This isnâ€™t just something J.K. Rowlings dreamt up for her latest volume in the Harry Potter series it is also a fair description of House Resolution 3077. This is the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003 that would give the US government greater control over federally funded international programs through a new International Education Advisory Board. This seven-member board would include two appointees from agencies that have national security responsibility. Due to go to the floor the Senate this month, HR 3077 is the brainchild of Campus Watch a group of think tank employees who have assigned themselves the task of keeping an eye on and correcting the production of knowledge about the Middle East.
The 1958 National Defense Higher Education Act (NDHEA) called for the training of â€œUS citizens so that they could protect and advance US interests. This legislation responded to what was called an educational emergency (due to lack of knowledge of foreign languages and foreign cultures among US citizens) that created a problem for national defense.â€1 The NDHEA was explicitly non-interventionist in the language: â€œNothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any agency or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution or school system.â€2 In 1965 the Higher Education Act launched Title VI, a federal program to fund the study of foreign languages and cultures in US universities.
During the 1960s and 1970s language and area specialists became important to the waging of the cold war, especially in the Middle East. They were considered key to successful foreign policy initiatives in the region. In 1978, Middle East scholarsâ€™ implication in US policies in the region was highlighted and systematized with the publication of Edward Saidâ€™s Orientalism.3 Said linked 19th century colonial ambitions of some European nation-states in Asia and Africa with scholarly expertise that rested on a foundation of intermeshing and mutually reinforcing racialized discourses. He put not only 19th but also 20th century Middle East academics, regardless of political orientation, in the dock.
The network of interests connecting Europe and the US to the Orient, Said wrote, compelled scholars to confront the fact they â€œcome up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second. And to be a European or an American in such a situation is by no mean an inert fact. It meant and means being aware, however dimly, that one belongs to a power with definite interests in the Orient. 4 For those critical of US policy in the region and fearing their work might be appropriated for unintended purposes, Said prescribed a strategy: locate yourselves clearly vis-Ã -vis the Orient and specify your own narrative voice and â€œthe kinds of images, themes, motifs that circulate in (the) text. 5
After Said, self-reflexivity became an essential first step in broaching any Middle Eastern subject. Careful attention to identity and the politics of location led to an acknowledgment of the stakes involved in the production of knowledge and, by extension, to a new awareness of readership: texts are neither transparent nor self-evident; they are read differently depending on where they are read and by whom. Post-colonial critique that owes so much to Saidâ€™s pioneering work implies multiple consciousness and entails multiple critique.6 For example, writing about feminism in the Arab world may have the intention of empowering women and celebrating global sisterhood, yet it may look more like the 19th century imperial rhetoric of saving women from their uncivilized men on behalf of Civilization. During the 1980s, feminist scholarship on the Middle East by US historians, literary critics and anthropologists was subjected to intense scrutiny; it was x-rayed for its neo-colonial motives.
Grand narratives of civilization, modernity, patriarchy and progress came under attack as the stakes of their proponents were interrogated and deconstructed. In order to avoid making totalizing claims, some US-based scholars took care to mark the location from which they wrote. Many incorporated post-colonial critique into their projects that became increasingly dialogic. It was not enough to â€œget it rightâ€ it was important to get it right the right way. A new attention to the needs and concerns of those about whom these scholars wrote produced multi-vocal texts that often projected the points of view of Arabs wary of US government policy in the region. Some US critics were outraged. Their charge of pro-Arab or pro-Muslim ideological conformity in Middle Eastern studies fuelled the conservative backlash of the late 1980s and 1990s.
After the Cold War:
1992 was a pivotal year for area studies and for the Humanities. The new visibility of Arab-American scholars in Middle East studies led Barbara Aswad, then-president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), to celebrate their growing numbers in the Association. But not everyone welcomed them. The most vociferous in their protest were hardliner Israeli government advocates like Martin Kramer, who three years later would become director of Tel Aviv Universityâ€™s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Kramer accused Arab-American members of MESA of fomenting the â€œideological transformationâ€ of the Association from a conservative (i.e., good) and patriotic (i.e., even better) profile to one critical of Western domination of the countries of the Middle East. 7 In the eyes of Kramer and others like him, the production of knowledge about the Middle East that did not march in lockstep with US government policy was anti-American and beginning to be a matter of national security.
In 1992 Senator David Boren
introduced the National Security Education Act that used Defense rather
than Department of Education funding to support the study of languages of
strategically important and sensitive areas of the world. Boren laid the
groundwork for government funding of foreign languages and cultures that
accorded with political and military needs. The NSA funding made these
scholarships very controversial for potential grantees, especially
students. The African Studies Association and MESA boycotted the program.
