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Sep 28, 2004 3:02 pm


Fair and Balanced



It's nice to see that the always balanced field of Middle East/Islamic studies is continuing to produce high-class work. A piece from today's FrontPage profiles Duke professor Miriam Cooke, president of the Association for Middle East Women's Studies, who offers a torturous explanation on why the U.S.-led ousting of the Taliban hasn't helped Afghan women and why we need to rationalize the acts of Palestinian suicide-murderers who are women.
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Robert KC Johnson - 9/30/2004

Indeed, Ralph's point is one reason why I joined The Historical Society and no longer a member of the AHA. While there have been various movements among scholars, moreover, to support divestment from companies doing business in Israel, or even to prevent Israeli scholars from attending academic conferences, I'm unaware of the sponsors of any of these initiatives calling for divestment from, say, Saudi Arabia for providing financial support for Palestinian terrorist groups.

I should have said "challenge" rather than "condemn"--from looking through the panels at the last few MESA conferences, I'm hard pressed to see many in the organization who represent an alternative view on Middle Eastern affairs.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/29/2004

Brian, One of the complaints leading to the formation of The Historical Society was that the AHA and the OAH had begun making the sorts of pronouncements on current political issues that you question.


Brian Ulrich - 9/29/2004

Unlike the scholarship of individuals such as Cooke, Massad, etc., CAFMENA is an official MESA organization. Do you see their statements as atypical? In short, what is the source of your knowledge of Middle East Studies in North America, the field you are so sarcastically attacking?


Brian Ulrich - 9/29/2004

I must admit that among all the Middle East scholars I know, I don't know anyone as radical as Massad and Khalidi, except for maybe a couple of grad students. Saying Israel is a racist state, however, is not exactly beyond the boundaries of civil discourse - they do actively encourage certain parts of the population to grow while regarding Arabs as a "demographic threat." Those two do need to be more sensitive with regard to the Holocaust, however.

If this condemnation were to be forthcoming, in what venue would you expect to hear it? Some official MESA statement? Would you then want the AHA to have the right to condemn your blog posts? Is that really the place of a professional academic organization?


mark safranski - 9/28/2004

I have to not that a position can be complex, nuanced and properly set within context while remaining wrong, illogical and quite possibly asinine.

Being complicated -if such is the case with Dr. cooke's argument- is no guarantee of sound reasoning.

The argument for example that some parts of Afghanistan remain as inhospitible to Afghhan women as under the Taliban does not negate the value of the Taliban's overthrow for those women who live in provinces or cities where conditions have improved.


Robert KC Johnson - 9/28/2004

I did a web search on Prof. cooke (she apparently doesn't use capital letters in her name).

Here's a URL for two of the articles from which the frontpage piece quotes:
www.dukenews.duke.edu/news/opinionb913.html?p=all&">http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/www.dukenews.duke.edu/news/opinionb913.html?p=all&;id=1587&catid=45
http://www.wellesley.edu/Newspaper/archives/10137/articles/10137n5.html

Here's her webpage, which opens with her at a photo rally
http://www.aas.duke.edu/news/faculty/cooke.php
and contains at least one misstatement of fact about President Bush (she claims that Bush labeled Syria, Libya, and Cuba as part of the 'axis of evil').

It seems to me wrong to simply assume that a footnoted article is biased. In this case, the Frontpage article strikes me as a reasonably fair interpretation of her perspective--albeit written by someone with a critical point of view. Of course, the difference between Frontpage and Prof. cooke is that everyone knows that Frontpage is a publication with a particular point of view, while Prof. cooke, in theory, is in a profession that values some semblance of objectivity.

As for MESA, I'd be delighted to hear from the voices in the organization that have publicly condemned the remarks of Columbia Middle East Studies professor Joseph A. Massad, who stated, "The Jews are not a nation.…The Jewish state is a racist state that does not have a right to exist," or who later claimed, "Israeli demands that Palestinians recognize the holocaust are not about the holocaust at all, but rather about the other part of the package, namely recognizing and submitting to Israel’s ‘right to exist’ as a colonial-settler racist state." Or from the points of view within MESA that disagree with Rashid Khalidi, who argued, “We all feel intensely a sense of urgency about what is happening to our communities in the Middle East and to our communities here, on par with what Jews in America felt in the 1940s" and suggested that that Arab-Americans build a memorial to the “Palestinian Nakba [catastrophe] of 1948” modeled after the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.


Robert KC Johnson - 9/28/2004

It's an attack piece, yes. It is, however, quite typical of the MESA perspective on such matters.


Manan Ahmed - 9/28/2004

Brian and Ralph already noted that the piece in FrontPage is a tad unconclusive about Prof. Cooke's view. I will just add that according to this Yahoo AP report the US-led ousting of Taliban hasn't helped Afghan women.
As for the lack of objectivity or high-quality work from Middle East/Islamic studies, I would like to see some evidence of such. MESA bulletin is not even the tip of Islamic Studies output, but even so, a perusal of the archive of the Table of Contents here does not show any glaring bias (unless an Obit. of Edward Said by Rashid Khalidi is considered too biased). Please feel free to browse the list as older articles are available online. And please don't judge a scholar by a second hand biased account and judge an entire field by one scholar or two.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/28/2004

I'm inclined to agree with Brian, KC. After reading the FrontPage piece, I suspect that it's one of those attack articles that makes no attempt at a fair and balanced presentation of a subject. I suspect that the position of the scholar in question is more complex than is presented.


Brian Ulrich - 9/28/2004

Given the source, I'd be curious to see these remarks in context. Of course, since this is not a perspective I often hear, it could just be a sign of the balance you refer to.

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