Academic Middle East Scholars Spent Two Decades Making Themselves Irrelevant

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, journalists, policymakers, and ordinary Americans turned to the university to seek information about the region, and the religion, with which their country had become deeply engaged. That same year, Martin Kramer argued in his book Ivory Towers in the Sand that the entire field of Middle East studies “consistently missed the most important developments in the region” and, worse still, that its practitioners rarely acknowledged their mistakes, but instead “disregarded or distorted the evidence” when it didn’t conform to their understandings. Twenty years later, academia hasn’t changed much. But something else has:

[V]ery little of what the public reads or hears about the Middle East today comes from academics. This is evident in the 9/11 documentaries that have been broadcast in the general media on this twentieth anniversary. Among the quotable talking heads, academics are almost entirely absent. They mostly write for and speak to each other in a narrow circle, or for the slightly wider circle of the farther left.

If one wants more proof, ask this: does anyone in the field, any credentialed professor of Middle Eastern studies, enjoy any broad name-recognition in America? The answer is an obvious “no.” The last one was the late Bernard Lewis. Lewis had two New York Times bestsellers right after 9/11: What Went Wrong and The Crisis of Islam. They were quick, readable syntheses that filled an immediate void and that flew off the shelves.

But Lewis, and to some extent also Fouad Ajami, were the exceptions that proved the rule: the academic study of the Middle East does not produce high-profile public intellectuals. America has not looked to academics for its ideas about the region in a long while.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: 9/11, Academia, Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami, Middle East

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7