Middle East studies in the News
The Return of Tail Gunner Joe? [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Paul Gronke
It has been fifty years since "Tail Gunner" Joe McCarthy graced the American political scene, but this presidential campaign shows that guilt by association remains a popular strategy for campaigns.
The charges linking Barack Obama to Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi is only the most recent example from this campaign, but one which, as an academic, I find particularly hollow. There is no shortage of college professors who still believe that communism is a viable political system, or that America committed genocide among Native Americans, or that American capitalism is a front for American imperialism. Many of these professors are good scholars, good teachers, and good people, even if they may have ill-considered or repugnant political views.
Some of my best friends in the academy are also evangelical Christians, devout Catholics, and have even worked in the Bush Administration. That doesn't make me a ditto head. And I'm just as sure that I have hoisted a few beers with some dedicated Marxists, but I don't think that makes me a fellow traveler.
What makes these charges odd is the target. Rashid Khalidi, by all reports, is a relative moderate in the field of Middle Eastern Studies. Some of his friends have told me that he's a lot more interested in Karl Lagerfeld than in Karl Marx (apparently, Rashid is quite a dresser).
I have no doubt that Obama gave a laudatory speech when his colleague Rashid Khalidi left the University of Chicago for Columbia. After all, Professor Khalidi has won numerous academic awards and professional recognition. He is an international leader in the field of Arab studies. His departure was a serious loss for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, my own alma mater. But there is no evidence at all that Khalidi is a terrorist sympathizer.
What moves these charges into the realm of dirty campaigning is the pure guilt by association that underlies them. I have a colleague who got his PhD from Chicago and has a letter of recommendation from Khalidi. Should he burn it? I have another colleague who served with Khalidi on the board of a major journal. Should he remove that association from his vita?
It is one thing when a political candidate has a long history of associations that call into question his judgment. It is even more telling when a candidate has a history of votes that call into question his policies. But when collegiality and simple professional courtesy become fodder for political attacks, we have moved from reasoned political debate into the worst sort of McCarthyism. I hope America rejects this sort of diatribe.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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