Scholarship in the Shadow of Empire

                                 Presidential Address by Laurie A. Brand

                To the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association

            November 20, 2004




As a colleague of mine has recently written, a term that was slanderous a mere decade ago –empire—has now become a cliché in discussing the United States.[1] Indeed, “what word but ‘empire’ describes the awesome thing that America is becoming? It is the only nation that polices the world through five global military commands; maintains more than a million men and women at arms on four continents; deploys carrier battle groups on watch in every ocean; guarantees the survival of countries from Israel to South Korea; drives the wheels of global trade and commerce...”[2]  

Imperial expansion is justified based on the exigencies of prosecuting a war against terrorism, a battle that is portrayed as existential in nature and global in scope.  The attacks of September 11, 2001 provided those sectors of government and industry nostalgic for the Manichean simplicity and lucrative military contracts of the Cold War a convenient ideological replacement.  Like its predecessor, the war on terror “involves enemies hidden among us who challenge our beliefs and values, and [who] will use any weapons against us and our allies. It is a war that is said to require a ‘full spectrum’ response anywhere and everywhere” attested to and reinforced by “sweeping new programs of domestic surveillance, rearmament, foreign base expansion and military operations.”[3] 

 While it is true that President George W. Bush has on several occasions explicitly denied that the US was or sought empire, in an autumn 2002 interview, a senior Bush advisor offered journalist Ron Susskind a quite different view:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study, too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”[4]  The 2004 elections have now given these people another four years to determine the empire’s course.

   I am well aware that many of you here are not American citizens. Yet, whether you are or not, and whether you believe the United States to be an empire or not, two factors, overwhelming US power and the current state of war, have far ranging implications for us all, as individuals and as scholars. 

 Referring to the case of Tariq Ramadan,  one journalist argued that the debate surrounding the revocation of his visa “cuts to the center of the role of academics in a society at war, [it] turns on how to distinguish between scholarship and apologetics, objectivity and sympathy, and serving one’s country or aiding its enemy.” [5] Certainly, if it is the state that makes decisions about with whom one may or may not exchange ideas, and if, to concretize the concern, simply to study Islamic movements with the intent to understand, rather than immediately to indict and convict, opens one up to charges of collaboration with terrorists, then the possibilities for serious research are severely circumscribed, whether one’s goal is academic inquiry or policymaking. 

That said, the challenge is in fact much deeper and more serious. This is not just a question of whether the academy and American society more broadly will continue to have access to foreign scholars as a means of informing the national debate over a course of action already chosen, but rather a much more basic struggle over how the empire views and uses academic/scientific inquiry; as well as over the obstacles or constraints that  those of us who have alternative views of the terms, tactics, strategies and/or goals of the empire’s current engagements will face in raising our voices and using our pens. 

The British and French Experiences

To provide some historical perspective on the relationship between empires and the academy, I first would like briefly to touch upon the British and French experiences.

If we look back in time and across the Atlantic, through the years British intellectuals and scholars have had a substantial influence in government, rotating into and out of the Colonial Office or the Foreign Office and teaching at Oxford classes tailored to the needs of colonial officials.  Indeed, Britannic nationalism characterized British historians beginning at the end of the 19th century; historical debate revolved around the proper constitutional form of imperial cooperation and was underpinned by a teleological view of British colonies moving toward the British ideal of good governance.[6]

             Recruiting primarily from Oxford and Cambridge, the Colonial Office hired many academic specialists to work on economics, social services and educational programs in the colonial states. In fact, Oxford’s Nuffield College was founded in 1939 to provide the opportunity for studies and research into the development of colonial constitutions.[7]  In the view of Margery Perham, who served in and chronicled Britain’s imperial administration in Africa, “colonialism,” as a word, was a form of propaganda against the West, and she insisted that anti-colonialism condemn

ed the past record of the British, weakened present influences, and threatened to harm future relationships. 

            Another figure who combined the role of government official and academic was Alfred Zimmern, who worked for the British government in intelligence during WWI, and then taught international relations at Aberystwyth and Oxford in the 1930s and 1940s. His studies of ancient Greece led him to be a major proponent of the idea of the British commonwealth. He was also an advocate of the idea of a “citizen-scholar,” which, in his view, called for a connection between intellectuals and the government; indeed, he disparaged those intellectuals who remained detached.[8]  

            In France, on the other hand, intellectuals and scholars had little impact on government policies and with only a few exceptions, little participation in government.

