Sandbox: April 2004

Vintage Lewis. Bernard Lewis is interviewed in Atlantic Online, on the occasion of publication of yet another book, this one under the title From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East. Vintage stuff. One of his complaints: “When I listen to the broadcasts from the media people who are in Iraq at the present time, they almost always mispronounce the names of Iraqi towns…It makes people like me wonder how much we can rely on what we are being told when they don’t even know how to pronounce the name of the place.”
Fri, Apr 30 2004 6:08 am
Zisser on Syria. The star of Syrian studies in Israel is my colleague Eyal Zisser. Here’s a detailed review (in English) of his latest (Hebrew) book on the subject. (This new one, written from a post-Hafez Asad perspective, will eventually appear in English.) The reviewer writes that Israeli scholars of Syria face an “oppressive obstacle—the giant shadow cast by Patrick Seale, a British journalist who had close ties with the late Hafez Assad. Seale’s writing on Syria is based on sources that Israeli scholars will never get to see, even if they are someday permitted to eat hummus on the banks of Abana and Pharpar.” Ah, but what Seale sacrificed, by way of credibility, to gain that access.
Fri, Apr 30 2004 6:05 am
Whereabouts of HR3077. Some readers have written to ask whether HR3077 is stuck in the Senate committee (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions). The short answer is yes. The long answer is that the entire Higher Education Act reauthorization (of which HR3077 is part) is stuck in committee. College affordability, student loans, and federal aid for low-income students are ongoing big-ticket battles. The present authorization can be extended for one year, and the sense is that the Senate side would just as soon put off controversial decisions until after the November elections. Nevertheless, all the lobbies are waging their campaigns as though this is the year. So will I, especially when I return to Washington in September. (At the main link: Heritage Foundation on the big issues.)
Thu, Apr 29 2004 6:38 pm
Who’s driving? Last month, the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) convened a workshop at Wilton Park (UK) on the Middle East in the year 2020. The NIC is the U.S. intelligence community’s center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking. It’s doing this futuristic project in consultation with academics; I published excerpts from an earlier paper it issued on the subject in the Middle East Quarterly. At the main link, you’ll find the report from the conference. (No, I wasn’t there—couldn’t make it.) One key conclusion: “On balance, the workshop felt that, whatever the outcome, the Israel-Palestine conflict would not be the dominant driver in the region over the next 15-20 years that it is currently.”
Thu, Apr 29 2004 5:55 pm
MEQ hand-off. I’ll be leaving the editorship of the Middle East Quarterly in June. I look back at three years of editing and look ahead to the journal’s future in a new Sandstorm entry. If you’ve got editorial talent, now’s the time to contact Daniel Pipes.
Wed, Apr 28 2004 5:50 am
Confused Clio. Perspectives, the newsletter of the American Historical Association, runs a piece on HR3077 by one Bruce Craig. It’s alarmist nonsense. If HR3077 did what he claims it might do, even I wouldn’t support it. “In theory,” he writes, “the board could be a major force over university staffing and in hiring of guest lecturers, making curriculum decisions, approving books for classes, and recommending approaches to be taken when teaching a specific subject.” Since universities don’t get Title VI support to hire faculty, and since HR3077 specifically disallows board intervention in curriculum, you’re left wondering what in the world Craig is babbling about. Well, it’s in theory. And when historians substitute theory for evidence, anything’s possible.
Tue, Apr 27 2004 6:46 pm
Khalidi on Said. On radio last year, Columbia’s Rashid Khalidi discounted Edward Said: “He has nothing like the influence that the wild-eyed advocates of this bill [HR3077] claim. Quite the contrary. People can take him or people can leave him. He’s actually, I think, had much more influence in fields like literary studies, anthropology, and other areas than he’s had in the Middle East field.” But here’s Khalidi in his new MESA obit for Said: “This book [Orientalism] has deeply affected the field of Middle East studies—who in the field can forget the debate between [Said] and Bernard Lewis at the MESA conference in Boston in 1986.” (That event is remembered in MESA lore as the tipping point in Said’s favor.) As usual, Khalidi tunes the message to the audience. (Radio comment at minute 28:45.)
Tue, Apr 27 2004 2:16 pm
Hamas gets leader? Press reports today indicate that Dr. Mahmud al-Zahhar has (reluctantly) assumed the mantle of the late Sheikh Ahmad Yasin and the late Dr. Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, to become the leader of Hamas in Gaza. (Hamas continues to claim that its choice of a leader is a secret, and will not confirm the reports, which originated with Israeli sources.) Last May, Tim Sebastian interviewed Zahhar for his BBC program Hardtalk, and demolished him (without a missile). You can view the program at the link, if you’ve got the software.
