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CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE: THE WAR BETWEEN ACADEMICS

Published: Friday, April 1, 2005

Updated: Monday, April 19, 2010 00:04

The war on terrorism has reached far beyond the boundaries of the United States government and is, in fact, being fought on campuses throughout the nation. Two independent groups dedicated to the education of the Middle East on U.S. campuses have found themselves on opposite sides. On one side of the battlefield is Campus Watch, a right-wing organization which, according to its web site, "reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them." On the other side is the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) a nonpolitical, nonprofit association which, in addition to fostering Middle East studies in North America, also defends academic freedom. So how is it that two organizations, similarly trying to educate Americans on the Middle East, clash so drastically? Campus Watch asks students across the country to report any problems within the Middle East Studies programs at their schools. According to the Campus Watch web site, "Middle East scholars impose their views on students and sometimes expect students to embrace their own politics, punishing those who do not with lower grades or weaker recommendations." There is no denying that Middle East Studies academics through out American universities openly criticize the American government. They, like every other American, have that right, but Campus Watch is concerned these academics minimize the threat of militant Islam and shed a somewhat jaded view of American national interests in the Middle East. On the other side is MESA, which wants the freedom to provide an understanding and appreciation for Middle Eastern culture. MESA calls Campus Watch "a web based watch dog that aims to highlight and reverse what it sees as obfuscating, leftist and unpatriotic tendencies within the Middle East studies academy." Like many other political battles, this one is not without its snubs and mud slinging. Jonathan Calt Harris, a writer for Campus Watch, refers to MESA as a "once respectable group of scholars which has now become a hive of academic opposition of America, Israel, and...rationalism". Harris also describes MESA president Juan Cole as "anti-Israel to the point of being an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist." The battle between the two sides has become so fierce, that a visit to York University by Dr. Daniel Pipes was canceled because of his affiliation to Campus Watch. In early February 2005, The New York Times reported that Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, an affiliate of MESA, was barred from lecturing city teachers enrolled in a professional development course by the city's Department of Education. Khalidi's dismissal from the program was based solely on his personal political views. PSU political science professor Dr. Michelle Fistek commented, "Any attempt to censor what is taught is an anathema to me, whether it be left or right in its bias. Students should be exposed to ideas and arguments different from what they are accustomed. Professors have an obligation to make students uncomfortable-to challenge the way they think, indeed, to make them think for themselves." Is it really necessary for a group such as Campus Watch to monitor what professors are teaching in Universities across America, or is it part of a McCarthy-isque trend growing since the terrorist attacks in 2001? Dr. Fistek feels that while professors should never act inappropriately, the matter should be dealt with through the University not an outside group. "Campus Watch wants students to only hear what they deem appropriate. They terrorize professors with their tactics, which are just as oppressive as they imagine the professor's practices to be. Bringing in outside groups is a frightening prospect. Students can easily misconstrue what a professor is saying." British literary editor and critic Turi Munthe said, "true patriotism lies in saving America from such narrow and dangerous definitions of itself and the politicalization of knowledge." Until a white flag is raised between the two organizations, perhaps those students interested in Middle East studies should be wary of an education tainted by the bitter spoils of a political war.

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