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Setting The Record Straight

Campus Watch corrects false allegations made against it.

Response to:

Vote Yes on MESA Bylaw Amendment: Roundtable by Elyse Semerdjian, John Chalcroft, and Asli Bali
by Elyse Semerdjian, John Chalcroft, and Asli Bali
Jadaliyya
February 22, 2017

Categories:
False allegations of attacking professors who criticize Israel
False allegations of suppressing free speech
False allegations of attacking critics of America's policy in the Middle East
Misc. Corrections

Original text from Vote Yes on MESA Bylaw Amendment: Roundtable by Elyse Semerdjian, John Chalcroft, and Asli Bali:

[Excerpt of pertinent material.]

Organizers: How do you think this bylaw amendment would strengthen MESA as an academic association?

Elyse Semerdjian: Perhaps MESA after 11 September 2001 is a different organization that it was before. While Middle East scholars were certainly under attack before then, we did not have watchdog groups like Campus Watch smearing academics on the internet for being critical of the US War on Terror, critical of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or doing their job by offering a scholarly view of Islam within an environment of vitriol and willful ignorance. Fifteen years on, these groups have multiplied and so have the attacks on scholars. If we think globally, the attacks on scholars have expanded to include the assassination of PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, assassinations of Iraqi professors after the US occupation of Iraq (almost 300 since 2003), the imprisonment of Professor Homa Hoodfar in Iran, the detention of Sami Arian in the United States (acquitted, yet deported anyway), the bombing of universities in Gaza and Aleppo, and now the mass firings and arrests of our colleagues in Turkey over the last year. As scholars in a post-September 11 world, we spend a great deal of time thinking about and acting on issues of academic freedom, civil rights, and human rights in the United States and abroad. We do this as an extension of our academic work in order to protect our workspace by speaking out on behalf of vulnerable colleagues who live and work in conflict zones. This work, which has come natural to us as an organization, certainly cannot be construed as apolitical. However, this work is, and should be, advocacy work to protect academic freedom (in all its forms, including speech we find morally repugnant), because our colleagues look to us when they are wrongfully fired, imprisoned, attacked, and bombed.

Campus Watch Responds:

Elyse Semerdjian is panic-stricken—and deeply confused—about her profession and, it seems, reality itself. In arguing in Jadaliyya that the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) should amend its bylaws to remove its claim to be "non-political," the associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic history at Whitman College falsely accuses Campus Watch [CW] of

smearing academics on the internet for being critical of the US War on Terror, critical of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or doing their job by offering a scholarly view of Islam within an environment of vitriol and willful ignorance.

If scholars of her ilk bothered to offer a "scholarly view of Islam," CW wouldn't exist. Our future is assured, however, thanks to Semerdjian and her colleagues nationwide, whose displays of vitriol and willful ignorance over the decades have left Middle East studies in ruins.

Far from smearing anyone, CW works to reform the discipline through critiques of professors whose claims can be so hyperbolic and convoluted as to appear delusional. Like this:

Fifteen years on, these groups [Campus Watch] have multiplied and so have the attacks on scholars. If we think globally, the attacks on scholars have expanded to include the assassination of PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, assassinations of Iraqi professors after the US occupation of Iraq (almost 300 since 2003), the imprisonment of Professor Homa Hoodfar in Iran, the detention of Sami Arian in the United States (acquitted, yet deported anyway), the bombing of universities in Gaza and Aleppo, and now the mass firings and arrests of our colleagues in Turkey over the last year.

That's Semerdjian again, bizarrely trying to tie CW, which opposes Islamism in Middle East studies, to the murder of scholars by Islamists in the Middle East and to the harassment and imprisonment of pro-Western, secular liberals by Turkey's Islamist dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan (which we condemned) and Iran's Islamist mullahs. Connecting CW with Sami al-Arian or events in Gaza (controlled by Islamists) and Aleppo (bombed by Islamists) is equally far-fetched.

In other words: Semerdjian believes making MESA overtly political is necessary because CW and others not only smear professors (which is false) for doing their job (which they don't do), but that CW's critiques are in some way analogous to the assassination and imprisonment of scholars in the Middle East by regimes practicing the kind of Islamism that CW exists to combat in academe (which is crazy).

Semerdjian's claims exemplify the level of unreality in Middle East studies, where victimology is king, politics trumps scholarship, and logic is dead. So long MESA. We'll hardly miss ya.

(Posted by Winfield Myers)

© 2002 - 2017 The Middle East Forum. Campus Watch contact e-mail: campus-watch@meforum.org

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