When I was young, I imagined that my mid-twenties would be characterised by having reached the pinnacle of knowledge.
Now twenty-six, I am still learning, and none more so than on a micro-cosmic level.
In my own field of academia I am discovering not a united branch of Middle East scholars, but a fractured kaleidoscope of views, agendas, and objectives, with not all being positive.
It was with great relish then, that I stumbled across the following collection of academic quotes that captured neatly the array of opinions in the field.
Yet there remains a daunting, seedy underbelly to the field of Middle East scholarship – one in which the tide of pro-Palestinian support is changing subtly, and whereas an individual’s views can be readily expounded, a dilemma of whether to speak frankly, or to tailor one’s personal views is swiftly emerging.
In Britain, institutions such as LSE and SOAS – the vanguard of leftist thought – are becoming a minority. Apathy is pervading the student body, while the academic ranks are undergoing a murky transformation from pro-Palestinian, to pro-Israeli.
Indubitably, debate is the foundation of academia and it is this aspect that drew me towards the field; to hear the plethora of arguments hammered out in a range of venues, from the drawing room to the lecture room, was my dream profession.
The problem is, both sides are no longer being heeded. One side is slowly being silenced as jobs, publications, and reputations hang in the balance.
A most recent example can be provided through my thesis corrections.
Having left the changes quite late due to other papers demanding my attention, I was dismayed to discover that my ‘minor corrections’ required the removal of all paragraphs that failed to portray the current Iraq War in a positive light.
Despite the paragraphs in question being supported by worthy sources, little reason was given to support the demand for their removal aside from the comment: “irrelevant and inappropriate”.
One would think I had comprised a personal mooning picture in the tome, given the tremulous horror emanated by the examiners.
Given that my thesis cannot be traded in for the official doctoral certificate – despite passing my viva – unless these changes are made, the feeling of censure and – dare I utter it – blackmail, pervades.
Couple this request with the frequent demands of the supervisor to replace the word ‘Palestine’ with ‘Israel’, and my intense wrangling to retain the words ‘Palestinian homeland’, and an unpleasant picture of contemporary British academia begins to unfold.
For now, however, let us focus on those academics who are not so easily bought, and laud them on their fearless endeavour to state their mind and save Middle East scholarship from becoming a one-sided argument.
Afterall, one-hand clapping is never so captivating…
In remembering Edward Said we are putting Palestine on the map—although it never left.
– Hatem Bazian, lecturer in Arabic at the University of California, Berkeley.
Today’s Middle Eastern studies more closely resembles the kind of atmosphere that dominated the late medieval university (inquisitorial) than a free and meritocratic culture committed to honesty.
– Richard Landes, professor of medieval history at Boston University and director and co-founder of the Center for Millennial Studies
Gaza is the worst outcome of Western colonialism anywhere in the world outside the Belgian Congo.
– Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan former president of the Middle East Studies Association
I’ve heard a lot of bashing of Muslim clerics for not stepping up to the plate and condemning extremist violence…But Catholic priests are not stepping up to condemn those who kill abortion doctors…[and] rabbis are not condemning the violent settlers’ movement.
– Jessica Stern of Harvard’s Kennedy School
If you put a gun to my head and said choose between Ahmadinejad and Bush, I might say, ‘Shoot.’
– Mansour Farhang, a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern politics at Bennington College
The United States is the most phantasmagoric propaganda machine in history.
– Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University
Its support for Hizbullah in southern Lebanon is “terror” only in the sense that Israeli support for Gush Emunim in the West Bank is “terror.” Indeed, the Likud policy in the West Bank is far worse than the policies of Hizbullah,since the Lebanese Shiites just want their own territory to be free of foreign occupation–they aren’t expanding into other people’s back yards.
– Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the History Department of the University of Michigan
And so they go on.
However, for the most fearless and relentless expounder, one can not do better than As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University.
Some days, it seems his venomous cynicism could melt the keyboard on which he types.
But thank God for these stalwarts – they may be the saviours of Middle East Studies yet.