The Incredible Shrinking MESA

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) will convene next weekend in Washington, for its annual conference. An article in the current issue of The Nation reports that “at its upcoming annual conference, MESA is expected to pass a resolution condemning Campus Watch, similar to the one it unanimously endorsed 18 years ago censuring the efforts of the ADL and AIPAC.” (The Anti-Defamation League and the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC had issued campus guides that offended the guild.)

Without even asking my friends over at Campus Watch (a project I’ve endorsed), I can easily imagine their response: “Condemn us. Make our day.”

That wasn’t the attitude of the ADL and AIPAC, all those years ago. Their condemnation by MESA persuaded them to back off their name-naming of academics. So what has changed? Why has MESA’s opinion become worthless? Why will Campus Watch welcome a MESA condemnation as though it were an endorsement?

I’ve written a book about it, but the bottom line is this: Middle Eastern studies have become intellectually incestuous and thoroughly politicized. Eighteen years ago, MESA still had the aura of a professional association. Today its reputation lies somewhere between that of an ethnic lobby and a radical front. Eighteen years ago, MESA still counted respected founders of the field among its leaders. Today it is regarded as the plaything of a few masters of agitprop, exemplified by its current president. This is a MESA that made Edward Said one of its ten honorary fellows (“internationally recognized scholars who have made major contributions to Middle East studies”)—yet never got around to including Bernard Lewis. (For more MESA madness, see my MESA Culpa in the current issue of the Middle East Quarterly.)

I don’t intend to zap MESA in the Wall Street Journal on the eve of its conference (as I did last year). And I don’t go where I’m not welcomed. But I’m sure to get plenty of reports on the proceedings: the presidential address, the plenary, and the business meeting. If there is any good hearsay, you’ll hear it from me.

And since I’ve mentioned an article in The Nation (a piece that misrepresents my views), here’s a postscript. The previous time my name figured in its pages, in 1996, Edward Said blacklisted me. “What matters to ‘experts’ like [Judith] Miller, Samuel Huntington, Martin Kramer, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Barry Rubin, plus a whole battery of Israeli academics, is to make sure that the [Islamic] ‘threat’ is kept before our eyes.” That’s seven at one blow. Since this is the most Professor Said has ever managed to say about my arguments, it seems to me that MESA ought to investigate. I’m waiting for their call.