This boycott fueled the ire of neo-conservatives linked to the government
and its organizations and think tanks.
She was following recommendations from the Christian Coalitionâ€™s Contract with the American Family that stressed the need to privatize the humanities and the arts because they were being politicized: â€œMany academics and artists now see their purpose not as revealing truth or beauty, but as achieving social and political transformation. Governments should not be funding those whose main interest is promoting an agendaâ€ (my emphasis). 8 Cheneyâ€™s dismal charting of failures in the Humanities ended with a call to trustees and alumni to intervene in the affairs of their colleges and universities. 9 Cheneyâ€™s salvo launched a multi-staged, multi-pronged attack on the Humanities for having weakened the foundations of the whole American educational enterprise. They had to be controlled and contained, lest they compromise western civilization.
In 1995, Lynne Cheney, together with Senator Joseph Lieberman, created the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). In view of her hopes for the enhanced role in higher education of trustees and alumni the Council is a natural outcome of her 1992 NEH manifesto. The ACTA mission statement invokes â€œacademic freedom, excellence and accountability on college and university campuses. It supports programs and policies that encourage high academic standards, strong curricula and the free exchange of ideas."10 The language of excellence and academic freedom veils an agenda that was disclosed in November 2001: to identify and eliminate undesirable people and projects in the US Academy.11 Coming two months after 9/11, the ACTAâ€™s 30-page report was entitled, "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It.â€12 The report documented 115 instances of anti-Americanism on college campuses, and it became the cornerstone of a campaign to identify and harass unpatriotic academics.
9/11 and Campus Watch:
In late September 2002 three neo-conservative, pro-Israel Middle East and South Asia scholars created an organization with its own website called Campus Watch. Each hailed from a conservative think tank and none had an official affiliation with a university. Daniel Pipes was director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank founded in 1990 with a mission to â€œdefine and promote American interests in the Middle East Y in particular, it believes in strong ties with Israel, Turkey, and other democracies as they emerge; works for human rights throughout the region; seeks a stable supply and a low price of oil; and promotes the peaceful settlement of regional and international disputes.â€13 Martin Kramer from 1995-2001 was director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, formerly the Shiloah Institute14 and since 2001 has been editor of the Middle East Quarterly, a publication of Pipesâ€™ Middle East Forum. Stanley Kurtz is a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a contributing editor to the National Review. For quite some time Pipes, Kramer and Kurtz have individually been critical of area studies scholars who do not agree with them.
They are now pooling their
energies through Campus Watch, a new venue for promoting their special
Academic freedom is so precious that it entails defense that entails surveillance. To quote Lynne Cheneyâ€™s 1992 anti-Humanities manifesto, when the pursuit of truth and objectivity â€œis hindered from within academic freedom may well require those outside the department--and outside the university--to speak in its defense.â€17 Cheney is giving license to non-academics to monitor professors in their classrooms and the content of their courses. Surveillance is at the heart of a culturally restrictive fundamentalist definition of academic freedom. On its website Campus Watch openly advertises its call for reports from students and faculty: the original research that Campus Watch produces is based in part on reports and other information provided by students and faculty on North American campuses. Indeed, relevant reports that reflect an insider's view of Middle Eastern studies add an important element to our work.â€ Reporting on colleagues or teachers can be done on-line. They emphasize that information â€œnot yet published or only reported in the local/campus press is most useful to us.â€
Campus Watch student monitors and faculty are at work in North Carolina. On Nov. 29 2002, the Campus Watch site announced: â€œAt Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jewish students are training to be better advocates for the Jewish state. The new activism comes in reaction to a petition now circulating at UNC that calls for divestment from Israel.â€ Never do they mention that such divestment was specifically connected with companies that produce equipment that may be used to damage or kill Palestinians. The call for divestment is simply labeled anti-Semitic. This is the strategy of Campus Watch: attach the label anti-Semitic to undesirables whether the label fits or not.
Gary Hull of Duke Universityâ€™s Sociology Department is on the Campus Watch board. On their site under Endorsements, Dr. Hull praises Campus Watch, declaring: "With rare exceptions, humanities professors who hate America dominate our universities Y there is no greater threat to the future of Western Civilization and America than the rise of militant Islam. Yet our scholars, especially many of those in Middle East Studies, argue that there is no moral distinction between militant Islam - which seeks slavery and murder - and America and her allies, such as Israel. As an antidote to academia's incessant anti-Americanism, I highly recommend a tremendously courageous organization: Campus Watch.
