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Essay: The Middle East Studies Mess, by Michael Rubin (Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council via Mosaic)

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July 7, 2015

The legacy of Edward Said and his acolytes, writes Michael Rubin, has rendered the discipline of Middle East studies incapable of addressing the actual problems facing the Middle East, with severe consequences for U.S. policymaking:

The reason why Said remains so popular on campuses . . . is that he justified prioritizing politics above scholarly rigor. No longer would radical professors need to prove truth; they could just assert it and make it so. Up was down, wrong was right, and power was original sin. Middle East studies scholars have become so insulated within their Saidian universe that they never challenge each other’s basic assumptions. . . .

Within the United States, the best example of this is Rashid Khalidi. A former PLO press attaché turned academic, Khalidi is now the Edward Said Chair at Columbia University in New York. . . . He preached the idea that the region’s root problems lie not in radical ideologies but rather in grievances born from Western intervention and the Arab-Israeli conflict. . . .

Khalidi, Said, [and likeminded professors] all saw occupation and military intervention as the region’s core problems. President Obama followed their policy prescriptions to a “T.” He withdrew precipitously from Iraq and Afghanistan, “led from behind” in Libya, and allowed the Syrian conflict to metastasize. It might not fit in academe’s worldview, but Western power projection is the proverbial finger in the dike that prevents a deluge of chaos.

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