The Problem with Middle East Studies
Translations of this item:
As one of the few pro-U.S. and pro-Israel voices in the field of Middle East studies, I find my views get frequently mangled by others in the field – thus I have had to post a 5,000-word document titled "Department of Corrections (of Others' Factual Mistakes about Me)" on my website.
Usually, the precise evolution of such mistakes escapes me. Recently, however, I discovered just how one developed in three steps and confronted the two academics who made the errors. Their unwillingness to acknowledge their errors illustrates the mixture of incompetence and arrogance of Middle East studies as it is, unfortunately, too often practiced in the academy.
(1) In "The Muslims are Coming! The Muslims are Coming!" National Review, November 19, 1990, I wrote about some of the reasons for Western fears of Muslims:
Muslims have gone through a trauma during the last two hundred years – the tribulation of God's people who unaccountably found themselves at the bottom of the heap. The strains have been enormous and the results agonizing; Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world. Only Turkey (and sometimes Pakistan) is fully democratic, and even there the system is frail. Everywhere else, the head of government got to power through force[,] his own or someone else's. The result is endemic instability plus a great deal of aggression.
Despite such problems, I concluded, "none of this justifies seeing Muslims as the paramount enemy."
(2) Yahya Sadowski, then of the Brookings Institution, quoted the bolded line of the above paragraph in an entirely different context in "The New Orientalism and the Democracy Debate," Middle East Report, July-August 1993, p. 14. Discussing Western considerations of democracy's prospects in the Middle East, Sadowski wrote:
The thesis that Middle Eastern societies are resistant to democratization had been a standard tenet of Orientalist thought for decades, but in the 1980s a new generation of Orientalists inverted some of the old assumptions and employed a new vocabulary which allowed them to link their work to a wider, international debate about the relationship between "civil society" and democratization. These updated arguments sought to prove not only – as neo-Orientalist Daniel Pipes put it – that "Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world," but that they always would.
Sadowski quoted my words accurately but turned their meaning upside-down; he transformed my rather prosaic observation of fact into part of a grand theory that I never enunciated – and which, for the record, I repudiate. Throughout my work, I stress mutability and change and argue against historical essentialism concerning Islam. I see the Muslim world as changing and avoid extrapolations from present-day circumstances to the future. I make a point not to say something will "always" be a certain way. Further, contrary to Sadowski, I hold that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible.
Joel Beinin of Stanford University and Joe Stork of the Middle East Report then gave the Sadowski article legs by reprinting it in their co-edited 1996 University of California Press book, Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report; I am quoted on p. 34.
(3) Then along came Yakub Halabi, at the time a Ph.D. student at the University of Denver, with "Orientalism and US Democratization Policy in the Middle East," International Studies, 36 (1999), pp. 385-87. Halabi relied on Sadowski's distorted version of my words and further elaborated on it, now in the context of his discussion of Western attempts to understand how a passive Muslim people could have brought off the Iranian revolution:
The neo-orientalist school emerged in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. It was an attempt to remove the anomaly in the orientalist approach that could not explain why a Muslim society rebelled against the Shah. … Orientalists as well as neo-orientalists, however, ignore any sort of modernity or novelty in Islamic societies in general and in the Iranian revolution in particular.
Halabi went on to note that some analysts depicted Islamic movements as not just radical but also anti-Western and anti-modernist.
One such writer Daniel Pipes, for example, depicts Muslims as "permanent" anti-democrats and terrorists. In his words: "Muslim countries [not only] have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world, but that they always will."
"In his words"? Hardly; I said nothing of the sort. Halabi changed my meaning by ascribing the word "permanent" to me, though it appeared nowhere in my essay; by adding two words in square brackets; and by falsely ascribing Sadowski's phrase to me. To complete the transformation, he even altered Sadowski's language, changing the final bolded word from "would" to "will."
As with Sadowski's perversion of my sentence, I disavow the fictitious quote Halabi attributes to me.
