writes political scientist Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber. Farrell admits there might be a bias toward Israel in international relations departments but attributes that to the discipline having a traditional preference for dealing with states rather than nonstates. University of Chicago professor Daniel Drezner dares Cole to produce a single relevant university course with a Zionist syllabus.
At Societas, Thomas J. Haslam is more sympathetic. Citing the report, he writes, "I have to side with Cole. … The students were challenged on what they believed. That's part of the education process. Period. They were not–by all accounts–punished or persecuted."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.
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