Middle East studies in the News
Saving Middle East Studies Squabble
by Morgan Liddick
From: "N. K. Uthman"
Judging from the general tenor of his comments, Dr. Heydemann would probably rank me among the "amateurs and dilettantes." Despite my having lived and worked for over ten years in the
Briefly, when my colleagues or I saw a program half as plagued with the bickering, personal jealousy, ad hominem attacks, obsession with enforcement of orthodoxy and with "proper" politics as that which has appeared here recently, well – it was nature's little way of telling us "do not touch." I assume that the nastiness which has oozed out over the past few weeks on these pages will leave those still in my old line of work similarly unimpressed. It's too bad that a field which has so much to offer is so distracted by questions of politics and personality that it has, qua field of study, been given a vote of "no confidence" by many in the government – which in turn badly needs its counsel. Less bickering, more self-examination and a useful pledge to discuss the work of the field as work, rather than as an expression of private politics or orthodoxy, might be in order
From: Steven Heydemann
I don't have any interest in personalizing differences of opinion about our field. And I certainly have no interest in narrowing the exchange to the like minded. What fun would that be? [And least we think that only one side in this debate has a monopoly on being
one-sided, note that the Washington Institute for Near East Studies is holding, soon, a "conversation" about whether Congress should fund ME Studies with M. Kramer and S. Kurtz as the only two participants. No one representing an alternative perspective was invited, I guess.] And while Weber had nasty things to say about dilettantes, I've always
tended to define myself as one, too. I'm the last person - for good reason -- to think that only those who with conventional academic careers have standing in this kind of conversation.
The exchanges here have been a reasonable and entirely within bounds debate about the state of the field. Ad hominum? What in the world are you talking about? If you can find ad hominum attacks in my posts, please point them out. Defender of the status quo? Baloney. I'd love to see a open, engaged discussion of the state of the field. There's a lot we could be doing better (and it seems to me I've made this point any number of times in the past week or so).
It's hard to have such a discussion, however, when one particular diagnosis of the field has become so powerful that it crowds out others, and when efforts to shift debate in more productive directions generates somewhat overheated responses.
On my part, I would like nothing more than to move beyond a back and forth about KKP and begin a serious discussion of the state of the field. Is such a conversation possible in the shadow of KKP? I'm not sure, but it's worth a try.
From: Jeannie Sowers
I find Morgan Liddick's comment about a vote of 'no confidence' in the field by 'many of those in government' is less a statement about the field than about the priorities of some of those in government. Having worked briefly for Congress, I would suggest to him that some of the current Congressional leadership and many of those in the Administration, are not interested in substantive input from Middle East scholars, precisely because this input calls into question their dearly held (and however inaccurate) assumptions about the region and the U.S. role in the region. Most of us may give up on bridging the gap between public policy and academia not because we don't care about
either the region or American policy, but because there is little interest in hearing what we have to say.
From: "brent m. geary"
I think that Jeannie Sowers should really rethink her last post. Her implication seemed to be that it is okay to give up trying to influence U.S.-Mideast policy toward a better direction, because, in her words "there is little interest in hearing what we have to say."
If it is okay to just abandon ship and leave the floor to people who apparently DO have influence right now (such as the oft-reviled "KKP" as well as frequent guests to the Cheney family "salon" such as Ajami and Bernard Lewis) then why don't we all just look for work elsewhere? Really, what is the point in scholarship for scholarship's sake? If we don't study the
than that, then we don't deserve federal subsidies anyway.
If you really care about the state of
based largely on his policies in (wait for it) THE MIDDLE EAST. Get out there and show the Democrats how dangerously wrong the Pentagon's people are (if that is what you believe), and stop this endless "debate" about the state of the profession.
Hopefully soon we'll see more on H MIDEAST POLITICS about such things as the struggle for reform by King Abdullah in
From: Steven Heydemann
Mr. Geary wrote: "If you really care about the state of
Absolutely right. I couldn't agree more.
At the same time, recognizing Jeannie Sowers' frustration and the accuracy of her diagnosis, I am skeptical about the idea that our purpose is simply or solely to affect public policy. That may be what animates some in our field -- and more power to them. But many of us define our aims differently, and it is important to preserve space for basic research, for exploring questions that have no utility at all for public policy -- and for doing so with the support of a public that has historically recognized the value of (and been willing to pay for) such research. What is the point of scholarship for scholarship's sake? The point is that scholarship matters. Scholarship for scholarship's sake is exactly what many of us are about, and should be about.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that this kind of scholarship often has the most important implications for policy makers - if they take the time to read it.
And, fortunately -- and despite earlier posts suggesting that those in Congress and in Federal funding agencies are unsympathetic to scholarship for its own sake, a majority in Congress and among the staff of funding agencies also understand the importance of basic research. To its credit, Congress has endorsed a far more wide-ranging understanding of what research is about than you might think if you listen only to those who tell you that what Congress wants is a field that does nothing but deliver up policy papers. The State Department (the part that was formerly USIA), the Department of Education, and other agencies have funded and continue to fund basic research on the
So while some partisan critics want to impose political litmus tests on support for research, Congress itself has, in other contexts, rejected this approach -- as, for example, when it rejected the imposition of political criteria into the peer review process at NSF. Now, it's clear that Congress is in play on these issues, and its polarization improves
the prospects of those who want a politicized field. The vote on NSF was way too close for comfort. This argues for exactly the kind of engagement that Mr. Geary advocates. But it would be a mistake to think that what Congress wants from
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