Middle East studies in the News
Testimony of Stanley Kurtz before the House Subcommittee on Select Education for Hearings on International Education and Questions of Bias
June 19, 2003
Mr. Chairman, my name is Stanley Kurtz. I am a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. I am also a Contributing Editor to the Internet magazine, National Review Online. Please note, however, that I speak for myself, here, and not for either the Hoover Institution or for National Review Online.
I received my doctoral degree in Social Anthropology from Harvard University in 1990, after doing field research in India. In 1992, I published a book called, All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis, with Columbia University Press. I was a post-doctoral fellow at the Committee on Human Development of the University of Chicago, and was a Dewey Prize Lecturer in Psychology there as well. I was also a Lecturer for several years at Harvard University's Committee on Degrees in Social Studies.
For some time now, in my writings on National Review Online, and in The Weekly Standard, I have criticized scholars who study the Middle East (and other areas of the world) for abusing Title VI of the Higher Education Act. These criticisms are based on my recent research into the operations of Title VI, and also on my own earlier experience in the academy. Title VI-funded programs in Middle Eastern Studies (and other area studies) tend to purvey extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy. To see this bias at work, consider the most influential theoretical perspective in area studies today.
The ruling intellectual paradigm in academic area studies (especially Middle Eastern Studies) is called "post-colonial theory." Post-colonial theory was founded by Columbia University professor of comparative literature, Edward Said. Said gained fame in 1978, with the publication of his book, Orientalism. In that book, Said equated professors who support American foreign policy with the 19th century European intellectuals who propped up racist colonial empires. The core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power.
In his regular columns for the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, Said has made his views about America crystal clear. Said has condemned the United States, which he calls, "a stupid bully," as a nation with a "history of reducing whole peoples, countries, and even continents to ruin by nothing short of holocaust." Said has actively urged his Egyptian readers to replace their naive belief in America as the defender of liberty and democracy with his supposedly more accurate picture of America as an habitual perpetrator of genocide.
Said has also called for the International Criminal Court to prosecute Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, and General Wesley Clark as war criminals. According to Said, the genocidal actions of these American leaders make Slobodan Milosevic himself look like "a rank amateur in viciousness." Said has even treated the very idea of American democracy a farce. He has belittled the reverence in which Americans hold the Constitution, which Said dismisses with the comment that it was written by "wealthy, white, slaveholding, Anglophilic men."
Yet Edward Said is the most honored and influential theorist in academic area studies today. Just last year, the Middle East Studies Association, many of whose members are associated with Title VI centers, joined its European counterparts in presenting Edward Said with a special award for his unparalleled contribution to Middle East Studies. In his recent book, Ivory Towers On Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, Middle East scholar and Middle East Quarterly editor, Martin Kramer, detailed the pervasive influence of Edward Said's post-colonial theory on Middle East Studies. During my own years in the academy, I had ample opportunity to note the broad influence of Edward Said's post-colonial theory, not only on Middle East Studies, but on South Asian Studies, and on many other area studies programs as well.
This is the context in which we have to understand a teacher-training workshop sponsored by the Title VI-funded Center for Middle East Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That workshop was part of the outreach program by which Title VI centers are supposed to convey knowledge of the Middle East to the broader American public. In the wake of September 11, U. C. Santa Barbara's Middle East Studies Center assigned reading materials to K-12 teachers to help them answer the question, "Why do they hate us?" Yet all of the articles assigned under that rubric were writings of Edward Said, or of his like-minded colleagues.
Given the influence of Said's post-colonial theory on Middle East Studies in America, that workshop was in no way an isolated occurrence.
The authors assigned in that workshop included Arundhati Roy, Robert Fisk, and Tariq Ali, all known as bitter critics of American foreign policy. More than that, Said and these other authors have been widely cited for purveying a viewpoint that betrays an extreme animus to the United States itself. The Columbia Journalism Review cited Arundhati Roy, for example, as a prime example of an "anti-American" writer. Liberal author Ian Buruma, writing in The New Republic, published a review of Roy's work entitled, "The Anti-American." (Roy's title-essay from the book reviewed by Buruma was assigned in the U. C. Santa Barbara course.) Even leftist author Tod Gitlin, in the left-leaning magazine, Mother Jones, called Arundhati Roy "anti-American."