Mon, Apr 26 2004 3:26 pm
Pseudo-historical trash. Follow-up to the entry just below: The collaborator of Audrey Shabbas in her Arab World Studies Notebook, in the section about Muslim exploration, is one Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick, a South African convert to Islam. Here’s his own bizarre take on “Muslims in the Caribbean Before Columbus.” The possibility that pseudo-historical trash may have entered the mainstream of K-12 education with the complicity of some Title VI centers should be investigated by the Department of Education. Should Title VI centers be allowed to sub-contract dilettantes to do their “outreach”? Isn’t the whole point of university-based “outreach” to get the profs to do it?
Sun, Apr 25 2004 6:10 am
Subsidized myths. Audrey Shabbas specializes in “outreach” workshops for school teachers. She’s claimed that early Muslim explorers married into the Algonquin tribe long before Columbus. This fantasy appears in her Arab World Studies Notebook, which the Middle East Policy Council has distributed to 10,000 teachers. The Algonquin Nation have rightly been in a rage about it, and now the section is being removed. My question: have Title VI programs been using this rubbish for their own “outreach”? Earlier this month, Georgetown’s Title VI center farmed out a big teacher “festival” to Shabbas, and it’s not the first time. Are Title VI centers employing amateurs to peddle dubious materials to school teachers, under academic auspices and with taxpayer subsidies? More work for a future Title VI board.
Sun, Apr 25 2004 5:01 am
Bernard Lewis in TIME. In case you missed it, here is the brief sketch of Bernard Lewis in Time Magazine, which this week elevated him to its list of the 100 most influential persons. “For Lewis and the neoconservatives,” it reads, “the failure of Islam to reconcile itself to modernity is now too dangerous to leave alone. Moreover, they believe, the application of external force can be a catalyst for reform and peace. No scholar has had more influence than Lewis on the decision to wage war in Iraq. To what end, we don’t yet know.” That’s an awfully short summation of a complex subject.
Wed, Apr 21 2004 9:03 am
Down with Title VI! Over the last month, this website has run a poll on Title VI funding, in partnership with In a new Sandstorm entry, I analyze the (admittedly unscientific) results. Bottom line: there’s a large constituency for killing off Title VI, and if HR3077 doesn’t pass, someone may be smart enough to tap into it.
Wed, Apr 21 2004 7:01 am
Columbia cover-up? I’ve mentioned that Columbia has created a panel to look into allegations of bias in teaching, especially of the Middle East. The New York Sun now provides more details, and it’s clear the panel has been tasked so as to miss the point. The problem at Columbia isn’t what professors teach. (In any case, they are sovereign in the classroom.) It’s how they’re appointed. I once called it “friend-brings-a-friend,” and added this: “Middle Eastern studies at Columbia, across all the departments, have functioned like a private club for more than a decade. Until the administration breaks it up, nothing will change.” Yet the chair of the panel says: “It’s not within our jurisdiction to assess whether a department is biased or has any particular kind of slant.” I smell a cover-up in the making.
Tue, Apr 20 2004 7:30 am
Khalidi, dissident? The New York Times (local New York supplement) runs a flattering portrait of Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia. HR3077 and the proposed advisory board are mentioned. “Dr. Khalidi expects that the board’s composition will not be favorable to dissidents.” Dissidents? I’m amazed at how commanders of academic power still pose as the oppressed of the earth. Khalidi is a chaired professor at Columbia, and director of a National Resource Center for the Middle East. He personifies the establishment in Middle Eastern studies; I’m a dissident. Khalidi adds that Edward Said “provided the role model for us…. We are here because of his example.” How true: Said remade Middle Eastern studies in his image.
Tue, Apr 20 2004 6:47 am
News feeds! I’m experimenting with news feeds on the Sandbox/News page of this website. The Internet is awash in news, but I don’t know of any site that provides a wide array of feeds devoted exclusively to the Middle East. News feeds can be unpredictable when it comes to content and refresh rates. So I’ll keep watching them and striving for perfection. Do send suggestions.
Mon, Apr 19 2004 7:51 pm
Leo=lion=Asad. Franklin Foer at The New Republic has a well-executed essay on Muhammad Asad (or Leopold Weiss), the most famous modern Jewish convert to Islam. Asad is a subject I tackled at greater length; Foer’s piece is a perfect miniature.
Mon, Apr 19 2004 7:19 pm
The emirate of Columbia. Zev Chafets, writing in the New York Daily News, takes Columbia University to task for accepting a gift from the United Arab Emirates. The money ($200,000) went to help fund the Edward Said Professorship (incumbent: Rashid Khalidi). Chafets: “By accepting the beneficence of the UAE—a nation that discriminates against women, gays, Indians, Jews and other minorities, prohibits free speech and intellectual inquiry and rules by armed tribal feudalism—the university provides a rare example of academic fearlessness as well as a fitting memorial to the life and thought of Edward Said himself.”
