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Despite "Flood of...Veterans", Drought in Islamic Studies

Reader comment on item: Middle East Studies, Changing for the Better

Submitted by IslamicStudiesUSA (United States), Aug 11, 2009 at 17:57

I am entirely in agreement with Dr. Pipes's second comment, that "returning veterans are just one-half the story". As a member of that other half of the story, namely a post-9/11 non-veteran student of Islam, I would like to offer my impressions of the field so far. As regards veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, I cannot say I have met many (or if several, then certainly not "a flood") of such students in Middle East studies. Not only are these a rare presence in more classically-oriented departments, but they are few and far between in those departments and programs focused on modern Middle East studies. In all likelihood, those veterans that engage in Middle East studies do so in Political Science or Government departments and are perhaps affiliated with more "vocational" rather than academic programs. That said, I imagine that veterans entering the study are indeed "all over the map politically" and likely do focus on Iraq and the Gulf. The Gulf generally is attracting a great deal of attention these days and Gulf studies programs are becoming ubiquitous- likely due to increased interest in oil and "Islamic finance".

I think the more important point is the "other half of the story" which, as Dr. Pipes correctly states, is "larger and more varied". There, my sense is that the landscape is a bit more nuanced and, indeed, is quite varied. There are, of course, the post-9/11 post-Iraq types who are interested in Islam- interested particularly in those issues that have relevance in today's environment. These are also people who would probably not have entered the field at all had 9/11 and Iraq not occurred and theirs might be considered the "academic" strain in today's Islamic studies scene. It is academic insofar as it sustains the culture of critical thinking and applies the rigorous methods of inquiry demanded by Western academia.

The second strain might be called "da'waist" and is comprised of Salafi types who have now found greater funding and resources for the spread rather than the study of Islam in American universities- ironically, also characteristic of post-9/11 post-Iraq era. These types tend to emerge from two related cross-sections of Western society. The first is comprised of first and second generation non-Arab Muslim immigrants in Europe and the UK who, coming from the top universities and educated in both the Islamic and Western traditions, combine these distinct systems of education in their studies with the aim of reviving Islam with a "western flavor". These perhaps are the inheritors of Tariq Ramadan's legacy and tend, more often than not, to enter into Islamic law and hadith/Qur'an studies. The second is an emerging community in the US comprised of either converts or children of converts, likely entering into Islam as one variation of the "soul/spirituality searches" of America the 1960's. Not surprisingly, their academic interest tends toward Sufism. They generally do not have as great a following, if only because they represent such a specific part of elite, well-educated American society. In their studies, they have "transcended" mere academics and have embraced Islam in all its dimensions. They likely seek to demonstrate, most appropriately in the post-9/11 post-Iraq era, that Islam has no borders, no nationalities, no race, no ethnicities. Nay, even a full-blooded American can be a Muslim!

To my knowledge, it is generally only the "academic" types who embrace all discourse, who seek to engage Muslims and non-Muslims alike and, most importantly, value studying the subject in its historical, religious and geographic contexts. The "da'waist" strain generally exhibits none of these features. It cloaks itself behind the veil of "Post-Modernism", "Post-Colonialism", "Comparative Religious Studies" and other such universalist academic titles. Such universalist orientations are, in fact, deceiving since they place little, if any, value on historicity. Rather, they focus on redefining Islam according to concepts such as "justice", "equality", "women's rights" without appreciating the origins, if any, of such discourse in traditional Islamic texts and movements. This is extremely dangerous since it supports the description of Islam according to terms and concepts either not related or, in the most egregious cases, diametrically opposed to it. The "da'waist" strain also abstains, as much as academia would allow, from critical discourse and, because many of its advocates are either Salafis or converts, my guess is that there is an understood, though often unstated, assumption that those discussing Islam should be Muslim.

In short, regarding the veteran students- while they do bring a unique perspective, offer "pragmatism" and are "against any kind of ideological doctrines", it is precisely these ideological doctrines that are thriving in Islamic studies programs. These doctrines also being advocated strongly by the "da'waist" contingent in such programs- those who are often most adept in Arabic and most familiar with the tradition. Despite their intellectual agility, their field-knowledge, and fluency in Arabic, it is regrettable that more veterans are not present in Islamic studies. In their absence, the pragmatic position in Islamic studies is being sustained by such non-veteran "academic" types who do face the formidable up-hill battle of countering da'wa in the classroom. It would seem, then, that at least for the foreseeable future, Campus Watch will remain critical for the survival of Middle East studies.

Submitting....

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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Reader comments (12) on this item

Title Commenter Date Thread
Modern studies [85 words]Ron GeorgeJul 5, 2011 05:12187031
The alternative [38 words]Yuval Brandstetter MDAug 12, 2009 10:57160101
Ratchet wheel [35 words]UgriAug 12, 2009 04:45160080
1Despite "Flood of...Veterans", Drought in Islamic Studies [867 words]IslamicStudiesUSAAug 11, 2009 17:57160068
Islamic studies.... [60 words]donvanJun 9, 2010 10:52160068
What is the point... [100 words]donvanJun 12, 2010 15:07160068
Veterans entering academic programs. [69 words]M.D.Aug 9, 2009 16:19159914
New students of Middle Eastern Studies [90 words]David HaydenAug 9, 2009 11:33159891
On the mark [60 words]DanAug 9, 2009 10:02159887
The improved GI is probably responsible for more GIs making it academically now [124 words]Mark JamesAug 8, 2009 15:52159850
Lots of Textbook Clean-up Needed [148 words]ChrisAug 8, 2009 10:51159842
I second your motion. [25 words]LynnAug 12, 2009 08:49159842

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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