(1) Sadowski and Halabi turned my simple statement into the linchpin of their quite distinct generalizations about "Orientalism."
(2) I wrote to each of Sadowski and Halabi, requesting a retraction and an apology. Sadowski did not respond. Halabi wrote back and justified his inaccuracy with a reference to post-modern subjectivity, with its convenient insouciance toward such concepts as truth and falsehood: "This is the way I understood and interpreted your article. When you write an article, you cannot control the way others interprete [sic] it." Such defiant subjectivity undermines the scholarly enterprise.
(3) How to explain that two specialists hostile to my outlook each mangled my words? I see two possibilities: That they did so purposefully; or that bias colored their reading. I doubt they did so intentionally – no one wishes to be caught out and ridiculed for making errors. My hunch is that, in their eagerness to discredit someone whose approach differs from theirs, they read my analysis hastily and prejudicially, prompting the sequence of mistakes documented here. Such attitudes have contributed importantly to what Martin Kramer characterizes as "the failure of Middle Eastern studies in America."
|The problem is political. [123 words]||Sheldon Lazarowitz||Aug 4, 2008 21:58||136283|
|The Problem Is "-Islam-" [234 words]||Geno M.||Aug 10, 2008 16:59||136283|
|Why not here? [91 words]||surj||Aug 25, 2008 18:55||136283|
|Try to find solutions, i know its difficult but not impossible [130 words]||Mr.JJ||Aug 28, 2008 06:40||136283|
|Common Sense [174 words]||Geno M.||Aug 29, 2008 18:23||136283|
|ASMEA [67 words]||Daniel G. Shaw, PhD||Aug 30, 2008 02:07||136283|
|1||We Love Our Religions [145 words]||Mr.JJ||Sep 1, 2008 03:22||136283|
|Let's Get Our Facts Straight [631 words]||Geno M.||Sep 2, 2008 14:47||136283|
|Please see the highlighted text [789 words]||Mr.JJ||Sep 3, 2008 02:55||136283|
|Another victim of Arabian imperialism [502 words]||dhimmi no more||Sep 3, 2008 07:28||136283|
|1||Sons of Monkeys & Pigs? [802 words]||Geno M.||Sep 5, 2008 17:10||136283|
|Our dear MrJJ and the religion of peace [212 words]||dhimmi no more||Sep 7, 2008 13:18||136283|
|Man i knew that you would definitely use word (BOGUS ) you can't complete your sentence without it.you are so Funny dhimmi no more [74 words]||Mr.JJ||Sep 8, 2008 23:14||136283|
|Our dear MrJJ and his bogus claim that islam is the "fastest growing" religion in the US [205 words]||dhimmi no more||Sep 10, 2008 06:36||136283|
|In memory of the victims of the 9/11 atrocity and Islam-fascism will be defeated [134 words]||dhimmi no more||Sep 11, 2008 06:27||136283|
|Our dear MrJJ and his bogus claim that islam is the "fastest spreading" religion in the US part deux [147 words]||dhimmi no more||Sep 11, 2008 06:43||136283|
|DEAR TO ALL MR. DHIMMI NO MORE [41 words]||Mr.JJ||Sep 11, 2008 23:42||136283|
|Our dear Mr.JJ and gem time [117 words]||dhimmi no more||Sep 13, 2008 07:15||136283|
|Mansoor from Pakistan summed up the true feelings of all Muslims [362 words]||howard||Sep 25, 2008 13:18||136283|
|TO MR. HOWARD [13 words]||Mr.JJ||Sep 27, 2008 02:25||136283|
