Posts Tagged 9/11

Chas Freeman’s Saudi fable

The other day, I brought this January 2004 quote from Chas Freeman, just named to head of the National Intelligence Council (NIC):

The heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was told by Saudi friends that on Saudi TV there were three terrorists who came out and spoke. Essentially the story they told was that they had been recruited to fight for the Palestinians against the Israelis, but that once in the training camp, their trainers gradually shifted their focus away from the Israelis to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and to the United States. So the recruitment of terrorists has a great deal to do with the animus that arises from that continuing and worsening situation.

I offered this as evidence for Freeman’s view of the roots of anti-American terrorism—his thesis that terrorism is America’s punishment for supporting Israel. But some readers saw it as real evidence that terrorists are recruited through a bait-and-switch process. Bait: Fight the Israelis. Switch: Kill fellow Saudis and Americans. So I decided to check whether Freeman’s story held water. Did the television show related to him by his “Saudi friends,” and which he related to us, actually report what he said it did? After all, Freeman told this anecdote in Washington, on a panel in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, and he drew rather far-reaching conclusions from it. So it should hold water, right?

Freeman told the anecdote on January 23, 2004. He prefaced it by saying that he had visited Saudi Arabia “a week ago.” The episode described to him by his “friends” would have been the dramatic broadcast on Saudi TV1 (state television) on January 12. Lasting 67 minutes, it featured several anonymous Saudi members of “terrorist cells” (their faces were shadowed) who gave brief details of how they were recruited, followed by commentary from Saudi experts. The program was a big deal, and was much commented upon by the Saudi press and foreign wire services. (Examples: Associated Press, BBC, and Agence France-Presse.) The official Saudi Press Agency provided a very detailed report, and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service prepared an exhaustive account of the program (both here).

And guess what? There is nothing in the program to substantiate Freeman’s “bait-and-switch” version of it. In almost thirty short segments in which the terrorists described their recruitment, only one made reference to something said by a recruiter on Palestine: “I sat with them and heard them speaking about jihad, the duty of jihad, and jihad as an individual duty [fard ayn] that has become incumbent on every Muslim for almost 50 years, since the Jews entered Palestine.” But another recruiter used this message: “We want to establish an Islamic state and carry out the prophet’s tradition [Hadith]. He says with great pride: The prophet removed the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula.” Some recruiters talked about the afterlife: “We ask them: What are we doing here? What do we get in return? And, they say it is in return for paradise.” Then there was Afghanistan: “Two so-called mujahidin, who were in Afghanistan, came to me and told me stories about jihad, conquest, Afghanistan, the rewards of the steadfast, the graces bestowed on mujahidin, and the glory of jihad.” Recruiters incited recruits against Saudi authority: “They only speak against Saudi rulers and men of religion. They concentrate all their efforts on Saudi Arabia.” And they plied recruits with various radical fatwas and books.

Nothing in the program suggests that the recruitment of these terrorists had “a great deal” to do with Palestine, or much to do with it at all. Palestine was one message in a barrage of messages directed by recruiters toward recruits, and not in any particular order or priority either. There is not a shred of evidence for the “bait and switch” thesis in the program. Judge for yourself.

And yet the notion is out and about in America, thanks to Chas Freeman. He didn’t see the television program; he said he was relying on his “Saudi friends.” If so, he obviously didn’t perform any due diligence on what they told him, before repeating it on Capitol Hill and drawing far-reaching conclusions from it (“the heart of the poison” and all that). It’s not hard to see how this might serve some Saudi public relations interest. But can the United States afford to tolerate this kind of method at the top of the National Intelligence Council? And isn’t the only explanation for this shoddy approach to evidence a combination of political spin and uncritical reliance on foreign “friends”—the most dangerous infections for any intelligence organization?

Freeman is hailed by some as a “contrarian” and “gadfly.” After checking out this one episode, he looks to me like a shill or a sucker. Get your red pencils sharpened for those National Intelligence Estimates.