The uniformity and extremist political bias of that Title VI-funded reading list was in no way unusual in a field dominated by Edward Said's post-colonial theory. What was so striking about this workshop was that it was purveying this perspective, even to the teachers responsible for educating America's young children about the meaning of September 11.
Let me state clearly, however, that I am not arguing that authors like Edward Said ought to be banned from Title-VI-funded courses. My concern is that Title VI-funded centers too seldom balance readings from Edward Said and his like-minded colleagues with readings from authors who support American foreign policy. Princeton historian and best-selling author Bernard Lewis, Harvard University political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, and Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami, all support American foreign policy, and all have very different explanations than Edward Said and his colleagues of "why they hate us." Yet these authors are generally excluded, or simply condemned, in contemporary programs of Middle East Studies.
Again, Martin Kramer's important book, Ivory Towers On Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, is the most comprehensive and authoritative account of the extremist bias against American foreign policy that pervades contemporary Middle East Studies. For further evidence of extremism and lack of balance in Title VI-funded centers of Middle East Studies, however, consider the website of the Hagop Kevorkian Center at New York University. That website features commentary by Kevorkian Center-affiliated scholars on the events of September 11, and on the war with Iraq.
Of the essays that treat September 11 on the Kevorkian Center website, every one that takes a stand sharply criticizes American policy. Ella Shohat criticizes America's "crimes" of "oil driven hegemony" and America's "murderous sanctions on Iraq." Ariel Salzmann feels despair that America is threatening to attack Afghanistan instead of offering the Taliban "aid and mediation." Bernard Haykel says that, "We should not send U.S. or Western troops and special forces into Afghanistan with the aim of arresting or killing Bin Laden." Instead, says Hayel, we need to "reassess our foreign policies in the world." And so on with several of the other commentators on September 11 and its aftermath. The Kevorkian Center's Title VI-funded "Electronic Roundtable" on the war with Iraq is just as extreme and monolithic in its political perspective.
Of course, the reason NYU's Title VI-funded center is uniformly critical of American foreign policy is that NYU's Middle East Studies faculty is itself ideologically unbalanced. Naturally, it is right and proper that projects funded by Title VI are governed according to standards of free speech and academic freedom. Free speech, however, is not an entitlement to a government subsidy. And unless steps are taken to balance university faculties with members who both support and oppose American foreign policy, the very purpose of free speech and academic freedom will have been defeated.
The vigorous and open debate that is supposed to flourish at our colleges and universities cannot exist without faculty members who can speak for divergent points of view. Yet, by rewarding politically one-sided programs with gigantic funding increases, Congress is actually removing any incentive for Deans and Provosts to bring in faculty members with diverse perspectives. At this point, Title VI funding increases are only stifling free debate.
Title VI-funded professors take Edward Said's condemnation of scholars who cooperate with the American government very seriously. For years, the beneficiaries of Title VI have leveled a boycott against the National Security Education Program, which supports foreign language study for students who agree to work for national security-related agencies after graduation.
For at least a decade the African-, Latin American-, and Middle East Studies Associations have sponsored a boycott against the NSEP. Since 1981, the directors of Title VI African National Resource Centers have agreed not to apply for, accept, or recommend to students any military or intelligence funding from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the NSEP, or any other such source. Shamefully, a mere two months after September 11, Title VI African Studies Center directors voted unanimously to sustain their boycott of military and intelligence related funding, including the NSEP.
The Title VI-supported scholars who boycott the NSEP claim to do so out of concern for their students' safety. Supposedly, students could be harmed abroad if they are suspected of being spies. (In reality, of course, the students have no contact with defense or intelligence agencies until after they graduate.) But American scholars abroad are suspected of being spies, regardless of their funding source. And in fact, both opponents and supporters of the NSEP agree that there have been almost no actual cases of NSEP-funded students running into trouble overseas. Even the few recorded incidents might have happened anyway, regardless of funding source. Can you imagine these radical professors opposing the programs that once sent students to the segregated South to work for civil rights? Those programs were really dangerous. The NSEP is not.
