“Outreach” Outrage at Georgetown

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.

Georgetown Blows Fuses

Georgetown University, where Arab demonstrations occur almost daily, witnessed something rare on Monday: a demonstration by Jewish students against remarks made by one of the university’s faculty. Professor Hisham Sharabi was reported in the Beirut press to have given a speech at a Lebanese university, where he said this: “Jews are getting ready to take control of us and the Americans have entered the region to possess the oil resources and redraw the geopolitical map of the Arab world.” Georgetown rushed to distance itself from anything Sharabi might have said. (This is not the first time a Georgetown professor has blown a fuse in the Arab world. Back in April, Halim Barakat published a bizarre piece in the London Al-Hayat, claiming the Jews had lost their humanity.)

Sharabi is emeritus, but he is listed as one of ten core faculty at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. His “academic” activities abroad are not entirely out of character with the Center’s own activities at home.

I have before me the June 2002 issue of the CCAS News, the newsletter of the Center. The headline of the lead article runs as follows: “CCAS Responds to Ongoing Crisis in Palestine.” The crisis is described in these words:

Twenty months into the current intifada, the situation in the Palestinian occupied territories continues to go from bad to worse. In a flurry of large-scale military violence, the Israel Defense Forces stepped up their reoccupation of West Bank towns and villages, culminating in the rampages on Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin in April, the devastating loss of civilian life and the destruction of key Palestinian Authority (PA) ministries, civil society institutions and civilian infrastructure.

Nowhere is there even an allusion to how the situation in Israel went from bad to worse, the flurry of large-scale terrorist violence by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, culminating in the suicide bombing rampages in Netanya, Jerusalem, and Haifa in March, the devastating loss of Israeli civilian life, and the destruction of the key civil society institutions of the Israeli peace movement.

In fact, the CCAS News is indistinguishable from the newsletters of the dozen Arab advocacy organizations based in Washington. Throughout the spring, the Center conducted a straightforward propaganda campaign, inviting a succession of Palestinian spokespersons and pro-Palestinian “peace activists” who addressed Georgetown’s students. There’s really nothing new in all this: since the 1970s, the Center has been a hotbed of political activism in the service of the Palestinian (and other Arab) causes. Arab governments and corporations with Arab business paid the bills.

What is new is that since 1997, the Center has been the “core” of a National Resource Center on the Middle East, and receives Title VI federal funding through the U.S. Department of Education. The subsidy has been worth $223,000 a year. How can that be, when Georgetown’s Arab studies concept is so remote from the usual model of a balanced Middle East center? Answer: while the money comes from the Department of Education, the recipients are chosen by academics on review panels. They apparently think it useful to have a propagandizing presence in the heart of Washington, at the U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

There is something perverse in any process that provides a direct government subsidy for the agitprop of Sharabi and his colleagues. Let the Arab governments, whose ambassadors enjoy the run of the place anyway, pay the full freight. There is undoubtedly some politically disengaged Middle East center that deserves the funds far more than the Georgetown lobby. The competition for the 2003-2005 cycle of funding is underway. The Georgetown experiment has run for six years, and has failed. Give someone else a chance.

UPDATE: The Metro section of the Washington Post now runs this opinion column, slamming the Georgetown club.