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Deja Vu

Reader comment on item: [Campus Watch and] Saving Mideast Studies

Submitted by Peter J. Herz (Taiwan), Sep 19, 2003 at 10:02

We've seen something like this before. As the Viet Nam War went from bad to wrose, Far Eastern Studies departments in the United States were radicalized. When you note how the Dalai Lama has become a campus icon, remember that back in 1972, if you dared insinuate that China was being "colonialist" in Tibet, you could get your glasses broken and your nose with it--by a professed pacifist. This ultimately lead to the situation in which researchers were penalized for giving the "bad news" on Mao's China. This problem did not begin to be faced and corrected until the after the widely publicized "Democracy Wall" incidents in 1978.

A large part of the problem is that academic departments have to maintain smooth relationships with bodies overseas that control the access of American researchers to materials and programs in the countries studied. Given that most of the Middle East seems united in (a) its hatred of Israel and (b) committment to various forms of authoritarianism, the pressure on scholars of Arab history, politics, and culture to "toe the line" and ignore the bad news is probably pretty intense. A second part of the problem is that since the late 1970's, much of Academia is Leftist "turf"--so we have people who complained about the lack of "academic freedom" when Nixon was president now seek to deny it to others in these days of the younger Bush.

Campus Watch was made necessary by developments in academia that have their roots in events of thirty years ago. But my pessimistic guess is that until we see the "liberated" Arabs shooting their own children in some future intifada, the current dominant attitudes in Middle Eastern studies will be firmly in the saddle.
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