The truth is, talk about student safety is nothing but a pretext for a politically motivated boycott of the NSEP by Title VI-funded scholars bitterly opposed to American foreign policy. That is made unequivocally clear by an early pro-boycott statement by the Association of Concerned African Scholars. That statement explains the boycott as a refusal to aid a U.S. policy that "[subverts] progressive governments and national liberation movements" throughout Africa.
In 1996, the Ford Foundation commissioned anthropologist Jane Guyer to write a report on the state of the field of African Studies. The Guyer study clearly describes the NSEP boycott as politically motivated, saying that the NSEP boycott serves as a "political litmus test" within African studies. Guyer's study also acknowledges that during the 1980's, "American scholars who supported U.S. policy...more or less withdrew from the African Studies community." The same was true of U.S. policy supporters in other area studies fields, except that it would be more accurate to say that supporters of U.S. policy were driven out of area studies, than that they "withdrew."
Michigan State University, which receives area studies funding under Title VI, actually passes out a letter that warns students against applying for NSEP fellowships. Although the letter admits that no undergraduate recipients of NSEP grants have actually suffered any negative consequences abroad, it does everything possible to scare potential NSEP applicants into fearing for their lives. And the letter's dark hints about faculty objections to the program, combined with warnings that an NSEP grant could have an "impact" on their future careers, serve to signal to any bright young supporter of American foreign policy that an academic career is out of the question.
Although the boycott of the NSEP has not entirely succeeded in driving the program out of first-tier universities, the NSEP is badly under-represented at our finest colleges and universities. This is because of the refusal to cooperate with the NSEP of many of our best Title VI-funded centers and scholars. Fortunately, the NSEP has flourished nonetheless. In the wake of 9/11, this extraordinarily valuable program has attracted ever-greater numbers of patriotic students, and the work done by the NSEP is critical to the security of our country. Yet the shameful refusal to cooperate with the NSEP of many Title VI programs at top-tier universities has nonetheless deprived our defense and intelligence agencies of the services of some of America's brightest young people.
Even now, Title VI African Studies center directors and their colleagues are shunning a University of Wisconsin-Madison African language resource center that broke the boycott and applied for an NSEP grant. That could easily result in a loss of funding for the courageous and patriotic scholars who run the Wisconsin-Madison program. If Title VI-funded scholars hold back from exchanging students and other forms of cooperation with the Wisconsin-Madison center, they will be able to tell the Department of Education that the Madison Center has "failed to reach its constituents." The result will be the de-funding of a center that dared to cooperate with the United States government.
It is simply an outrage that the directors of Title VI African Studies centers are doing everything in their power to destroy a program like the NSEP. The boycotters often say that they would support the NSEP, if only it were moved out of the Department of Defense. But that would change the purpose and nature of the program itself, which is to stock our defense and intelligence agencies with accomplished speakers of foreign languages.
We know that transmissions from the September 11 highjackers went untranslated for want of Arabic speakers in our intelligence agencies. Given that, and given the ongoing lack of foreign language expertise in our defense and intelligence agencies, the directors of the Title VI African studies centers who voted unanimously, just after September 11, to reaffirm their boycott of the NSEP, have all acted to undermine America's national security, and its foreign policy. And so has every other Title VI-funded scholar in Latin American-, African-, and Middle Eastern Studies who has upheld the long-standing boycott of the NSEP.
How can Congress permit professors who take American taxpayer dollars (on the claim that they are contributing to national security) to boycott a program designed to bring desperately needed foreign language expertise into our defense and intelligence agencies? How much longer can the scandal of Title VI and the NSEP boycott continue?