|To JJ, A typical Muslim avoids saying the truth and resorts to impolitness [274 words]||howard||Sep 28, 2008 19:02||136283|
|howard Mr. Peace (spreading hatred) [63 words]||Mr.JJ||Sep 29, 2008 23:23||136283|
|JJ a Typical Muslim avoids saying the truth and use foul mouth [599 words]||howard||Oct 1, 2008 23:05||136283|
|howard a typical Non-Muslim dont want to face truth and use foul mouth: you good man and i am Bad i guess that will please you :) [953 words]||Mr.JJ||Oct 6, 2008 01:52||136283|
|You dunno anything about Islam [222 words]||Abdelrahman||Dec 6, 2008 12:35||136283|
|Let's see what the Koran says [748 words]||Geno M.||Dec 6, 2008 19:56||136283|
|A Simple Explanation for the Quran Verses.you have brought [1003 words]||Abdelrahman||Dec 7, 2008 21:50||136283|
|Sign of Jonas [122 words]||Zentrist||Dec 11, 2008 22:28||136283|
|response to We Love Our Religions by Mr.JJ [132 words]||Ifrahim||Jan 18, 2009 09:34||136283|
|Muslim understanding [93 words]||Cheyenne Hunt||Mar 4, 2009 00:46||136283|
|Internal Abrogation and External Deception [106 words]||Moshebaer ben Yoseflevi||Jul 24, 2008 18:26||135639|
|Mid East studies, [188 words]||donvan||Jul 23, 2008 15:06||135593|
|Problems with ME studies [18 words]||Steven L||Jul 18, 2008 17:35||135372|
|ME(I)STUDIES. [200 words]||DONVAN||Jul 21, 2008 10:55||135372|
|Wishful thinking but where's the plan? [133 words]||Graham R-B||Jul 28, 2008 10:24||135372|
|I wish... [204 words]||DONVAN||Aug 4, 2008 10:16||135372|
|ME Studies and Propaganda [313 words]||Lifeguard||Aug 8, 2009 07:25||135372|
|A Letter to Mr. Y Halabi [475 words]||Geoffrey Sherwood||Jul 17, 2008 22:19||135349|
|I disagree to Dr. Pipes- on comment (3) [526 words]||Ynnatchkah||Jul 17, 2008 09:43||135327|
|A Microscopic Investigation [56 words]|
w/response from Daniel Pipes
|Martha Fleischer||Jul 16, 2008 13:50||135283|
|Intellectual laziness [67 words]||YK||Jul 16, 2008 10:07||135275|
|All forces against one enemy [217 words]||Mansoor||Jul 16, 2008 07:18||135266|
|Our dear Mansoor and his sinking ship [132 words]||dhimmi no more||Jul 22, 2008 05:54||135266|
|all forces against the one enemy - which is a belief system that promotes ignorance and stupidity [1050 words]||the Grand Infidel of Kaffiristan||Jul 23, 2008 00:50||135266|
|Daniel Pipes and moderate Muslims [147 words]||Ahmad||Jul 16, 2008 06:01||135263|
|Who misinterepted whom? [38 words]||Abdul Muqtadir al-mohammed||Jul 27, 2008 13:09||135263|
|Words Are Like Arrow [412 words]||kamekish||Jul 16, 2008 02:29||135259|
|Sadowski's perverted mind in "...Six Ideas for Improving Western Coverage of Islam"... [454 words]||Ynnatchkah||Jul 16, 2008 01:27||135257|
|Democracy (and Decency) in the Middle East [59 words]|
w/response from Daniel Pipes
|Milton Alter MD PhD||Jul 15, 2008 21:44||135249|
|An apology from Muslims?...You'll never get it! [64 words]||M.D'Souza||Jul 15, 2008 17:21||135232|
|The Problem with Middle East Studies [193 words]||Beverly||Jul 15, 2008 15:04||135224|
|The Trouble with Middle East Studies [53 words]||Dannel R. Ballesteros||Jul 15, 2008 08:22||135144|
|from an X Iranian Moslim: Do You Remember Cat Stevens? [229 words]||zari namdar||Jul 15, 2008 02:57||135126|
