Academic Middle East Scholars Spent Two Decades Making Themselves Irrelevant

March 25 2022

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


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria