In the debate over U.S. government funding for Middle East centers, supporters of the subsidies claim that evidence for bias in the centers is anecdotal. But collect enough anecdotes and you have a pattern. Centers that receive subsidies—National Resource Centers funded under Title VI of the Higher Education Act—are required to engage in “outreach” to the wider community, and they receive funds for that purpose. It’s precisely here that the anecdotes are easiest to collect, because it’s here that the bias reveals itself to outsiders.
Consider Georgetown University’s Title VI Middle East center, the “core” of which is its Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). In the May issue of the CCAS News, the center’s “outreach” director, Zeina Seikaly, offers a report on her program’s spring workshop for teachers. Some 140 Washington area K-12 teachers participated in the April 9 event, entitled “Crisis with Iraq.” (That very day, Saddam’s statue came toppling down in central Baghdad.) The “outreach” program lined up five speakers to address the teachers:
- Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the “progressive” Institute for Policy Studies and prolific antiwar activist. Her “talking points” on the war: it “is among the most dangerous and reckless actions ever taken by a U.S. president,” it “threatens our Constitution,” and it “stands in violation of the UN Charter and international law.”
- Edmund Ghareeb, journalist and Georgetown adjunct professor. Prior to the war, Ghareeb claimed that Saddam had been wrongly “demonized,” called for the “immediate lifting of the embargo,” and proposed a “Marshall plan” to rebuild Iraq—without removing Saddam. He also joined sanctions critic Denis Halliday in an antiwar briefing for Congress.
- Kalee Kreider, a public relations consultant and environmental activist (formerly with Greenpeace). She travelled to Iraq in December to handle “media liason” for an antiwar mission of the National Council of Churches.
- Anas Shallal, founder of Iraqi Americans for Peaceful Alternatives—”a non-partisan, ad hoc organization whose primary aim is to stop the war against Iraq and its people.” Once asked about Saddam’s repression, he answered that it “really took place years ago,”and that the regime’s tyranny “is, in no small part, due to our involvement in the Middle East and Iraq for many, many years.”
- Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown. After a visit to Iraq in December, he wrote a page-one report for the CCAS News, determining that the “sanctions regime against Iraq constitutes a ‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’ and a crime against humanity.” The report did not mention Saddam. “This war is about empire, oil, and unfinished business,” he told 1,000 educators when Operation Iraqi Freedom began. (He also told them that “the reason [the 9/11 attacks] were directed at the United States is because our policies in the Middle East stink.”)
In academe, this panel would be described as “diverse”—Arabs and Americans, men and women, academics and activists. In the real world, this is called a stacked deck. Georgetown’s “outreach” program employed five people, three of them with no connection to the university, to hammer area schoolteachers with five varieties of the antiwar message. Imagine what an incredible machine it must take to translate your tax dollars into an event such as this. Well, you don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Title VI.
On June 19, the House Subcommittee on Select Education held a hearing on reports of bias in the Title VI-funded programs at universities. That evening, MSNBC’s program “Scarborough Country” devoted a segment to the controversy. Stanley Kurtz, who had testified earlier in the day, presented the case against Title VI abuse. And who appeared to defend the program? Perhaps the president of the Middle East Studies Association? Perhaps a director of one of the fourteen Title VI Middle East centers? Perhaps the director of Georgetown’s center? No: Title VI was defended by Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Why should Ibish, who is not an academic, accept an invitation to defend a government program for university-based Middle East centers? Precisely because of the sort of event held by Georgetown on April 9. Title VI “outreach” allows biased academics to bring in off-campus activists, and pay them lecture fees to propagandize teachers and the general public. All at the taxpayers’ expense.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. Title VI support is not abused by all area studies centers, or even by all Middle East centers. The problem is that there is no effective mechanism for identifying abuse and rectifying it in real time. Unless someone lodges a complaint, the Department of Education doesn’t even know about the content of events like the “Crisis with Iraq” workshop. In any case, its staff is in no position to analyze a speakers’ list for bias. So Georgetown continues to run grossly unbalanced programs, and no one calls it to account. Indeed, Georgetown’s Title VI Middle East grant has just been renewed for another three years.
This is why Title VI needs a supervisory board, as proposed by Kurtz. The board would provide ongoing oversight to these programs, supervise the work of review panels, investigate complaints of abuse, and reprimand or defund centers that have turned themselves into propaganda outlets. Title VI is under scrutiny because the Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization, so this is the time to make your views known. E-mail the chair of the Subcommittee on Select Education, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan), at this address:
You can write him at this address:
Committee on Education and the Workforce
U. S. House of Representatives
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
And you can fax him at this number: (202) 226-0779.
Follow-up: Reading list at Georgetown. In an entry last week, I wrote that higher education lobbyist Terry Hartle (American Council of Education) had thrown sand in the eyes of the House Subcommittee, when he said this about Edward Said’s book Orientalism: “Even a cursory review of the syllabi of the Middle East Centers clearly shows this work only occasionally appears as an assigned reading or on a resource list.”
So let’s take the only Title VI Middle East center inside the Beltway—the one closest to Dr. Hartle’s office on Dupont Circle—as an example. Georgetown offers a master’s degree in Arab studies. It’s become a popular program since 9/11: according to the CCAS News, “this year there were 175 applications for 25 slots in the program, a 250-percent increase from just two years ago.” The day before yesterday, students admitted to this program received their summer reading assignment:
We also recommend that you begin reading the following books, which you will need to have read by the first class meeting (Monday, September 8th) of the “Introduction to the Study to the Arab World” course: Edward Said, Orientalism; Albert Hourani, History of the Arab Peoples; and Guity Nashat and Judith Tucker, Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Restoring Women to History. The first is a classic in the field of critical area studies; the other two are background readings that will lend necessary familiarity with major historical patterns.
Got that, Dr. Hartle? Before these elite students even cross the Potomac to begin their studies—some on Title VI fellowships— they are expected to have read through Orientalism at the beach.
The next time the Subcommittee calls a hearing on Title VI, it can dispense with Hartle and the American Council on Education—the lobby without a clue. Summon the subsidized professors from Georgetown, and grill ’em good.