|Ego [79 words]||Stuart Teich||Jul 15, 2008 01:50||135124|
|Daniel Pipes misrepresents Sadowski's remarks and his own views [250 words]|
w/response from Daniel Pipes
|Tim Wilkinson||Jul 14, 2008 22:31||135115|
|They problem with Middle East Studies or the study of "the other" [497 words]||Celine||Jul 14, 2008 20:56||135107|
|Scholastic Studies Without Understanding Cannot Discern Central Issues of Truth-Missing the Point of the Middle East Conflicts [497 words]||M. Tovey||Jul 14, 2008 18:00||135090|
|No Apologies Please...I'm A Victim [128 words]||trans-parere||Jul 14, 2008 16:35||135085|
|Never happen unless [261 words]||dfwhite19438||Jul 14, 2008 15:31||135077|
|Nothing surprising in Islamic scholarship [38 words]||Romesh Chander||Jul 14, 2008 15:10||135075|
|Dear Daniel [195 words]||Georges||Jul 14, 2008 14:58||135074|
|Dear Daniel- In aggrement with Georges [66 words]||Debbie||May 15, 2009 12:03||135074|
|Islam and democracy [250 words]||Janusz Kowalik||Jul 14, 2008 14:09||135070|
|Islam & Democracy - Oxymoronic terms. [74 words]||M.D'Souza||Jul 15, 2008 17:54||135070|
|Paid to Light Backfires [1253 words]||Lame Cherry||Jul 14, 2008 13:45||135068|
|Middle East studies and its troublemakers [154 words]||Rebecca Moulds||Jul 14, 2008 12:49||135063|
|Dr. Pipes is not anti Muslim [86 words]||Singha||Jul 14, 2008 12:37||135062|
|The problem with Middle East Studies [62 words]||Margaret S. Hood||Jul 14, 2008 12:12||135061|
|Daniel Pipes guilty of coming up with a very catchy and winning phrase [195 words]||rick||Jul 14, 2008 11:01||135056|
|Two can play at this game [19 words]||Mark G||Jul 14, 2008 10:46||135052|
|The Hour of the wolf in Academe [149 words]||Abu Nudnik||Jul 14, 2008 10:44||135051|
|Exactly Abu Nudnik [49 words]||Ynnatchkah||Jul 14, 2008 18:11||135051|
|Bogeyman [31 words]||Vijay||Jul 14, 2008 10:31||135049|
|Nothing to Be Defensive About [339 words]||Ron Thompson||Jul 14, 2008 10:24||135048|
|Sadowski's Response and Dr. Pipes as "neo Orientalist". [701 words]||Ynnatchkah||Jul 14, 2008 09:38||135046|
|Are Islam and Democracy Compatible? [402 words]|
w/response from Daniel Pipes
|Carl Goldberg, PhD||Jul 14, 2008 09:25||135043|
|Bulls Eye Doc [32 words]||Singha||Jul 15, 2008 09:13||135043|
|The man who understands Islam [19 words]||Infidel||Jul 15, 2008 11:19||135043|
|Dealing with Misrepresentations [72 words]||Ralph C Whaley MD||Jul 14, 2008 09:06||135042|
|The Iranian Revolution cited as democratic? innovative? [162 words]||Maureen||Jul 14, 2008 08:17||135040|
|shame on them [6 words]||tony||Jul 14, 2008 06:44||135036|
|A Herculean task [72 words]||Ugri||Jul 14, 2008 06:35||135034|
|The third possibility [71 words]||Ramana Rajgopaul||Jul 14, 2008 06:15||135029|
|The roots of the absence of democratic behaviour in the Islamic world [240 words]||Edmond Beniacar||Jul 14, 2008 05:45||135028|
|Kindness [123 words]||Mark Roth||Jul 14, 2008 05:18||135027|
|Language Passed Along [311 words]||James S. Oppenheim||Jul 14, 2008 04:55||135026|
|Wise Men And Fools [130 words]||Seamus MacNemi||Jul 21, 2008 16:16||135026|
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