My Virtual Lecture Series, 2004-2005

Many years ago, I developed the habit of writing out lectures before delivering them. There are some scholars, like my mentor Bernard Lewis, who can lecture from one-word cues scribbled on a scrap of paper. More power to them. But I learned through experience that you don’t always know the shape you’ll be in when you step off a long flight and get behind the lectern. Better to have done all the thinking and formulating in the comfort of your office, than in front of the multitudes after a less-than-agreeable trip.

The advantage of my way is that I have the texts of my lectures for later deployment. So here are links to seven lectures I delivered over the past academic year. Take them together as kind of virtual lecture series.

The first four lectures deal with crucial issues related to policy and politics in the Middle East. I gave three of them at events organized by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

  • When Minorities Rule is a presentation I delivered on a Washington Institute panel I shared with Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid. I point to the long legacy of minority rule in the Middle East, and the fear in the region that democracy promotion could overturn long-established ethnic and religious hierarchies.
  • Shiites and U.S. Policy: Between Allies and Adversaries is a talk delivered at the annual fall conference of The Washington Institute. I consider the U.S. tilt toward the Shiites in Iraq and beyond, and the Shiite suspicion that the United States is destined to betray them.
  • Mr. Sharansky, Ease My Doubts is a presentation I gave on a Tel Aviv University panel featuring Natan Sharansky and devoted to his influential book, The Case for Democracy. I draw distinctions between different concepts of “freedom,” and suggest that the Middle East may be different after all.
  • Islam, Islamism, and U.S. Foreign Policy is a talk I delivered at The Washington Institute, on a panel I shared with Gilles Kepel. (The occasion: publication of his book, The War for Muslim Minds.) I argue that it would be a mistake to parley with the the so-called “moderate” Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood school, and that it is impossible to turn the Muslim Brothers against the jihadists. And I add this on Islamism in Europe: “What Europeans are discovering is that deals with Islamists, once cut, don’t always last. The U.S.-Islamist deal over Afghanistan did not last, and the European-Islamist deal is coming apart now. Europe’s unique dilemma is that Islamism is so thoroughly implanted in vast emigre communities (17 million), that it may be necessary for Europe to cut still another deal, even less favorable than the previous one.”

The next three lectures deal with the predicament of Middle Eastern studies in America.

  • Arab Studies: My Critical Review is a lecture I delivered at the annual symposium of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, on a panel with Michael Hudson and As’ad AbuKhalil. I look at the many ways the field has prospered thanks to 9/11, and I paraphrase Secretary Rumsfeld: you go to war with the Middle Eastern studies you have, not the ones you might want or wish to have. But I suggest that the time has come for scholars to step back and look critically at their endeavor, without demonizing their critics or fearing for their subsidies. (If you prefer, you can listen to this lecture.)
  • Middle Eastern Studies: What is the Debate About? is a presentation I made at the inauguration of the new Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, where I shared the podium with Steven Caton and Malik Mufti. There I emphasize that the new center will have to take a stand on two issues: Who is an expert? And what is the proper relationship between academe and the national interest?
  • Columbia University: The Future of Middle Eastern Studies at Stake is a talk I gave by videocast to a conference on academic integrity held at Columbia University. I seek to place the crisis of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia in a larger context, showing that it exemplifies the dysfunctional nature of the field as a whole. “Up close,” I note, “this looks like a story about Columbia and Israel. In proper perspective, it is a test case for Middle Eastern studies and American preparation for its enhanced role in the Middle East.”

There’s no charge for admission to this year’s virtual lecture series. Just sit back, click, and enjoy. The great thing about a virtual series is that audience members can come and go as they please, and the lecturer doesn’t have to answer pesky questions. It’s the best of all possible worlds.