Ivory Towers On Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America / Edition 1

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Overview

On campuses throughout the United States, thousands of professors study and teach the Middle East. They fill the pages of journals, the shelves of libraries, and the minds of students with their paradigms, theories, and predictions. In Middle East crises, the media seek their opinions. Their enterprise is deemed a national resource: the federal government subsidizes over a dozen academic centers devoted to the Middle East. Yet for the past twenty years, Middle Eastern studies in America have been factories of error. The academics, blinded by their own prejudices and enslaved to the fashions of the disciplines, have failed to anticipate or explain any of the major developments in the Middle East. Within the field, hardly a voice dares to protest, but beyond it, each debacle chips away at academe's credibility. Middle Eastern studies have failed--at a time when understanding the Middle East has become crucial to America. In this iconoclastic expose, Martin Kramer surveys the ruins of Middle Eastern studies, to ask how and why they went wrong. Ivory Towers on Sand is the most thorough critique of Middle Eastern studies in America ever published--and a necessary step toward their reconstruction.
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Editorial Reviews

Jersualem Post
Unquestionably, this is one of the most important books about understanding the Middle East written during the last half-century.
New York Post
Incisive and original...the failure Kramer documents affects Americans and Middle Easterners alike, not to mention others around the world.
Philidelphia Inquirer
Written in caustic, punchy prose...fresh, essential reading...a cluster bomb, and lots of scholars are likely to be hit.
Wall Sreet Journal
A case study in the broader trend of the universities reduced to irrelevance by the “post-modern” denial of objective truth.
Weekly Standard
Kramer has performed a crucial service by exposing intellectual rot in a scholarly field of capital importance to national well-being.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780944029497
  • Publisher: Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Publication date: 6/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 137
  • Sales rank: 1,005,453
  • Product dimensions: 7.02 (w) x 10.03 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Preface ix
Introduction 1
1 An American Invention 5
2 Said's Splash 27
3 Islam Obscured 44
4 Misstating the State 61
5 The Beltway Barrier 84
6 The Cultivation of Irrelevance 104
Conclusion: When Gods Fail 120
Appendix 131
Index 133
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2002

    Debuking prescription and prophecy

    Martin Kramer¿s monograph had its genesis before September 11, but its arrival is opportune. How did 2,600 specialist academics from 125 American universities and colleges come to have practically nothing to say - except after September 11 - about Bin Laden? Kramer¿s monograph provides a timely answer to that question. Kramer gives an overview of the transformation of a previously antiquarian and linguistic guild into a highly political one dominated by sociologists and political scientists. By 1966, it had found its embodiment in the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). As Kramer demonstrates, this renovated field of Middle Eastern studies has been characterised by the political advocacy of Arab nationalism as a beneficent force and the Middle East as a region of burgeoning Westernisation and development. Yet a crisis of confidence in the late 1970s in the validity of scholarship stemming from these ideas goes far towards explaining the triumph of Edward Said in his seminal work, Orientalism (1978). Said produced a pungent critique of Western scholarship - leading to new discipline called post-colonialism - that identified it as a precision tool of Western dominance, depriving Middle Eastern societies of their own narrative, fostering racist assumptions and stimulating discriminatory practices. Kramer shows how the new orthodoxy has failed the test of time. MESA has failed like its predecessor to predict Middle Eastern developments. Few of its members predicted Saddam Hussein¿s violent course. The specialists also forecast disaster for what was a famously decisive American intervention over Kuwait that reaffirmed American prestige. Post-colonial texts have been ammunition for Islamists and a handicap for secularists in the Middle East. Kramer shows that these texts are now very much the orthodoxy in Middle East studies in the US. He rightly devotes attention to the ascendancy of John Esposito. Esposito¿s winning formula was producing scholarly and favourable volumes on Islam and Islamic society, shorn of Said¿s rancid anti-American and post-colonial baggage, which tailored well to the needs of college texts. He refurbished Islamism as representing democratic, participatory movements, thereby sanitising them for the public and confounding patterns of social tension in the Middle East with those in democracies. Kramer credits Esposito with popularising the outlook and attitudes of the post-colonial school and thus duplicating with the US government and public Said¿s success with the academy. He has been followed by Augustus Richard Norton, the proponent of a new doctrine: that `civil society¿ in the Middle East is the wave of the future that threatens to uproot Middle Eastern despotisms. Only on this basis can we understand, for example, the historian John Voll, arguing with a straight face before a US congressional committee in 1992 that Sudan - governed by a junta without political parties and presently the scene of savage persecution of Christians and animists - was a democracy. Kramer¿s monograph gives us a timely explication of the larger and detailed issues involved. The hostile reception of his critique at the latest MESA Conference forewarns us how it will be resisted.

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