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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

June 03, 2003

Review of book by Martin Kramer

This sent me via e-mail. Mr. Kramer's blog does not have this piece, so I am unable to supply a URL.
Academia Nuts. Sandstorm is on a break while I travel. In the meantime, I offer Sandstorm subscribers the interesting conclusion of a new review of my book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, from the summer 2003 issue of Azure. The reviewer, Marla Braverman, suggests that an alternative school of Middle Eastern studies may be coalescing. For the full review, click here or subscribe to Azure. For more on the book, visit the Ivory Towers website, at [...]Not surprisingly, the Middle Eastern studies establishment has reacted viscerally to this new threat to its intellectual hegemony. Rashid Khalidi, responding to the popularity of Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch, a website that documents the academic excesses of MESA scholars, described a "large, well-funded, national effort managed by academic outcasts from the Middle East field, who seem to be driven both by their extreme pro-Israeli views, and by their resentment at the fact that they have never managed to obtain the respect of their peers." Joel Beinin, in an open letter to MESA after the publication of Ivory Towers, urged scholars, in light of the "xenophobic current atmosphere of the United States," to defend their field against the slew of "mean-spirited, ad hominem, and spurious" accusations leveled against it. Similarly, current MESA president Lisa Anderson, while conceding that Kramer's assessment was, in many respects, a "useful intervention," nonetheless asserted that this sort of analysis was generated by "persons who are interested in the wider marketplace of ideas and are very engaged in public debate. yet have no systematic device for accountability to keep them intellectually honest."

Anderson is right to put her finger on the question of accountability. Yet on this point, it is she and her MESA colleagues who are found wanting. While mainstream scholars at American universities refuse to look the most serious problems of the Middle East squarely in the eye, it is the independent scholars who have picked up the slack. And, while endowments and federal funding allow university departments to carry on indefinitely regardless of their theories' lack of explanatory power, it is the independent institutes whose ability to sustain themselves depends on their success in making sense of the region--and who pay a real price when they do not. Moreover, there is little truth to the academics' claim that think tanks' interaction with the policy world compromises their intellectual integrity. On the contrary, independent scholars tend only to gain from their exposure to policy-makers, whose need to account for the consequences of a failed paradigm makes them far more sensitive to theories disconnected from reality.

What makes Ivory Towers compelling, then, is not just the story it tells, but also the story of which it is a part. The emergence of an alternate source of scholarship has turned a discipline that was once a closed circle into an arena of open debate--an openness that serves the West well as it defends itself against an enemy it is only now beginning to understand.[more]
{see too:">Ivory Towers