Spearheaded by Middle East expert Daniel Pipes, the goal of this scholarly organization is to expose and combat the anti-American propaganda being taught to students, and fed to the media and policy makers. The future of Western Civilization depends on such noble efforts." I quote Dr. Hull at length not only because his language parrots that of other Campus Watch advocates but also because Pipes, Kramer and Kurtz have complained that their critics do not quote them but only distort their words.
During the summer and fall of 2003, Duke Universityâ€™s Middle East resource specialist found himself the target of â€œsuch noble efforts.â€ A Berkeley-trained librarian, he had created a Palestine Internet Resources page that he linked to the home page of Duke Universityâ€™s Perkins Library. It attracted systematic and belligerent attacks led by a graduate student in the classics department. This student went to university officials, including the Provost, to demand changes in the site. The librarians made some changes but refused to remove it. The student remained shrill, regretting that the â€œlibrary has learned no lesson.â€
But is there a lesson to be learned? It seems not. Rather, this is a call for ignorance and not for learning. The studentâ€™s language merely parrots what the Campus Watch leaders say: knowledge about the Arab Middle East contaminates. Listen to Kramer on May 9, 2003 blurting out his opposition to production of knowledge about the Middle East: â€œthe U.S. government decision, after 9/11, to double the number of scholarships in Muslim languages will only mean that in the next crisis, there will be even more experts urging us to stay home, lest we enrage the â€˜Arab street.â€™ The U.S. doesnâ€™t need a lot of new grads to explain â€œwhy they hate us.â€ What it needs are people who are so persuaded of its mission in the world that they are prepared to undergo some hardship and risk to advance it. I happen to think that calling that mission empire just gets in the way.18 But whatever that mission is called, its bearers have to be persuaded that it is the worthiest of causes. That demands cultural self-esteem and self-mastery as the true purpose of an elite education. It doesnâ€™t require a working knowledge of Arabic.â€19
Kramer, Kurtz and Pipes are of course right. People who are persuaded that the US mission in the world entails a blanket endorsement of American norms and values should avoid learning about those whom this mission threatens. Why? Because anyone who studies the Middle East or becomes a specialist in the region will learn that the US intentions in the region have relatively deep roots and relatively strong branches. They need go no farther than the mission statement of Pipesâ€™ Middle East Forum (cited above) to find that one of its key objectives is to â€œdefine and promote American interests in the Middle East.â€ Reading on they will see that the goals of such a think tank and those connected with it is to â€œwork for human rightsâ€ even while, and in the very same breath, they focus on assuring â€œstable supply and a low price of oil.â€
Reading a connection between
human rights and oil, Middle East students will probably detect a
contradiction of interests in this defense of human rights and oil (whose
rights? Whose oil?), and they may not be persuaded that the US mission is
the â€œworthiest of causes.â€ Consequently, they may well be led to â€œurge us
to stay homeâ€
What is at stake here is academic freedom and the contradictory claim that it must be protected by surveillance, control and ignorance. When the nation is in extreme distress, educational institutions must devote themselves to the national project. There is an historical precedent for this rhetorical linking of academic freedom and its suspension as though they were the same thing. In her brilliant account of the roles of various institutions and individuals in shaping the Nazi conscience, Claudia Koonz has revealed how dangerous was the tailoring of education for specifically national purposes. 22
It is the national culture
of a newly conceived and symbolically unified nation-empire, and it is
driving the kind of knowledge scholars, and particularly Middle East
scholars, are expected to produce. Pace Readings, what gets to be taught
or produced as knowledge matters more and more, especially to government
officials and likeminded think tanks that see knowledge production only in
patriotic, imperial terms!
Such threats roll easily off the pens of the Campus Watch monitors and their supporters. Many Middle East scholars have been sent messages that range from racist to obscene to threatening. Columbia University seems to be an especially inviting target. Hamid Dabashi, chair of Columbiaâ€™s Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department, earned the displeasure of Daniel Pipes. On June 25, 2003 Pipes wrote an article in the New York Post attacking certain Middle East scholars, Dabashi included, for their â€œanti-American, anti-Israeli and pro-terrorist sentiments. A barrage of threatening emails ensued. One announced: We are watching you. We know you are the enemy of this country, and we are going to get you. We know where you live, we know where you work. 26
While the immediate targets of Campus Watch may be individuals, their long-term goal is to change national culture and educational policy vis-Ã -vis the Middle East. To this end, Pipes, Kramer and Kurtz work in tandem. In July 2003, after a nationally orchestrated opposition to his nomination had appeared to succeed, President Bush approved a backdoor appointment for Daniel Pipes to the board of directors of the US Institute for Peace. This happened less than a month after Stanley Kurtz had given his testimony on â€œInternational Programs in Higher Education and Questions of Biasâ€ before the Select Education Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
The goal of Kurtzâ€™s June 19
testimony was to expose the danger of scholars affiliated with Title VI
Middle East centers and especially those critical of Senator Borenâ€™s
National Security Education Program (NSEP). Kurtz characterized them all
as â€œabusing Title VI of the Higher Education Act and Y tend(ing) to purvey
extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy. 27
Martin Kramer anticipated the Campus Watch attack on Edward Said in Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America. It was published by a pro-Israeli think tank called the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in 2001, in other words almost simultaneously with 9/11. Zachary Lockman shows how the book provides much of the language and justifications for the current attack on Middle Eastern Studies in the US. He questions Kramerâ€™s insistence on correct predictions as a valid gauge of Middle East expertise.