Here is what I believe needs to be done to solve these problems. 1) Congress needs to create a supervisory board to manage Title VI. The Fulbright and National Security Education Programs already have such a board, and it is vitally necessary that Title VI have one as well. 2) Congress needs to pass an amendment that would take funding out of the hands of any Title VI center that engages in or abets a boycott of national security related scholarships. 3) As a sign to Deans and Provosts that our area studies faculties must become more intellectually diverse, Congress needs to reduce the funding for Title VI. Specifically, the twenty million dollars of funding added to Title VI in the wake of September 11 needs to be withdrawn and redirected to the Defense Language Institute, which could then issue scholarships for students interested in good quality, full time jobs at our defense and intelligence agencies.
An overall supervisory board for Title VI should include appointees from key branches of government concerned with education and international affairs, along with public appointees named by the White House (former ambassadors, business leaders, heads of think tanks, etc.). The board's purpose would be to oversee the work of the area selection panels, and to make certain that, over and above questions of peer review, due consideration was given to the national interest. The supervisory board would also make appointments to the selection panels.
A supervisory board would also be able to hold annual hearings on Title VI activities, including the outreach activities of Title VI National Resource Centers (such as the teacher-training workshop at the U. C. Santa Barbara Center). These hearings would be public, and members of the public could make statements. (The board of the National Security Education Program may already hold such meetings.) In general, a board would simply make the supervisory process for Title VI comparable to that already found in the Fulbright Program, the National Security Education Program, the United States Institute of Peace, and other such programs. As such, I cannot imagine a reasonable objection to the idea of a supervisory board for Title VI.
One possible structure for a supervisory board would be a ten person board: 1) Secretary of Education (Chair ex-officio); National Security Advisor (Vice-chair ex-officio); Secretary of State; Secretary of Commerce; Director, National Endowment for the Humanities; Commander, National Defense University; and four additional presidential appointees. All ex officio members could appoint designees to represent them. Again, given the existence of supervisory boards for many comparable federal programs, it is difficult to imagine reasonable grounds for objections to such a board.
An amendment that would remove Title VI funding from any center that engages in or abets a boycott of national security related scholarships is also needed. The precedent here is the Solomon amendment, which removes all federal funding from universities that refuse to cooperate with the Department of Defense. The Solomon amendment is a powerful tool. Unfortunately, the Defense Department has been reluctant to employ it. Far too many of our finest colleges and universities continue to exclude the ROTC, even though by rights, under the Solomon amendment, the Department of Defense ought to deprive them of federal aid until the ROTC is allowed on campus. Fortunately, the Department of Defense has recently used the Solomon amendment to insure that some of our finest law schools lift their shameful boycotts of military recruiting.
It may be that an amendment with more modest sanctions than the Solomon amendment would be more carefully and consistently enforced. Rather than deprive an entire university of funding for a boycott leveled by Title VI-funded professors against a program like NSEP, the penalty would simply be the de-funding of the Title VI center itself. The supervisory board may be the best entity to enforce this amendment, although it should do so under Congressional oversight. The need for an enforcement entity for this amendment is another argument for the existence of a supervisory board.
In the long run, it would be best for the country if we had a thriving set of area studies programs that were well balanced on policy views, and well funded under Title VI. A major reformation of the American academy's area studies programs is necessary to bring about such a result. That reform will never occur unless Congress signals Deans and Provosts that there is a serious problem with the current system. The only way to do so is by a significant cut, pending reforms, in funding to Title VI.
In the meantime, Congress can insure that our defense and intelligence agencies have access to well-trained linguists by redirecting the twenty million dollar post-9/11 increase in Title VI funding to the Defense Language Institute. The Defense Language Institute would then be in a position to fund scholarships for college graduates to do advanced language training, leading to full time jobs in our defense and intelligence agencies. Under the umbrella of the Defense Language Institute, students with a desire to serve their country would have no fear of retaliation or ostracism from professors who view cooperation with the American government as immoral.
The problems of bias in Title VI are deep-lying. Serious reforms are needed. Yet if Congress sees fit to take the steps outlined here, I believe that significant change is possible.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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