Update, late afternoon, March 10: Put the red pencils away. This announcment is just in: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”

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    Chas Freeman and 9/11

    How important has resentment of Israel been to Al Qaeda’s terrorism? Here is one side of the argument, by an American who knows Saudi Arabia well:

    The heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was told by Saudi friends that on Saudi TV there were three terrorists who came out and spoke. Essentially the story they told was that they had been recruited to fight for the Palestinians against the Israelis, but that once in the training camp, their trainers gradually shifted their focus away from the Israelis to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and to the United States. So the recruitment of terrorists has a great deal to do with the animus that arises from that continuing and worsening situation.

    And here is the opposing view, by an American who knows the Kingdom equally well:

    Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.

    So now you’ve heard two sides of the debate. Who made the first statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Who made the second statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

    The first quote dates from January 2004, the second from October 1998. The difference between them is 9/11, when it became the Saudi line to point to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians as the “root cause” of the September 11 attacks. The initial promoter of this approach in the United States (well before Walt and Mearsheimer) was Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed. “At times like this one,” Alwaleed announced a month after 9/11, “we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause.” That statement led then-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani to return a $10 million check Alwaleed had just presented to him for a special “Twin Towers” relief fund.

    Since 9/11 Freeman hasn’t repeated his 1998 assessment (“nothing to do with Israel”), instead sticking with his Saudi-pleasing spin of 2004 (“the heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum”). It’s not hard to figure out why. When the 9/11 Commission interviewed him in 2003, it noted that his position as president of the Middle East Policy Council “requires regular trips to the Persian Gulf for fundraising. While there, he meets with many senior Saudi officials.” In 2006, Freeman finally went the extra mile, offering this explanation for 9/11:

    We have paid heavily and often in treasure for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago, we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home.

    Freeman was now touting precisely the sort of nonsense he had previously dismissed out of hand. And he hit paydirt for doing it: within months, Prince Alwaleed wrote a check to Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council for $1 million. Here is a photo of Freeman, supplicant, visiting Alwaleed in the latter’s Riyadh HQ.

    Does Freeman really believe that Israel’s actions caused Bin Laden’s terror? Who knows? He’s put forward two completely contradictory explanations. One would like to believe that in his heart of hearts, he still knows what he knew in 1998, that Bin Laden’s “campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel.” One would like to believe that in 2006, he was cynically shilling for the Saudis when he blamed 9/11 on “our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach.” Because if he wasn’t just cynically shilling, he’s gone off the rails. (Actually, there is a third Freeman explanation for 9/11, so bizarre that I don’t know quite how to categorize it. Parse this: “What 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back.”)

    If Freeman’s gone off the rails, he obviously shouldn’t be taken out of mothballs to coordinate U.S. intelligence. But that’s so even if he was just cynically shilling. “An ambassador,” said Sir Henry Wotton, “is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.” In America, an ex-ambassador is all too often an honest man hired from abroad to lie to his own country. Freeman may have an impeccable record of past service, just as his old buddies attest. But if the National Intelligence Council and its products are to earn the respect of the American people, the NIC chair cannot be suspected of ever having deliberately twisted the truth into something else for our consumption, especially on a crucial issue of national security and at the behest of foreign interests.

    Chas Freeman doesn’t pass that test.

    Update, March 9: Some have argued that the two opening quotes in this post are actually consistent with one another. So I offer the full context of the first quote from 1998, which demonstrates that on that occasion, Freeman was actively deflecting the thesis that Bin Laden’s appeal rested on Israel and U.S. support for it. He was chairing a panel, and a member of the audience asked a question.

    Q: I’m astonished that nobody has mentioned the name Osama bin Laden. And it astonishes me also that we do nothing, apparently, to indicate that we are not a colony of Israel, when his whole appeal depends on demonstrating and reminding Muslims the world over that the United States is identified with Israel. If we do not develop a firm disagreement with Israel, we are going to suffer repeated casualties and deaths, including Foreign Service personnel.

    AMB. FREEMAN: Perhaps I could begin by saying that Mr. Osama bin Laden is a renegade from his family and from Saudi Arabia; his family has disowned him, and the kingdom has certainly dissociated itself from him. Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.

    So Freeman was actively deflecting an argument he himself would later make. It is interesting that this one-time-only absolution of Israel occurred while Freeman was playing host to a panel featuring Martin Indyk, at the time Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. Maybe that explains it.

