Middle East studies in the News
We Must Always Remain Critical
by William E. Hudson
I'm drowning in bias. When I came to Stanford, I was hoping to find an intellectually stimulating and diverse body of students and faculty that would challenge me to present my take on the world and then respect that opinion insofar as it would make sense. My first two years have found a diverse and brilliant student and faculty population, but one dominated by the Left. This should come as a surprise to no one -- as Dan Flynn, author of Why the Left Hates America, presented at a talk on the Stanford campus earlier this year, liberals far outnumber conservatives in nearly every discipline of academia. Here at Stanford, the liberal-to-conservative faculty ratio is greater than 9 to 1, and we should consider ourselves lucky in that regard when compared to institutions such as Dartmouth and Columbia.
Liberals aren't really the problem. Most of them are decent--albeit misguided--individuals who genuinely believe what they say. Few liberals can actually rationalize their perspectives, but they speak genuinely, and they're open to new perspectives. Conservatives do this too, but they do so far less frequently. In general, though, both groups consist of predominantly reasonable people who would like to approach their political beliefs with consideration and perspective.
What concerns me about Stanford, then, has very little to do with the political leanings of students or faculty but rather the reasonableness with which they approach their viewpoints. Here I define reasonableness as the ability to defend one's position on any issue while acknowledging the need for intellectual diversity in conflicting viewpoints, giving due appreciation to both liberal and conservative philosophies. One would expect to find reasonableness in a place of academic pre-eminence like at Stanford, but this is hardly the case. Sadly, the most egregious violation of reasonableness with respect to political views is among our faculty, who frequently impart their liberal dogma as acknowledged truth, distorting the trusting minds of pupils eager to learn.
It's sometimes impossible to avoid presenting a politicized opinion when teaching certain classes -- it's nearly impossible to imagine a seminar on the Cold War or the current Middle East conflict without a degree of politicization, for instance -- but such shading of a academic presentation should never be exclusionary. Conservative perspectives on conflict in the Middle East are gradually being shut out from academia as liberal ideologues have slowly rewritten history into an unending series of oppressive maneuvers by Europeans whose only designs were profit and human slavery. Such simplistic perspectives fail to take account of the richness of history and the inevitable complexity in analyzing any given situation, much less a far larger issue such as the Israeli-Palestinian rift.
Students here, largely ignorant of foreign affairs thanks to our double intellectual "bubble"--that of being Stanford students and that of being citizens of the United States--are prone to believe the politicized dogma that passes here for academic instruction. The fact that most professors here are reasonable, extremely knowledgeable individuals makes it all the more difficult to tell the ideologue from the educator. Sometimes, it's relatively easy to sniff out the perpetrators -- for fun one day, try to find a moderate-right professor in ethnic or feminist studies on practically any campus in this country -- but too often liberal proselytizers remain hidden like their friends from the Religion of Peace in the Middle East. This creates complications for those sensible students interested in being educated rather than being converted to the Marxist equivalent of academic terrorism for their $40,000 per annum.
Just occasionally, though, a professor comes along who is neither hidden nor shy about his far-left associations. Stanford currently has one such professor, and his name is Joel Beinin.
Professor Beinin is, no doubt, a brilliant man with strong beliefs about the Middle East. His brilliance has been continually demonstrated at campus anti-war protests where he spoke to crowds of unwashed, insensible professional protestors wielding signs proclaiming, "No War For Oil," and "Bush is the Terrorist." Placards presented at protests in which he wields some influence quite eloquently argue that the whole of American foreign policy is actually directed by a grand Israeli conspiracy. It's worth noting that Mr. Beinin has no trouble associating with the sort of people who blindly blame races and theories for the world's problems.
The professor's support for the Palestinian cause and strong antagonism for the looming war with Iraq has made him the object of fairly considerable criticism by conservative pundits and Israeli supporters. Some of these accusations are untrue -- Professor Beinin has never, to the knowledge of the Review or anyone else, graded a student unfairly for his political views on the Arab-Israeli conflict, on which he teaches a class. Nevertheless, his position as President of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America, which he has held since November 2001, has promulgated a series of dubious statements, some of which issue support for suspected terrorists arrested during the Bush administration. Beinin has called both on behalf of MESA and personally for the withdrawal of military aid from Israel until it ends its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem and addresses the claims of Palestinian refugees. Professor Beinin deemed a September 17, 2001 rally, in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, to be an opportune time to criticize American foreign policy in the Middle East, principally our support for the state of Israel.
Such beliefs are far from atypical. Many people here at Stanford and indeed around the world would be quick to agree with Dr. Beinin. While we can challenge the veracity of some of the professor's claims, the issue at hand has less to do with Beinin's political views than with the way he presents them in his classes as self-described moral truths. Students should be free to form their own opinions unadulterated by the dogmatic half-truths of their professors or anyone else. While it is commendable that Professor Beinin treats fairly even those students who disagree with his perspective, it is nevertheless regrettable that he infuses his lectures with what can only amount to one side of the story.
In an effort to keep the Stanford community appraised of this bias, we're going to present in each issue of this volume an account of some action by Professor Beinin so that our readers may determine for themselves the degree to which his radical views and political practice monopolize his interactions with the Stanford community. We hope that the entire community will find this instructive as a tool in the pursuit of a diverse, unbiased education here at Stanford rather than expensive training for the Marxist press corps.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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