Middle East Studies: Contributions to War

A particularly fascinating look at the inside of academic turf wars. And the consequences won’t be just who is head of what or how much one’s department is funded.

There is an organization for orthodox scholars of the Middle East — that is, for leftist and politicized ones. It is called the Middle East Studies Association, or MESA. It is led by such men as Rashid Khalidi, the FOB (Friend of Barack) and occupant of Columbia University’s Edward Said chair. You also may have heard of Juan Cole, of the University of Michigan; and of Georgetown’s John Esposito. Men like this are the face of today’s Middle East studies. To say it as briefly as possible: Arafat would consider himself lucky — and probably did.

The late Said is the father of this MESA crowd, or at least an influential big brother. So much has been written about him, I will not add a word here. But I’ll give Paul Johnson one. In September 2006, he was contemplating a book to be called “Monsters.” And he wrote that he would include Said, “this malevolent liar and propagandist, who has been responsible for more harm than any other intellectual of his generation.”

Before 9/11, MESA was pretty much a joke, a Marxoid playground whose significance to the larger world was slight. It was hard to get a decent Middle Eastern education in the United States, but that was okay: We all have to make sacrifices. After 9/11, however, the joke was not so funny. There was a real need for soundness on the Middle East. You couldn’t just say, “Israel evil. America evil. Palestinians good. Hamas, Hezbollah, and mullahs misunderstood. Colonialism bad — left enduring scars. West bad. Terrorists driven to their acts by oppression. Arabs must unite, eschew factions — created by a scheming West — and win.”

No, that falderal was suddenly intolerable. As the Iraqi-American scholar Nibras Kazimi put it, “America and the world cannot afford to lounge around in the blissful lethargy of intellectual shallowness now that the jihadists of the Middle East . . . have declared their war and delivered their bomb-laden calling cards.”

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