Campus Watch in the Media
Did the Events of 9/11 Change the Field of Middle East Studies?
346 Int. J. Middle East Stud. 39 (2007)
Pensee 2: Between the Hammer and the Anvil1: Middle East; Studies in the Aftermath of 9/11
Program on the Middle East and North Africa, Social Science Research
Council, New York, N.Y.; e-mail: email@example.com
Program on International Collaboration, Social Science Research
Council, New York, N.Y.; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Although it may be too early to determine whether the events of 9/11 will significantly transform key questions and analytic approaches driving research and teaching in the field of Middle East studies (MES), we can say with certainty that 9/11 has dramatically affected the political and institutional environments within which this research and teaching takes place in the United States.2 Thus, "impact" or "change" must be evaluated across three distinct yet interrelated arenas: (1) the quotidian environment in which scholars, teachers, and students conduct their activities; (2) the varied institutional architectures through which research and teaching on the Middle East are undertaken inside and outside the university; and (3) the long-term intellectual history of the field.
The events of 9/11 and the rise of neoconservatives to power in the United States empowered and mobilized specific segments of both the state and civil society around a political agenda that, in the context of the university, has been advanced through "code words such as balance, fairness, diversity, accountability, tolerance, and not least, academic freedom to justify the enforcement of a political orthodoxy that undermines these very values."3 However, these more recent developments must also be understood in the context of the changing political economy of higher education and the growing privatization of knowledge production, which are diminishing the traditional semiautonomy of the university, on the one hand, and fueling a proliferation of knowledge production in locations external to it, on the other.
There is little doubt that actions of "private" external actors have had an enormous impact on university environments in which research and teaching on the Middle East take place. Following a model pioneered by organizations like the Center for Equal Opportunity in the context of the affirmative-action debate, organizations like Campus Watch in conjunction with campus chapters of conservative groups have developed systems of surveillance through which they have targeted individual scholars of the Middle East as well as entire institutions for what they claim to be their "analytical errors, extremism, intolerance, apologetics and abusive power over students."4 Lists of "unpatriotic" faculty members have been created; prominent scholars have had their syllabi impugned and their lectures interrupted and filmed without their authorization, and they have been subject to defamatory accusations in widely circulating print and digital media. University administrators have had to establish committees to investigate student complaints while wealthy alumni have threatened to withhold financial contributions as a pressure tactic. These political attacks on MES target the field's intellectual thrust as much as its perceived shortcomings, and thus their effects on academic environments cannot be underestimated. At the same time, the fact that these practices find validation in an increasingly corporate university culture in which students are understood primarily as consumers cannot be overlooked.
House Resolution (HR) 3077, in this context, may be seen as the emblematic attempt to bring this neoconservative agenda to bear on the second arena outlined above—the institutional architectures within which research and teaching on the Middle East take place. Proponents of HR 3077 claimed that federally funded MES centers were failing to meet "national needs" and thus breeched responsibilities stipulated by Title VI grants; they also indicted the whole field and its practitioners for "postmodern" approaches and for falling under the influence of Edward Said.5 What is interesting is that while even HR 3077 reaffirmed international education and foreign-language training as strategic needs, the much rumored increases in federal funding following 9/11 have failed to materialize.6
What new resources that have materialized are being directed away from area studies centers toward institutions that require security clearances, such as the National Defense University or the recently established Center for the Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland.7 Another possibility, already evidenced by centers for the study of terrorism funded by the Department of Homeland security, is that the study of processes taking place in the Middle East will be undertaken within conceptual and institutional frameworks that do not center on the region but rather on what is purported to be its main characteristic(s)—terrorism, Islam, or both.8
These developments and pressures have only compounded uncertainties about the institutional forms that international studies and language training will take on U.S. university campuses. The at times simplistic and mechanical imperative to "rethink" area studies immediately following the Cold War produced some much-needed critical perspectives and did much to strengthen networks between U.S. scholars and their counterparts in the rest of the world. However, 9/11 has profoundly undermined the impetus toward internationalization that so powerfully marked institutional debates of the 1990s. The number of international students coming to study at U.S. universities has declined noticeably, and visas for visiting scholars from the region are increasingly difficult to obtain.9 Although circumstances vary quite significantly between institutions, our surveys and interviews with MES center directors suggest that these centers still exercise little or no control over permanent faculty appointments and generally "make do" with far fewer resources than they need to adequately fulfill their mission.10 In the meantime, umbrella or "alternative" structures, such as "global" or "international" studies institutes, have not yet resolved the challenges of how to organize research and teaching in ways that adequately reflect actual processes in a world that is simultaneously globalizing and regionalizing, renationalizing and transnationalizing.
