Moving Over at the Middle East Quarterly

At the end of June, I will no longer edit the Middle East Quarterly. My departure is my decision, and the date on which I began the job tells it all: September 1, 2001. I came to the task just before 9/11, in very different circumstances. Today the Middle East is central to U.S. policy and world politics in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I became editor.

In the Middle East Quarterly, I worked with many authors to give our readers the most accurate assessments of tumultuous changes. While I have had plenty to say myself, I’d like to say still more, and there’s no getting around it: more writing demands more time. A journal also benefits when new eyes look in new directions. Daniel Pipes, publisher of the Quarterly, has announced the search for my replacement.

The need for the Middle East Quarterly is greater than ever. The journal was founded by Pipes to promote diversity of views. His objective, as he told me when I took over, was to publish outstanding pieces that might not be published elsewhere because they cut against the grain of conventional thinking in Middle East studies. The Quarterly has indeed become the foremost alternative voice for specialist information on Middle Eastern affairs. I’ve needed that platform—I wrote for the Quarterly before I became its editor, and again while I was editor—and so have hundreds of expert writers on the Middle East who have something different to say. So it is vital that the journal continue its mission, and I’m delighted it will.

Pipes set a high standard in eight years of editorial work prior to my coming on board. Having edited the journal myself, I stand in awe at the achievement of his doing this work for that long. I tried mightily to maintain the standard, and I like to think that during my stewardship of the journal, I didn’t fall too far short. If I didn’t, I owe it to two people.

First, Pipes himself. Although I’ve known Daniel for almost thirty years, I didn’t know this one thing about him: he is gifted with editorial judgment. He and I have long had lively debates over politics and people. But I can’t think of one instance since I became editor that I didn’t eventually agree with his fine editorial discretion. Even when I thought I had achieved a pinnacle of perfection in tweaking (or, sometimes, truth be admitted, rewriting) a piece, he would make it a little bit better. He did not impose his own views but sharpened the author’s own ideas. Editorial acumen of this caliber combines arts and skills that have to be learned and acquired. I was editor, he was publisher and book review editor, but we really worked as a team.

Second, Judy Goodrobb, managing editor. Each issue of the Quarterly involves back-and-forth with at least six authors, maybe ten book reviewers, finalizing 43,000 words of text, laying out 98 pages with illustrations, and getting it all off to the printer in a timely way. We called it the “miracle on Walnut Street,” and Judy Goodrobb is the miracle-worker. Her skills saved me from countless errors, and since I tend to miss deadlines, she gracefully and quickly made up the lost time. The amazing thing is that during these three years, we never spent more than a few hours in the same room together. We did it all by Internet. If I have any regret, it’s that I can’t take her with me to my next projects.

As for our content, there is a lot in which to take collective pride. The Quarterly has run outstanding pieces again and again, on militant Islam, terrorism, Iraq, Palestinians and Israelis—the entire gamut of difficult issues that face the United States. Looking back, I derived my greatest satisfaction from editing the work of young and hitherto unpublished authors. In these instances, I tried not just to edit but to educate. No author ever forgets a first publication, and I hope I’ve left a lasting and positive mark on these younger scholars, whose importance I expect will grow with time.

I’m pleased to report that I’ll remain on the Quarterly team. Daniel Pipes has invited me to join Patrick Clawson as a senior editor. That’s no sinecure: I’ll continue to be involved in the assessment of manuscripts and to beat the bushes for the finest submissions. And my byline will also appear in the journal from time to time. After all, I’ve got to earn my gratis subscription.