Meeting in Canada, Middle East Scholars' Group Worries About Academic Freedom

Montreal | Concerns over academic freedom loomed large over the scholarly presentations here at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, a group whose members sometimes confess to feeling as besieged as they do blessed by the contemporary preoccupation with their region of study.

The association's Committee on Academic Freedom reported that it was busier than ever this year sending letters of intervention in cases where it sees the freedom of scholars— either in the region or studying the region— as threatened.

"There's been an explosion of cases lately," said Gershon Shafir, a professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego and a member of the academic-freedom committee.

Laurie Brand, the committee's chairwoman and a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, said the group had sent out 22 letters of intervention over the past 10 months. The prime trouble spots: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the United States.

In a panel presentation on the first day of the meeting, the committee summed up its work over the year. The discussion panned from concerns over the American reception of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt's book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, to descriptions of speech crackdowns in Turkey and blasphemy lawsuits against professors in Kuwait....

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