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Campus Watch: Keeping an Eye on Professors Who Teach About the Middle East

Last week the Middle East Forum, which is directed by HNN contributor Daniel Pipes, established a new website known as Campus Watch. The website lists professors suspected of an anti-Israel bias and asks students to send in names and information. The site currently lists"dossiers" on eight professors, including Juan Cole, who is also a frequent HNN contributor. Mr. Cole reports to HNN that since the website was established he and the other professors listed on the site have been targeted by a relentless conspiracy of email hackers.

The following statement appears on the Campus Watch website.

The Problem

American scholars of the Middle East, to varying degrees, reject the views of most Americans and the enduring policies of the U.S. government about the Middle East.


There may be a war on terrorism underway, but the scholars downplay the dangers posed by militant Islam, seeing it as a benign and even democratizing force.

With only one exception, every American president since 1948 has spoken forcefully about the benefits to the United States from strong and deep relations with Israel. In contrast, American scholars often propagate a view of Middle Eastern affairs that sees Zionism as a racist offshoot of imperialism and blames Israel alone for the origin and persistence of the Palestinian problem.

While Americans overwhelmingly supported the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991, the Middle East specialists just as overwhelmingly rejected that use of force; and the same divide has recurred in 2002 with the prospect of a military campaign against Iraq.

Scholarly offerings frequently present in a benign light such hostile actors as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Ba'th regime, and other Middle East despotisms. In contrast, they emphasize and often exaggerate the faults of Israel, Turkey, Egypt, and Kuwait. They blame Washington, not Tehran, for the hostile relations between these two states.

Here are some choice but typical quotations:

  • Stanford University's Joel Beinin, who also serves as head of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), blames U.S. foreign policy for the attacks of September 11, 2001, rather than militant Islam. Specifically, he finds that the attacks stemmed from Israel's use of American weapons to defend Israeli civilians from Palestinian terrorism:"The sight of American-supplied F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters bombing civilian targets and carrying out over 50 extra judicial assassinations has raised anger over the American-Israeli alliance to new levels."

    Source: http://www.peaceandjustice.org/nowar/1beinin.html

  • John Esposito of Georgetown University condemns President Bush's description of the terrorists as"evil". He claims:"the use of 'evil' all the time … in religious terms translates into, 'You're a believer or you're a non-believer.' It is us and them, forces of good against forces of evil, and what this does is it leaves no middle-ground for anyone, whether it is countries or people. In effect, that is either the explicit or the subtle message that this administration has been giving out." One wonders, how would Professor Esposito have Mr. Bush characterize Al-Qaeda? As misguided?

    Source: http://www.asiasource.org/news/special_reports/esposito.cfm

  • Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco, sees only the United States to blame for the atrocities of September 11, 2001:"It is no coincidence that terrorist groups have arisen in an area where the world's one remaining superpower puts far more emphasis on weapons shipments and air strikes than on international law or human rights and even blocks the United Nations from sending human rights monitors or enforcing its own resolutions against an ally. Nor is it surprising that that superpower would eventually find itself on the receiving end of a violence backlash."

    Source: http://www.fcnl.org/issues/air-violence/terror/article_baltsun901.htm

The Causes

This bias results from two main causes. First, academics seem generally to dislike their own country and think even less of American allies abroad. They portray U.S. policy in an unfriendly light and disparage allies. The closer those allies are (first Israel, followed by Turkey, then at some distance Egypt and Saudi Arabia), the more hostile their analysis. In contrast, they apologize for the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Ba'th regime, and other rogue states. Likewise, the academics downplay the dangers of militant Islam and terrorism. Revealingly, while Americans overwhelmingly supported the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991 and the war on terrorism today, academic specialists just as overwhelmingly rejected the use of force on both occasions.

Second, Middle East studies in the United States has become the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs, who have brought their views with them. Membership in the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the main scholarly association, is now 50 percent of Middle Eastern origin. Though American citizens, many of these scholars actively disassociate themselves from the United States, sometimes even in public. Rashid Khalidi, a historian at the University of Chicago (and former president of MESA) said in the preface of his study of the PLO that he owes"the greatest debt of gratitude to those who gave their lives during the summer of 1982... in defense of the cause of Palestine and the independence of Lebanon." When Edward Said of Columbia University wrote,"Palestinians today are separated by geography and by Israel's designs to keep us fragmented and isolated from one another," he wrote"us" as a Palestinian, not as an American.

In fact, Edward Said can be held responsible for a large portion of the morass of today's Middle East Studies departments. His 1978 book, Orientalism, was a watershed polemic that equated modern Middle East scholarship to racism, imperialism and ethnocentricity. As Martin Kramer notes in Ivory Towers on Sand,"In the more than twenty years since the publication of Orientalism, its impact on the broad intellectual climate in American Middle East studies has been far-reaching. Orientalism made it acceptable, even expected, for scholars to spell out their own political commitments as a preface to anything they wrote or did. More than that, it also enshrined an acceptable hierarchy of political commitments, with Palestine at the top, followed by the Arab nation and the Islamic world."

Why Is this Important?

Scholars have an extensive but subtle influence on the way Americans see the Middle East, and set the tone for much of what is taught and learned across America on nearly every level. College students learn from them in the classroom and are influenced by the tone they set for the debate of Middle East politics on over two thousand campuses. High school and elementary teachers take their cue from them. Scholars write newspaper opinion pieces, are quoted in magazine articles, and appear on television. They serve as expert witnesses in court cases. They influence government officials in a variety of ways - a candidate formulating his positions, the CIA seeking outside advice, a congressional staffer preparing legislation, or a speechwriter for the secretary of state.

Campus Watch seeks to reverse the damage already caused by the activist/scholars on American campuses. We see this as an ongoing effort, one that should continue so long as the problem exists.

Who We Are

Campus Watch consists of American academics concerned about US interests and their frequent denigration on campus. Those interests include strong ties with Israel, Turkey, and other democracies as they emerge; human rights throughout the region; a stable supply and a low price of oil; and the peaceful settlement of regional and international disputes.

What We Do

Campus Watch will henceforth monitor and gather information on professors who fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance. Campus Watch will critique these specialists, and make available its findings on the internet and in the media. Our main goals are to:

  • Identify key faculty who teach and write about contemporary affairs at university Middle East Studies departments in order to analyze and critique the work of these specialists for errors or biases.
  • Develop a network of concerned students and faculty members interested in promoting American interests on campus.
  • Keep the public apprised of course syllabi, memos, debates over appointments and funding, etc.
  • Keep the public informed of relevant university events.
  • Continuously post the results of our project on www.campus-watch.org, including articles, reports from campus and other relevant information.