Ironically, it was Said who had written that the assumption that the future of the Orient is predictable because it is determined by its essential and a-historical characteristics is one of the most offensive conceits of Orientalism.28 Lockman points out how enthusiastically mainstream media greeted the book: â€œShortly after it appeared, Ivory Towers was favorably blurbed in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Washington Post, and prominently featured in the New York Times. It was also the inspiration for a spate of critical articles on the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the main North American professional association of Middle East specialists, in such magazines as the National Review, Commentary and the New Republic.29 Not until the end of Ivory Towers, notes Lockman, does Kramer explicitly lay out â€œa political and moral judgment rooted in his own (theoretical) vision of the world: his insistence that a healthy, reconstructed Middle East studies must accept that the US plays an essentially beneficent role in the world.â€
He does not bother to tell
readers why they should accept this vision of the US role in the world as
In October 2003, the House of Representatives subcommittee unanimously and by voice vote approved Kurtzâ€™s slightly adjusted recommendations. They had become part of House Resolution 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003 that reauthorizes the Higher Education Act and renews Title VI programs. H.R.3077 would give the government greater control over Title VI programs through a new advisory board that will no longer be a part of the Department of Education but would second members from intelligence agencies or the Department of Homeland Security.
The term â€œadvisoryâ€ replaced Kurtzâ€™s requested â€œsupervisoryâ€. Section 6 of the bill describes an independent International Education Advisory Board that will â€œadvise Congress and the Secretary on title VI programs in relation to national needs with respect to homeland security, international education, international affairs, and foreign language trainingâ€ (my emphasis). This advisory board would be given virtually unlimited authority thus contravening the non-interventionist language of the 1958 NDHEA.33 The announcement of this International Education Advisory Board has caused many in the American Academy to fear that HR 3077 will undercut legislative safeguards to academic freedom. 34
Building a National-Imperial University:
Rather the content of post-9/11 US national-imperial culture is the sharing of values like love of freedom, human rights and democracy, terms that have been defined in specific ways that do not admit of discussion. These shared values shape the Bush Doctrine declared in March 2003: the export of democracy to Iraq that would then become its beacon in the region. Like Dallas, jeans and cowboy boots, these values are exportable commodities. The post-9/11 US national culture is always already imperial and for the national-imperial project to succeed it must be furthered through the transformation of education policy.
The stakes of todayâ€™s US national-imperial University are becoming precisely what Readings in 1996 claimed they were not, in other words â€œideologicalâ€ because they are â€œtied to the self-reproduction of the nation-state.â€36 It is hard today to share Readings, hope that â€œthe loss of the Universityâ€™s cultural function opens up a space in which it is possible to think the notion of community otherwise, without recourse to notions of unity, consensus, and communication. At this point, the University becomes no longer a model of the ideal society but rather a place where the impossibility of such models can be thought.â€37 This vision of the utopian possibilities of the corporate University now seem outdated at best, complicit with the national-imperial project at worst. What Campus Watch and its sponsors want is precisely that single â€œmodel of the ideal society one that is so singular that it will brook no opposition and tolerate no difference.38
Homeland security is playing a determining role in todayâ€™s US national-imperial University and in shaping the kind of citizens who are considered valuable or threatening. How can Middle East specialists continue to research and write responsibly without being caught in the Campus Watch trap? How can they make their writing an instrument of justice and peace? How can they critique the tyranny of ruthless rulers like Saddam Hussein or Hafiz Al-Assad without falling into the arms of the Campus Watch advocates and thereby working toward the perpetration of greater injustices? Is there a place for dissent in the national-imperial University? If there is, what shape is it to take?