Mon, Apr 19 2004 5:53 pm
Can’t read English? A Florida paper runs an anti-HR3077 op-ed by Malini Johar Schueller, professor of (post-colonial) English at the U. of Florida. She writes that the advisory board proposed by HR3077 would “advise faculty on course syllabi and the hiring of faculty. If an institution refuses to be advised, it will lose its share of Title VI funding.” What? The board, says HR3077, “shall provide advice, counsel and recommendations to the Congress and to the Secretary [of Education].” The board won’t advise academics (who are beyond advice anyway). And syllabi? The bill says the board can’t “mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content.” Professor Schueller either didn’t read the bill, or she’s lying.
Sun, Apr 18 2004 5:39 pm
Bernard Lewis, influential. Time Magazine names Bernard Lewis to its list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Such lists are meant to be taken with a grain of salt. Even so, Time‘s choice underlines the astonishing omission of Lewis from the honor roll of ten major contributors to Middle Eastern studies, as compiled by the mandarins of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). I’ve pointed out this blot on MESA’s record before, but I plan to revisit it whenever Lewis crops up on other lists of the great and noteworthy.
Sat, Apr 17 2004 8:55 pm
Columbia panel investigates. The NY Jewish Week reports that a Columbia University panel is investigating allegations of faculty bias and intimidation in Middle Eastern studies. The panel is chaired by law professor Vincent Blasi, who offers this quote: “We want to make sure that classroom time is not devoted to politics or preaching by professors.” Columbia provost Alan Brinkley confirms: “We are, of course, concerned about charges of bias and intimidation in the classroom, and the president has appointed a committee to consider, among other things, how we might respond to such problems within the framework of our strong commitment to free speech.” The panel has met seven or eight times over the past year, and has heard testimony. Worth watching.
Fri, Apr 16 2004 10:44 am
Did I sign that? Another signatory of the boycott letter, Cornell government professor Susan Buck-Morss, tells a Cornell Review columnist that she doesn’t recall signing and doesn’t support the boycott. But then she admits she has signed “at least 40 petitions sent around by email in the last few years,” thus suggesting she might have signed anyway. For good measure, she adds that she is “surely more in support of anyone who took the liberty to use my name than I am of the policy of Israel of the settlements and the oppression of the Palestinians.” This intellectual dereliction is appalling, and is well worth remembering the next time you read one of these “open letters” put out by academics. Many of the signatories are habitual poseurs.
Fri, Apr 16 2004 10:34 am
Lockman scolded. Monday’s Washington Square News, NYU’s campus newspaper, ran a story and editorial on Prof. Zachary Lockman’s signing of the boycott-Israel “open letter.” (The controversy began with my March 31 Sandstorm entry.) Lockman, in yet another lapse of professorial judgment, dismisses the controversy as “a bunch of crap.” He also admits he has no idea who drafted the letter he signed, or to whom it was intended. It’s pretty damning stuff, and the accompanying editorial scolds him: “It is clear that [Lockman] did not put enough effort into weighing the possible meanings of the letter before attaching his—and NYU’s—name to it. In the future, it would be very wise for NYU professors to seriously consider the ramifications of any academic petition they sign.”
Fri, Apr 16 2004 9:29 am
Southeast Asian haven? I’ve spent the better part of the week in Singapore, at a conference on terrorism co-convened by the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) of the Nanyang Technological University, and Tel Aviv University’s Hartog School of Government and Policy. The IDSS, created six years ago and directed by Amb. (ret.) Barry Desker, is already making its mark in terrorism studies. Its best-known expert is the field is Rohan Gunaratna, whose book Inside Al Qaeda (Columbia) sold 70,000 copies. The IDSS has just published a wide-ranging collection, After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia. Read the introduction, “Is Southeast Asia a ‘Terrorist Haven’?”
Fri, Apr 16 2004 8:47 am
Up and away. I’ll be off to Southeast Asia from Saturday, April 10 through Friday, April 16. While I’m away, please explore other parts of this site, or leave a comment on a Sandstorm entry.
Sat, Apr 10 2004 7:55 am
Is Iraq like Lebanon? I’m quoted by James Bennet in this interesting New York Times piece on whether the situation faced by the U.S. in Iraq is analogous to the dilemma that Israel faced in Lebanon. The comparison is especially relevant to the role of the Shiites.
