Who Lost Middle Eastern Studies?

Courtesy Reuters

Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly and former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, has rattled teacups at faculty clubs throughout the United States with a hard-hitting and personalized critique of the country's practitioners of Middle Eastern studies.

Were it not for the attacks of September 11, the controversies occasioned by his short book would be confined to the academic world, where it has been noted that the fights are so bitter because the stakes are so small. But the fact that the attackers were Arab Muslim extremists gives Kramer's polemic a broader relevance and urgency. Americans want to know why they were struck, whether the blows could have been averted, and what should be done now -- not to mention to whom they should turn for guidance on these and related questions.

Kramer's analysis of this last topic is serious and substantive. Some in the field may be tempted to dismiss it out of hand because of a bias against his neoconservative politics and his ties to Israel, but to do so would be both unproductive and offensive. Books need to be judged by what is on the page, not by the characteristics of, or motives imputed to, the author. If Kramer deserves fair treatment, however, so do those he criticizes. Everyone in the Middle Eastern field can point to an opponent and say of an ad hominem attack, "He started it." Better to be known as the person who stopped it, an opportunity that Kramer fails to seize.

Far too often his valid points are overshadowed by academic score-settling and major inconsistencies. He accurately criticizes those who study Middle Eastern politics for their marginalization within the social sciences, then unfairly chastises them for adopting disciplinary paradigms remote from their regional subject matter. He finds those who refuse to speak to the immediate concerns of U.S. foreign policy dangerously disengaged but questions the motives of policy-relevant researchers with

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