    Pointer: See subsequent post, Chas Freeman and preemptive cringe.

    Update, late afternoon, March 10: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”

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      Cole spills wine at Cana

      Juan Cole today opens a dramatic post with the following passage, in response to the deaths yesterday, from Israeli fire, of several dozen Palestinian civilians sheltering at an UNWRA school in Gaza:

      In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news (graphic). He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. He immediately wrote out a martyrdom will, pledging to die avenging the innocent victims, killed with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center….

      You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.

      The post goes on to argue that America will pay the price of Israel’s “bloody-mindedness,” as it did on 9/11.

      Actually, Atta’s will was dated April 11, 1996—one week before the Qana tragedy, on April 18. We don’t know for certain why he made it, but it cannot be because he witnessed any footage from Qana, which was still in the future. And Cole apparently never read the will. It contains no pledge to die while avenging anyone. The will deals with disposition of Atta’s body and possessions in the event of his death. It’s not a “martyrdom will,” but a standardized one, provided by Atta’s Hamburg mosque. (You can read the full text here.)

      This is not Cole’s first problem with 9/11 chronology and facts. For an earlier instance, go here.

      Update: In the wake of this post, Cole has partly retro-edited his own post (without indicating so). Just for the record, below is the original.

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        Making Cole-slaw of history

        For a trained historian, even in Middle Eastern studies, Juan Cole is scandalously incompetent when it comes to cause and effect. Here’s his latest gaffe, made in the context of the London bombings:

        According to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon’s iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon’s threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready.

        Did Cole read the same 9/11 report as the rest of us? There’s not a single passage in the 9/11 report mentioning Sharon’s (or Israel’s) policies, and I challenge him to produce one. Cole just made it up. And in point of fact, the report’s narrative definitively contradicts him.

        The report makes it clear that 9/11 was conceived well before Sharon became prime minister of Israel in March 2001. Chapter 5, section 2 (p. 153) says the following, based on the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind:

        According to KSM, he started to think about attacking the United States after [Ramzi] Yousef returned to Pakistan following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing…. He maintains that he and Yousef…speculated about striking the World Trade Center and CIA headquarters as early as 1995.

        The idea was fully hatched by early 1999 (p. 154):

        KSM acknowledges formally joining al Qaeda in late 1998 or 1999, and states that soon afterward Bin Ladin also made the decision to support his proposal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as weapons…. Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar in March or April 1999 to tell him that al Qaeda would support his proposal. The plot was now referred to within al Qaeda as the “planes operation.”

        The election of Ehud Barak as Israeli prime minister in May 1999 didn’t put a crimp in the planning. To the contrary: preparations proceeded apace, and Bin Laden pushed even harder for the operation, which wasn’t quite ready. Bin Laden did so again after Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. But that visit took place on September 28, 2000, when Sharon was leader of the opposition. He only became prime minister five months later.

        In short, the 9/11 operation could hardly have been “conceived” as a response to U.S. support for Sharon’s “iron fist policies.” It was conceived, its operatives were selected, and it was put in motion, long before Sharon took the helm.

        And what of Cole’s claim that Bin Laden wanted to launch the attacks “in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless”? The Jenin operation took place in April 2002, seven months after 9/11. Apparently, in the bizarre universe of the Colesque, Sharon’s horrid deeds are always at fault for 9/11, even if he committed them after the event. (Hat tip to the vigilant readers of Tony Badran’s latest Cole-smashing post.)

        Cole has been summoned by certain media to pronounce on the motives of Al-Qaeda in striking London. He hasn’t got a clue. He can’t keep the basic chronology of the 9/11 plot straight, and he doesn’t have any notion of overall Middle Eastern chronology, which means he regularly mangles cause and effect. Reason? Bias trumps facts. If historians could be disbarred, Cole would have lost his license long ago. Instead, the Middle East Studies Association has elected him its president. So much for scholarly standards.

        Addendum: Experienced Cole-watchers know that when he makes a mistake, he just goes back and tidies up his postings. So he’s purged the Jenin reference. Instead, he writes that Bin Laden wanted to move up the operation “in response to Sharon’s crackdown in spring of 2001.” That’s not what the 9/11 report says. It says Bin Laden may have considered speeding up the operation to coincide with a planned Sharon visit to the White House (p. 250).