Sat, Apr 10 2004 7:53 am
More NYU. Zachary Lockman, director of the Kevorkian Center at NYU, writes to the New York Sun with assurances that he doesn’t support the academic boycott of Israel. (He’s responding to my March 31 Sandstorm entry, which the Sun republished on April 1.) Lockman had signed an open letter to Israeli academics from self-described “defenders of Palestinian academic freedom and supporters of the academic boycott against Israel.” The open letter ended thus: “We are prepared to join you and other parties in public debate of the academic boycott of your institutions at any time and in any neutral venue.” Now Lockman claims that the open letter “never calls for or endorses a boycott.” Pure academic sophistry. Go to the link, and scroll down to “Further update: Lockman obfuscates.”
Fri, Apr 09 2004 8:52pm
NYU boycott assurances. A reader has posted the full texts of letters from NYU’s provost David McLaughlin and Kevorkian Center director Zachary Lockman, repudiating the academic boycott of Israel. (Prompted by this Sandstorm entry.)
Wed, Apr 07 2004 8:22 am
Unzip academe’s lips. The Electronic Intifada saw fit to reprint a piece by Beshara Doumani on HR3077 (critiqued below) with this illustration. I like it, because it can be read as the slight, tentative unzipping of academic lips, until now sealed shut by ferocious pressures of conformity. Countless academics have told me they want to speak out, but fear retribution from Saidians, Beininites, Khalidians, and other bands of ideological zealots. HR3077 could help to unzip these lips. That’s why the establishment fears it.
Wed, Apr 07 2004 6:45 am
Cashing in on 9/11. An article in the LA Weekly looks at the Department of Homeland Security on campuses. Toward the end, the piece swerves into HR3077. “The changes to Title VI were not, it should be pointed out, initiated by DHS,” admits the writer, but he suggests that DHS might be represented on the seven-person advisory board. So what? Same could be said of Defense or Treasury; I’ve seen no special attention paid to DHS. Title VI, we read, “has been turned into a political punching bag by hard-right ideologues cashing in on 9/11 paranoia.” In fact, academe literally cashed in on 9/11, when Congress rashly voted Title VI a 26-percent increase—to meet “urgent need.” That’s not mentioned here. Indeed, I’ve yet to see any critic of HR3077 note the windfall, even in passing. The profs take public largesse for granted.
Wed, Apr 07 2004 5:25 am
No debate allowed. Beshara Doumani, professor of Middle Eastern history at Berkeley, writes in an op-ed that HR3077 would “rob our society of the open exchange of ideas on college campuses.” His byline calls him organizer of a national conference on “Academic Freedom After September 11th,” recently held at Berkeley. That event, cosponsored by the Middle East center, was more like a rally againt HR3077, featuring Stanford’s Joel Beinin, MESA’s Amy Newhall, and even Snehal Shingavi, who once warned conservatives to stay out of his classroom. Contrast with a comparable event at the University of Chicago, featuring speakers from opposing sides. Doumani is for “open exchange”—as long as that doesn’t include debate.
Mon, Apr 05 2004 9:46 am
Boycott repudiated. You’ve read the Sandstorm entry on “Boycotting Israel at NYU?” Zachary Lockman, the director of NYU’s Middle East center and signatory of the boycotters’ letter, now says he didn’t mean it. NYU’s provost has also given assurances that NYU “stands firm against any such boycott.” For full details, scroll down to the update at the entry. A small victory for Sandstorm, and a much larger one for academic freedom at NYU.
Fri, Apr 02 2004 8:49 pm
Harder to ignore. The current Sandstorm entry, “Boycotting Israel at NYU?” appears prominently in today’s New York Sun, on page nine.
Thu, Apr 01 2004 11:51 am
“There is no let-up.” Sara Roy, a perpetual “senior research scholar” at Harvard’s Middle East center, writes for the London Review of Books about the “virulent attacks” on Middle Eastern studies in benighted America. (I get a paragraph.) This looks to have been cobbled together from somebody’s talking points against HR3077. Roy, who uses Harvard’s name relentlessly, has a quasi-academic sinecure. Her current project is the whitewashing of Hamas, but she’s best known for invidious comparisons she drew in April 2002 between the Israeli occupation and the Holocaust. (She thinks being the child of Holocaust survivors gives her a license.) “There is no let-up,” Roy moans about the criticisms of Middle Eastern studies. She’s right about that. Permanent contention: get used to it.
Thu, Apr 01 2004 10:30 am
Africanist Title VI. Some people ask: why do we need HR3077, if the problem is specific to Middle Eastern studies? Answer: the problem runs throughout area studies. Stanley Kurtz writes in National Review Online about directors of Title VI African studies centers who launched a sordid boycott against the National Security Education Program. Kurtz exposed the boycott two years ago, prompting leading Africanists to try to cover it up. Technique? Intimidation. Kurtz has found a courageous whistleblower to tell the tale: Eyamba Bokamba, professor of linguistics and African languages, and coordinator of the Title VI program in African languages at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The story is now resonating on Capitol Hill.
Thu, Apr 01 2004 10:11 am