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|1||An American Invention||5|
|4||Misstating the State||61|
|5||The Beltway Barrier||84|
|6||The Cultivation of Irrelevance||104|
|Conclusion: When Gods Fail||120|
Posted October 13, 2002
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.