        Knowing Cole’s habits, I saved the original posting. It’s here. (And at the time of this posting, Google’s cache still records the original version.) The doctored version is here. Blogger etiquette demands that substantive errors be fixed by adding or posting an explicit correction. Cole exempts himself, as he must, given the gross inaccuracies that plague his weblog. So you quote him at your peril: his words might change under your feet. Here, for example, is a poor Cole admirer from Pakistan who quoted Cole Sahib’s Jenin revelation. I don’t have the heart to notify him that his hero got it wrong. (See Jenin update below.)

        Further reading: See my Cole archive, where I revisit some of Cole’s wackier interpretations of Al-Qaeda. See especially the entry entitled “Dial 911-COLE,” which unearths his comparison of the 9/11 perpetrators to the Applegate people UFO nuts. A year after 9/11, he dismissed Al-Qaeda as “an odd assortment of crackpots, petty thieves, obsessed graduate students, would-be mercenaries, and eccentric millionnaires.” No wonder Cole has had so much trouble digesting the 9/11 report.

        Update: An intermediary wrote to Cole to bring his attention to his flawed representation of the 9/11 report. Cole’s response: “T.P. points out by email that I should have said that the 9/11 Commission concluded that the timing of 9/11 was attributable to Sharon, not that the operation was largely conceived in response to him. This is correct; one writes blogs in haste and my phrasing was insufficiently careful.” Actually, this isn’t correct either: the 9/11 commission found that operational readiness determined the timing of 9/11. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad rebuffed Bin Laden’s attempts to move it up.

        Cole goes on to say that it is still “my conviction based on intensive study of Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad” that they saw 9/11 as “punishment for the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.” I think it’s much deeper than that, based on my own “intensive study,” but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that the 9/11 report doesn’t make or endorse Cole’s argument. And now that we know Cole works in haste, thus misreading a plain English text, what should we think of his hasty translations (renditions?) of Arabic? Take them with a grain of salt, or just bring along the entire salt shaker.

        Jenin? No word on that one. (See Jenin update below.)

        Update: “Another American,” a diarist at Daily Kos, is working to persuade readers that this critique deserves serious consideration. He’s running into some stiff opposition from militant (and occasionally obscene) Cole addicts. Have a peek.

        Jenin Update: The “Pakistani admirer” who quoted Cole’s Jenin claim has cropped up in Tony Badran’s comments, with this: “I contacted Cole regarding his slip-up, and he said simply that it was a slip of the keyboard, which was, I must add, an odd defense.” Oh, it’s not odd. Maybe it’s one of those wireless keyboards, and a transmission from a UFO (you know, flown by the Qaeda-Applegate people) interfered with his computer, and just slipped that Jenin reference in. I think that’s a better explanation than the time warp thesis i.e., that in a parallel universe, Jenin did happen before 9/11. After all, we have entered the Cole-mine, where the usual laws of physics are suspended, and magical things become commonplace.

        Another update: Cole now announces his editorial “policy,” which will be news to readers of his weblog (who still haven’t been told about the Jenin fix). “I post late at night and sometimes am sleepy and make mistakes. My readers are my editors and correct me. If the corrections come the same morning, I make them directly to the text, as a ‘second edition.’ If the posting has been up a few days, I put a footnote when making a correction. That is, I consider the text correctable for the first day or so. That is my editorial policy. Like it or lump it.” Got it? For the “first day or so,” an entry is just a draft! But wait a minute… don’t most people read the entry on the “first day or so”? Isn’t that when it’s most likely to get quoted? And what if a reader doesn’t want to be Cole’s editor? (I’ve got my own stuff to edit, thank you.) So here’s my policy and it’s simple: you broke it, it’s yours; you post it, it’s yours. Like it or lump it.

        Updated again! Believe it or not, Cole has repeated the offense: the “sleepy” explanation has been purged from his site! Here is the original entry (which I saved, of course), and here is the purged version. (He also cut a nasty personal attack on me, which I’ll treat separately.) Well, he can keep deleting. I’ll keep storing.

