Academic, Notable, Politics

Scholars outing rabid anti-Americanism in our own universities …. no, this isn’t the McCarthy hearings on un-American activities, it is the House Subcommittee on Select Education, Committee on Education and the Workforce U.S. House of Representatives. They are worried that university programs in Area Studies are not producing enough supporters of U.S. foreign policy. Rather than suggest that U.S. foreign policy might be at fault, they are blaming it on the anti-Americanism of our top scholars.

First, a short history of Area Studies:

Area Studies programs, as we know them, developed in the United States during and especially after World War II. They reorganized knowledge against the background of the Cold War with a bend toward economic and political management. Because these programs were turned to practice, they blurred many disciplinary boundaries. But in so doing, they questioned implicitly the naturalness of these disciplinary boundaries. Not all disciplines were admitted or equally involved. Historians and anthropologists who pioneered research on non-Western areas-and indeed created the few area programs before W.W.II-were often forgotten. Political scientists and economists took the lead in Area Studies programs in the era of modernization theory. Literature was a late comer.

But now that post-colonial literary theorists have taken over from the positivists, the very fabric of our society is in peril. Well, Stanley Kurtz of the NRO doesn’t go quite that far, but he comes pretty close. Here is his testimony before Congress:

The ruling intellectual paradigm in academic area studies (especially Middle Eastern Studies) is called post-colonial theory.” Post-colonial theory was founded by Columbia University professor of comparative literature, Edward Said. Said gained fame in 1978, with the publication of his book, Orientalism. In that book, Said equated professors who support American foreign policy with the 19th century European intellectuals who propped up racist colonial empires. The core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power.

… This is the context in which we have to understand a teacher-training workshop sponsored by the Title VI-funded Center for Middle East Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That workshop was part of the outreach program by which Title VI centers are supposed to convey knowledge of the Middle East to the broader American public. In the wake of September 11, U. C. Santa Barbara’s Middle East Studies Center assigned reading materials to K-12 teachers to help them answer the question, “Why do they hate us?” Yet all of the articles assigned under that rubric were writings of Edward Said, or of his like-minded colleagues.

Given the influence of Said’s post-colonial theory on Middle East Studies in America, that workshop was in no way an isolated occurrence.

The authors assigned in that workshop included Arundhati Roy, Robert Fisk, and Tariq Ali, all known as bitter critics of American foreign policy. More than that, Said and these other authors have been widely cited for purveying a viewpoint that betrays an extreme animus to the United States itself. The Columbia Journalism Review cited Arundhati Roy, for example, as a prime example of an “anti-American” writer. Liberal author Ian Buruma, writing in The New Republic , published a review of Roy’s work entitled, “The Anti-American.” (Roy’s title-essay from the book reviewed by Buruma was assigned in the U. C. Santa Barbara course.) Even leftist author Tod Gitlin, in the left-leaning magazine, Mother Jones , called Arundhati Roy “anti-American.”

The uniformity and extremist political bias of that Title VI-funded reading list was in no way unusual in a field dominated by Edward Said’s post-colonial theory. What was so striking about this workshop was that it was purveying this perspective, even to the teachers responsible for educating America’s young children about the meaning of September 11.

Let me state clearly, however, that I am not arguing that authors like Edward Said ought to be banned from Title-VI-funded courses. My concern is that Title VI-funded centers too seldom balance readings from Edward Said and his like-minded colleagues with readings from authors who support American foreign policy. Princeton historian and best-selling author Bernard Lewis, Harvard University political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, and Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami, all support American foreign policy, and all have very different explanations than Edward Said and his colleagues of “why they hate us.” Yet these authors are generally excluded, or simply condemned, in contemporary programs of Middle East Studies.

So, first of all, we learn that The core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power.” (Did this guy read any of these authors?) Secondly, we learn that it is wrong, in a workshop aimed at educating teacher’s about why they hate us” to actually provide the answer to that question, because doing so is anti-American. And finally, we have a suggestion that all Title-VI-funded courses should be required to provide a balanced” view — which means including scholars like Huntington in the syllabus. So somehow it is pro-American to be Orientalist? I feel sick. But it is worse, it seems that the committee liked Kurtz’ testimony. They are planning, on Kurtz’ advice, to create an oversight board that would:

… make recommendations that will promote the excellence of international education programs and result in the growth and development of such programs at the postsecondary education level that will reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views on world regions, foreign language, and international affairs

For diverse perspectives” read: ensure that funding complies with perspectives favorable to the Homeland.”

UPDATE: Content edited for clarity.

UPDATE: There is a very good article about this in Salon.