During the 1980s, he writes, the revolutionary agendas of 1960s â€œthird worldismâ€ and Marxism gave way to deconstructive attacks on the post-Enlightenment grand narratives of civilization, progress, truth and reality. The terrible irony, Eagleton notes, is that even while the examination of meta-narratives was revealing what were the individual and institutional stakes in maintaining such a discourse, global capital was systematically sucking post-colonial states into its orbit.40 The outcome has been a â€œdispirited pragmatismâ€41 that has served to undermine political action at a time when political and religious fundamentalists are mounting an offensive on the Humanities and the arts precisely in the name of civilization, progress, truth and reality.
Eagleton proposes that â€œcultural theory must start thinking ambitiously once again, so that it can seek to make sense of the grand narratives in which it is now embroiled.â€42 This is no easy task for traditional leftist thought, he writes, because â€œwhen postmodernists turn their thoughts to universality, they see it first of all in terms of values and ideas. This, as it happens, is just the way George Bush sees it too. This is an idealist, not a materialist conception of universality.â€43 Eagleton exhorts us to return to the socialist project of â€œfreedom and autonomy in and through the self-realization of others Y you cannot really have this process of reciprocal self-realization except among equals.â€44 Socialism returns us to a robust notion of human solidarity and also to utopian thinking that is, above all, framed in dialectical terms.
What this means is that
academic freedom and government surveillance must be thought together;
progress and failure are understood to be aspects of the same story.
Dialectical thinking confronts opposites not to resolve their
contradiction but to redeploy them, to reveal, for instance, how the
conditions enabling emancipation may be responsible also for domination.
The duty of educators is â€œto
train our students to read--to read arguments on their own terms rather
than discarding them perfunctorily and prematurely--not in order to find
out about authorsâ€™ original intent but in order to ask, Under what
circumstances would such an argument--no matter how preposterous--make
sense? With what assumptions does it produce meanings? In what ways does
it legitimate certain kinds of cultures while subordinating or outlawing
We need to train our
students--but also ourselves I suspect -- to â€œread arguments on their own
terms Y not in order to find out about authorsâ€™ original intent but in
order to ask, Under what circumstances would such an argument--no matter
how preposterous--make sense? With what assumptions does it produce
meanings?â€ Chow helps us to understand how HR 3077 may serve to
â€œlegitimate one kind of culture while subordinating or outlawing others.â€
The increasing visibility of Campus Watch leaders in government
institutions and the success of HR 3077 have made it clear that we must
take preposterous arguments seriously because they make sense to people in
Congress and the White House who decide what constitutes patriotism and
We need to think about think tanks with their generous government funding and access to Congress and the White House and their extraordinary fascination with scholarship on the Middle East, and to ask whether they are catalysts for debate and disagreements that are at the heart of academic freedom or are they ideological engines? What role do the Hoover Institution, the Middle East Forum, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy play in demonizing the majority of Middle East scholars in the US while promoting a few quasi-academics? Paul Bove has written that the political Aright has decided to destroy the university as a place of intellectual work significant to society substituting activist politics as a replacement for anything approaching rigor or, if you will, disinterest in the production of knowledge about US society. In so doing, the right merely follows a path already well marked out by the history of its involvement with think tanks (whose principal aims were) to generate new naturalizing representations of a predatory transnational capital and to produce new kinds of public relations intellectuals always ready and available to operate in the media, on TV, in op-ed pages, and, when necessary, in government and foundations.â€49
Tracking those connections across time and space will help to uncover the ideological apparatus of the national-imperial state that strives to render Middle East specialists in particular, but also academics in general, irrelevant. They are irrelevant today not because they are unimportant as in the corporate University, but because they are absolutely â€œwrongâ€ and therefore dangerous in a security environment where the parameters of what gets to be counted as truth are being drawn and policed by self-appointed â€œpatriotsâ€ who will tolerate only one definition for freedom, human rights and democracy.
A key contribution of postmodernists to the production of knowledge was to question structures of power. However, their labor worked into the hands of todayâ€™s neo-conservatives who have described such academic inquiry as irrelevant at best, unpatriotic at worst. Miyoshi and others fascinated by the idea of the Corporate University and who blame the â€œdemoralization and fragmentation, such loss of direction and purpose (on) the stunning silence, the fearful disengagementâ€50 of the Humanities community, should be directing their attention and anger to Lynne Cheney, Campus Watch and the many well funded and strategically located think tanks who have consistently demonized them. There is no fragmentation at the top. What bonds this totality is not just the seamless domination of capital 51 but, and much more importantly, its use in the service of empire.
Â© Arab World Books