        Tit for tat: I go to all this trouble to correct Cole, and he attacks me personally. So here’s my rejoinder.

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          Book launch: Ivory Towers on Sand

          Martin Kramer offered these remarks at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy on October 16, 2001, on the occasion of the launch of his book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Posted retroactively at Sandbox.

          A book launching is a curious sort of event. There’s no point in summarizing the book itself. Here it is, and the gist of my argument is summarized in at least three places: the back cover, the preface, and the introduction. Nor do I want to give away the plot—the whodunit. The plot is pretty intricate, it has a stellar cast, and I don’t want to spoil the reading. In a launching, the author’s job is not so much to enlighten you as to tease you, and the message is simple: read my book.

          If you do read it, you’ll find confirmation for something many of you have probably suspected for a long time: for more than twenty years, Middle Eastern studies in this country have been a thoroughly unreliable guide to the Middle East itself. A generation ago, a group of younger scholars ritually assassinated the character of their orientalist forebears, and took over the institutions of the field. Those forebears had created a remarkable little empire, but they were sideswiped by the Palestinian “awakening,” the Lebanese civil war, and the Iranian revolution. Edward Said led the assault on the Bastille, and a new generation took over from the mid-1980s. These self-described post-orientalists promised to get things right. As one of their leaders put it, “Middle Eastern politics are much less unpredictable than is often supposed.” This book takes Middle Eastern studies up on that claim. And what I demonstrate is this: the record of Middle Eastern studies, in prediction and analysis, has been one of repeated, collective failure.

          Of course, many issues came to the top of the agenda in Middle Eastern studies during these two decades, and I don’t cover them all. Instead, I focus on the two that seem to me most central, because they require deft analysis of state and society. Anyone can make a mistake in analyzing the acts of an individual leader, or the outcome of a battle. Getting these things right is the job of intelligence agencies, not scholars. The essence of academic expertise is an understanding of the larger forces at work on society and state—the shifts of landscape that are only visible from some height above the daily rush of events. There were two issues of this magnitude that preoccupied Middle Eastern studies in the 1980s and 1990s: Islamism and civil society.

          Had one spent the last twenty years locked up in a room only with the work of academic scholars, or been condemned, as in an episode of the Twilight Zone, to attend every panel of every conference of the Middle East Studies Association, one would have emerged into daylight expecting to see the following: first, a Middle East full of benign and non-violent Muslim movements, the end result of an “Islamic Reformation,” all promoting political pluralism in their respective polities; and second, a flourishing of “civil society,” and a withering of the authoritarian state.

          None of this came to pass. Muslim movements never moved toward pluralism and tolerance. The influence of Osama bin Laden exceeds the combined impact of all the “Muslim Martin Luthers” unearthed by the academics. “Civil society” is either dead or coopted across the region. And the authoritarian state has only strengthened its hold. The reams of articles and the shelves of books produced to sustain academic paradigms and win tenure are now silent monuments to what one scholar rather unscientifically described as “wishful thinking.” This is how the academics wanted the Middle East to evolve; this is how their theories predicted it would evolve. And they were wrong.

          Of course, the interesting question is why. Experts always make mistakes. Anyone who has had dealings with a stockbroker, a physician, or a car mechanic, knows this for a fact. None of us has a perfect record; our reputations rest, at best, on getting things right over fifty percent of the time. Far more interesting is collective error, when a whole bevy of experts get things wrong in the identical way. This happens when the internal dynamics of a group are so intense that they overwhelm, even shut out, external evidence.

          This is precisely what has happened in Middle Eastern studies. Take a tiny field with under 3,000 practitioners; add to it a whole mish-mash of ethnic rivalries and political disagreements; subject it to the influence of an academic celebrity, speaking in the name of powerful extra-disciplinary theories; limit accountability to “peer review;” and then tell the whole crowd that the possibility for future expansion is next to nil. The result will be a group of people who are insecure, defensive, self-obsessed, and more focused on academic survival than on the ostensible subject of their study. This is exactly what has happened in Middle Eastern studies. Their product will tell you an immense amount about the norms and expectations of their American surroundings, academic fashion, and ethnic politics—and very little about the Middle East. As a result, the credibility of Middle Eastern studies in the general public has seen a steady decline. I devote an entire chapter to the ways in which Washington has come to write off Middle Eastern studies. I’ve written an entire chapter on how the think tanks and journalists filled the gap, and how the foundations and the disciplines withdrew their favor. For some time now, Middle Eastern studies have been in dire straits—and until September 11, no one really cared.