Another area on which the impact of 9/11 on MES needs to be assessed is on intellectual trends in the field. If the Social Science Research Council's international research fellowship programs are any indication, MES continues to generate a dynamic corpus of dissertation proposals focused on both historical and contemporary questions, although there are no clearly detectable analytic shifts attributable to 9/11. It is also important for the intellectual future of MES that there is increased engagement in sustained dialogue with colleagues from other interdisciplinary and area-studies fields as a result of the perceived shared threat and impact of the current political environment. Younger scholars are also organizing to create resources and support for one another in negotiating difficult university environments.11 Furthermore, scholars of the Middle East are playing key roles in broader debates about academic freedom12 and questions of responsibility and ethics in higher education,13 as well as playing an important role in informing publics that extend well beyond the university.14 Although we cannot yet evaluate the long-term impact of these trends on the field of MES in this difficult and uncertain post-9/11 landscape, it seems clear that the role of "canary in the mineshaft"15 that has been assigned to the field is both part and harbinger of important changes to come in knowledge production, in the university's role and place in society, and in the quality of public discussion in the United States. If so, then MES will be both transformed and transformative in profound ways.
1 This phrase is taken from Beshara Doumani and Osamah Khalil, "HR 3077: The International Studies in Higher Education Act," in Academic Freedom after September 11, ed. Beshara Doumani (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 283-84. The full quotation reads, "The primary concern is that government intervention in education will replace professional standards by arbitrary political ones. A related issue is that area-studies centers that refuse to cooperate with such a board could lose their funding. Area studies, in other words, finds itself in the unenviable position of being between the hammer of intervention and the anvil of privatization."
2 This note is based on results of an ongoing research project on knowledge production on the Middle East and on analysis of vast numbers of book chapters, journal articles, digitally circulated commentaries, and press reports collected as part of this project. Data were collected through three main phases funded by the Ford Foundation and the International Research and Studies Program of the Department of Education (DOE) (http://www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsirs/index.html). The first phase surveyed the impact of changes in analytical and disciplinary approaches and frameworks on MES in the United States, Japan, Russia, and France. The second phase focused on institutional infrastructures and the impact of 9/11 on Title VI funded MES centers in the United States. The third, current phase (also funded by the DOE) expands the study to look comparatively at ME/Eurasia/South Asia centers as well as at ways of institutionalizing cross-regional and thematic knowledge production. For more information please see "Internationalization and Interdisciplinarity: An Evaluation of Title VI Middle East Studies Centers" on the Social Science Research Council website, http://www.ssrc.org/programs/mena/survey–of–middle–east–studies/ (accessed 20 March 2007).
3 Beshara Doumani, "Between Coercion and Privatization: Rethinking Academic Freedom in the Twenty-First Century," in Academic Freedom after September 11, p. 30.
4 See "The Problems in Middle East Studies" on the Campus Watch website,
http://www.campus-watch.org/about.php (accessed 20 March 2007).
5 Stanley Kurtz, "Congress Targets Title VI," National Review, 12 October 2003.
6 "Proposed FY 2008 Budgets for Social and Behavioral Science," COSSA Washington Update 26, no. 4 (2007).
7 See the "Message from the Executive Director" on the Center for the Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland website, http://www.casl.umd.edu/message.php (accessed 20 March 2007).
8 See, for example, the website for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, http://www.start.umd.edu/ (accessed 20 March 2007).
9 The problem of obtaining U.S. visas for scholars extends well beyond MES. At the 2006 Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, 80 percent of the membership voted in favor of relocating the association's congresses to locations outside the United States to protest denial of visas to Cuban scholars and a growing number of Venezuelan and Bolivian colleagues. The 2007 congress was moved from Boston to Montreal, and the 2009 Congress will be held in Brazil.
10 Elizabeth A. Anderson, "Internationalization and Interdisciplinarity: An Evaluation of Title VI Funded Middle East Studies Centers—Fieldwork Report," Social Science Research Council, 2006.
11 See, for example, activities and publications coming out of the Task Force on Middle East Anthropology, http://www.meanthro.org/home.htm (accessed 20 March 2007).
12 See Doumani, Academic Freedom after September 11.
13 See David William Cohen and Michael D. Kennedy, eds., Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2005).
14 A prominent example is Juan Cole, whose blog "Informed Comment" and whose regular articles in well-established Web-based publications such as Salon.com have become a key referent for scholars, policy professionals, and concerned citizens across the United States.
15 Comment by Lisa Anderson in her capacity as chair of the Social Science Research Council's board of directors, during a board meeting discussion of HR 3077.Note: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
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