          That’s a bit surprising, since for over forty years, Middle Eastern studies have been supported by taxpayer dollars. Under Title VI of the Higher Education Act, the U.S. government supports over a dozen National Resource Centers for the Middle East. You’ll find a listing in the appendix. You would think that from time to time, at least the government might take an interest in what was happening. But while government money has been crucial for this tiny field, it’s a speck on the federal budget—so much so that, basically, the academics are allowed to divvy it up themselves, according to their own criteria. The Title VI appropriation has effectively become a semi-entitlement, with no real measures of how it serves the national needs of the United States.

          Until September 11, then, Middle Eastern studies had become a kind of educational backwater—disconnected from the Middle East, isolated from the public and government, shunned by the disciplines, engrossed in self-contemplation. That was where I picked up the research and writing of this book. But over the last month, the world has changed—and it has certainly changed for Middle Eastern studies.

          Not that anyone in Middle Eastern studies was ready for it. Nothing you would have read from academe would have given you the least inkling that September 11 was even possible. I will be kind, and describe this as a failure of imagination. Now of course, it was not just Middle Eastern studies that failed. After all, we’re in Washington today. But Middle Eastern studies were a special case. It was here that one found an actual denial of the potential of terrorism, even a reluctance to use the word terrorism as an analytical category. (Look at the Middle East Studies Association statement on September 11: it is an exercise is avoiding recourse to this one word.) It was here that one found the most profound contempt for the journalists and mavericks who did argue that a September 11 was possible. Nearly all of us were surprised; but few of us were as surprised as the mandarins of Middle Eastern studies. “Middle Eastern politics are much less unpredictable than is often supposed,” one of their leaders had written. That same professor, returning from Europe, wound up stuck in Nova Scotia when the United States closed its airspace on September 11.

          In fact, September 11 took all of Middle Eastern studies by surprise—and left them stranded intellectually in Nova Scotia. The dominant paradigm of Middle Eastern studies could never have predicted this event, and cannot explain it after the fact. At the start of the 1990s, one of the champions of this paradigm wrote the following: “The nineties will prove to be a decade of new alliances and alignments in which the Islamic movements will challenge rather than threaten their societies and the West.” Instead, America got a decade punctuated by the bombing of the World Trade Center, Khobar, Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam; the region got indiscriminate terror from the GIA, Hamas, and the Gamaa Islamiyya, and the proliferation of suicide bombings. Usama bin Ladin is but the culmination of this process. And when he did appear, this same champion wrote that focusing on him, and I quote, “risks catapulting one of many sources of terror to center stage.” Now we have had September 11, and I submit that it is inexplicable if you accept the assumptions that have governed Middle Eastern studies these last twenty years. In the book, I resist invoking Thomas Kuhn, but this is the kind of event that should compel a paradigm shift.

          Instead, Middle Eastern studies are enjoying a windfall. Let me divide it into three categories: enrollments, media exposure, and money.

          I’m sure you’ve seen the reports about how Middle East courses are overflowing. September 11 fell during the first week or so of classes, when students were still shopping for courses. The heightened interest drove students in their multitudes into courses on the Middle East, Islam, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Christian Science Monitor ran a story entitled “Standing Room Only,” which described the influx as a “student stampede.”

          One of the courses in which the media took a special interest is the big introductory undergraduate course at Harvard, “Thought and Change in the Contemporary Middle East.” One of the students lost her father at the World Trade Center, the media reported; students jammed the aisles. Enrollment was 100 students last year; 300 showed up this year, and six new teaching assistants had to be added to the original three. By the way, if you want a hint at what they might hear, the professor who teaches that class offered one, in an article in the Harvard Crimson. (Pardon the fractured grammar here.) “September 11 was obviously an act of blood revenge, a subject about which anthropologists have long written about in terms of the tribal codes of the Middle East. There is, regrettably, nothing very surprising in this. There had been too much murder going on in Israel and the West Bank for no extreme reprisals to take place.” Harvard, ladies and gentlemen. Undergraduate tuition this academic year is $34,269.

          Another interviewed professor claimed this would not be a one-time surge of student interest: “We’ve moved to a different level. This attack was on American soil, and my guess is there will be a lot more interest for years in Middle East and Islamic studies on campus.” The Middle East experts, sweating away in relative obscurity over the past decade, are set to be big men and women on campus.

          Then there is the media. I was struck by how few academics appeared in the media in the first couple of weeks. This wasn’t an “Islam” story yet, probably because of the early fear of hate crimes. The mainstream media didn’t want to contribute to an atmosphere that might encourage such crimes. But once this possibility receded, it became more of an “Islam” story, especially over the last ten days, and we’ve seen the academics as talking heads in growing numbers. Frankly, some of them look like deer caught in the headlights—they’ve been working so long out of the limelight. But you’re familiar with the best of them, and they front for the field as a whole, giving America a false sense of reassurance that, well, at least somewhere, these things are studied seriously.

          Student enrollments and media exposure are but a prelude. Then comes the most important windfall of them all. Listen, for example, to Anne Betteridge, executive director of MESA. She told the Christian Science Monitor that colleges may soon find themselves in salary battles to lure the best of the long-ignored Middle East faculty. I don’t think I’ll ever live to see that day, but her comment says something about the wild expectations that are running rampant through the field at this moment.

          Then there will be the grants. The National Science Foundation has already made two grants, to look at the impact of anti-Arab backlash in this country, and to compare Islamic movements. The U.S. Institute of Peace website says the Institute “will seek additional funding” for four separate initiatives on terrorism and the Middle East. The grant-award process at the USIP will be accelerated. The Middle East academics who are fastest off the mark will have no difficulty landing major funding from these institutions.

          And can it be long before an initiative comes for a special government program? There’s a precedent. As I write in my book, the Gulf War a decade ago led to the passage by Congress of the Near and Middle East Research and Training Act. For some seven years, this special appropriation pumped grant money into Middle Eastern studies, under the rubric of “national security.” The program ended up funding all sorts of esoteric research, on everything from Nubian dance to Egyptian masculinities, and it was eventually dropped; I tell the sad story in the chapter entitled “Beltway Barrier.”

          But how long will it be before the academics get the ear of some senator or congressman, and persuade him or her that America’s performance in the “war on terror” could be enhanced if only more funds were pumped into Middle Eastern studies? Perhaps the Social Science Research Council will move to speak on behalf of Middle Eastern studies, as it did ten years ago.

          The Title VI lobby will want its share, too. They will try to ride the language train. Don’t you see? There’s a drastic shortage of Arabic- and Persian- and Pashto- and Dari-speakers. To teach these languages, we need crash programs based in the universities, more faculty hirings and student fellowships. The National Foreign Language Center has already recommended more funding of Title VI centers with this rationale.

          Let me be as unequivocal as I can about this. In my book, I do not call for a cessation of Title VI funding for Middle Eastern studies. Even if I thought it were a good idea, it would be pointless to recommend it. Title VI is one indivisible package for all area studies, and Middle Eastern studies only account for one tenth of it. I call for procedural reforms; not a cut-off. Middle Eastern studies should be given a chance to reconstruct themselves in the very different climate that now prevails.

          But let there be no doubt: any additional funding for Middle Eastern studies, either through reallocation within Title VI or a special new appropriation, would not only be a complete waste of money. It would delay all the much-needed rethinking of the basic paradigms that have dominated the field. It would reward a guild that has, these last twenty years, deliberately refused to render any service in return for its subsidy, and that has fostered a culture of irrelevance and contempt for Washington. This is the time to call Middle Eastern studies to account, not to pamper them. Provosts and deans won’t do that, especially now that enrollments have inflated. Only Congress, on behalf of the public, can assure that the denizens of the ivory tower realize that the rest of us out here are sorely disappointed.

          If Congress does choose to appropriate funds, there are other instruments that could efficiently absorb more resources to improve the situation in languages and area studies. Probably the most efficient is the National Security Education Program, which provides student fellowships with a language emphasis, in return for a modest service obligation. The elites of area studies at the big centers fought the establishment of this program, and still look down on it because of its “security” designation. But it has an excellent record of bringing students into international studies, especially from non-humanistic disciplines. I wouldn’t oppose more money for campus-based research offered through the USIP, the NSF, or the Defense Department—provided there is a careful review of previously-funded Middle East research, to see whether it’s been on track. We should be very wary about crash programs, instant grants, and accelerated grant-awarding procedures. It goes without saying that more should be done at the defense colleges and the service academies.

          Recently it’s been reported that the Defense Department wants to create a language ROTC on a few campuses, including those strong in Arabic. It’s an excellent idea, with one problem: the culture of the Middle East centers is incredibly hostile to it. For example, the University of Michigan, which has always been strong in Arabic instruction, has so far resisted the idea. As one Michigan professor of Arabic put it, “We didn’t want our students to be known as spies in training. By intertwining intelligence and academics, we’d essentially be recruiting Arabs to later inform on members of their own community.” That, in a nutshell, is the prevailing culture. At these centers, you can prepare openly for careers in academe, business, law, even diplomacy—but not defense. More money here will not add one iota to the capability of the United States to defend itself, and that’s true across the board for all the centers. Hopefully, student demand in the wake of September 11 will compel these centers to give students a choice.

          But government can only do so much. As I emphasize in my book, the reform of Middle Eastern studies will have to come from within, and it will be accelerated by generational change. Here I can only hazard a guess, but my sense is that as the radicals of my generation grow gray, the grip of their dogmas will diminish. Over the next ten to twenty years, a new generation will emerge throughout academe, with a different agenda. Perhaps they will recall September 11 as some sort of watershed, the point of departure for forging a new paradigm. So I am not pessimistic; and it’s because I’m basically optimistic that I took the trouble to write this book. Middle Eastern studies can change, must change, and will change—of this, I have no doubt.

          I’d like to end on a personal note. I wrote this book more in sorrow than in anger. The reason is simple: I myself am a product, in part, of Middle Eastern studies in America. I hold all my degrees from major American universities; I’m criticizing not only a world I know, but the world that accredited me.

          So I would have been happier had someone else written this book. Here and there, I detected hints of auto-critique in the field, and I’m careful to mention them in my book. But no one was coming forward to do a systematic job, and at some point I realized that no one would—that the guild would be too unforgiving of anyone who dared. If I didn’t do it, no one would. In academe, you’re always told that the noblest mission is to tell truth to power. When academics say this, they usually mean their telling truth to Washington-type power. But that’s an easy day’s work; academe rewards it. Who will tell truth to academic power? Only what I call an “intimate stranger” like myself can afford to do it.

          The most difficult part of writing this book was naming people I know, including a few people with whom I’ve had amicable relationships over the years. About ten years ago, when the Islamism debate was at its height, I shadow-boxed some of them. In this book, I not only box; I take my gloves off. But I certainly didn’t decide to do so out of an impulse to do gratuitous damage, and I anguished over not a few of the passages in this book.

          I named names because past experience proves that no other approach has any impact. When Edward Said, another “intimate stranger,” wanted to have an impact on Middle Eastern studies, he understood there was only one way to do it, and it wasn’t by understatement. I felt I had no choice but to follow his model—although I could never bring myself to describe any scholar as “utterly ninth-rate”—see Said’s quote on page 38. I’ve adhered to my own red lines, but I know my approach will leave some people sore. Alas, there’s no other way to get a hearing for change.

          The book will stir controversy, and I’ll be attacked for having written it. Hell hath no fury like a professor scorned, and academics have all the time in the world to settle scores. The index of this book is a pretty good guide to the sources of the coming rebuttals. But I hope that once all the fur has flown, and after all the dust has settled, there will be a few students who will have taken it to heart, and a few key scholars who will say at least this: “Martin Kramer went too far, but he made some valid points, and we’d better address them fast.” If I get that much of an admission, I’ll consider the book a tremendous success—the first step toward revitalizing a field I love too much to abandon.

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