Looking in particular at France’s experience with Algeria, among the intellectual and scholarly communities there were three identifiable approaches: pro-imperialist, anti-colonialist (meaning interested in reforming the system but not in giving colonies independence), and anti-imperialist, those who opposed the entire imperial enterprise.  Within the majority group, the anti-colonialists, the major intellectual contribution was to insist that French policies be guided by humanist values and realist criteria, two sets of concerns that represented the major poles of debate within this camp. The moralists were concerned with the humanist value of the French mission overseas, while the realists opposed Empire on the grounds that it was economically damaging to French national interests. While many of these intellectuals were largely silent during the Indochinese war, the injustices and torture used in Algeria led more of them ultimately to move toward support for independence.[9]

The American State, the Academy and the Cold War

             Returning to these shores, an examination of the relationship between the academy and the US government since 1945 makes clear that government security agencies in particular have played a major role, both in funding and in shaping the establishment of numerous institutions and centers, as well as the texts, the methodologies and even the body of knowledge regarded as central to the academic enterprise.[10] Government money and political backing also played an important role in “Determining the ‘authoritative’ experts on a given topic and in shunting aside scholars who had fallen from favor.”[11]  Indeed, the story of the unfolding of the cold war, especially in its early years, is one of marginalization and dismissals of faculty and approaches that were not approved of by the emerging national security state.

I will not go into detail here regarding particular academic institutions and their cooperation with such government agencies. Suffice it to say that centers at some of the finest institutions of higher learning took money, some directly from the CIA, the FBI or other intelligence or military agencies, others indirectly through various foundations, which served at the time as laundering channels. The goal was, in the rather benign formulation of Walt Rostow, “to bring to bear academic research on issues of public policy.” [12]

One example of the research relationship between the academy and the state in this period involved US government interest in counter-insurgency, and its influence on what became the field of development studies and modernization theory.  Project Camelot was perhaps the best documented of these “national-security state-sponsored interdisciplinary initiatives” aimed at creating the information base needed for [a variety of] social engineering projects…and for the counterinsurgency and psychological warfare operations undertaken when these projects failed.”[13] Conceived in 1963, it was intended to bring social science expertise to bear on “managing” national liberation movements in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. While Project Camelot was exposed before it could be launched, other studies and projects with similar goals did proceed, and many politically liberal intellectuals “articulated and rationalized…strategies that pervaded US academic activities abroad, frequently at considerable cost to scientific integrity and to the peoples being ‘developed.’”[14] The most ugly and brutal of these cases, of course, was the war in Vietnam.

            The emergence of area studies came in this same period and owed to similar government concerns. The initiative to promote studies of regions arose, not out of a desire “for disinterested knowledge, but in response to a stringent practical demand – the need for ‘experts,’ for men [sic] who [could] deal with concrete and specific problems that ha[d] arisen because of inter-cultural activity, particularly at the governmental level.”[15]  

As time passed, many academics sought to renegotiate the relationship with government.[16] The Vietnam era clearly differed from the early 1950s in that scholars felt more secure about criticizing government policy, particularly as, year by year, increasing numbers of people turned against the war.  Ultimately, a revolt of sorts broke out in the academy in the late 1960s against the hegemony of development studies, largely in response to developments in Latin America and Vietnam. Faculty and students alike began critically examining the “conditions and consequences of academic collaboration with government policy” and, as a result, in some cases “questions of race, class and imperial power” began to replace the existing orthodox presumptions, bringing dependency theory and other critical approaches to development to the fore.[17] 

In reviewing the record of the academy and the government during the Cold war, one cannot but be struck by the similarities with today’s atmosphere. No longer is it the Cold War, but the war on terrorism.  No longer is the enemy a nation state -- the Soviet Union -- but rather a political tactic – terrorism -- one whose practitioners are decentralized and dispersed. One is no longer fighting communists, the definition of which was expansive enough in the 1950s and 1960s to include third world nationalists, but rather terrorists, the definition of whom is also sufficiently and eerily elastic as to include virtually anyone willing to take up arms against US policies. A renewed desire for area knowledge has also come as a response to the attacks of 9/11 and their Afghanistan and Iraqi aftermath. The security state of the Cold War is far from in retreat; indeed, with the US at war, we find ourselves in a renewed state of emergency, subject to an Orwellianly named “Patriot Act.”   No longer are the preferred foci development or modernization in order to fight counterinsurgency, but rather studies of democratization, political Islam and terrorism to serve as the (often pseudo-) intellectual underpinning of the newest march to battle.  For all of us who have or have thought of engaging in studies falling into such categories it is worth pondering who is in fact setting the agenda and framing the questions, and to what use our work may be put. Are there not other ways to approach the problems and challenges of this region we study?  Inequality and exploitation and the myriad research questions they suggest have largely receded from the agenda.  I say this not to castigate, but to bring the lessons of the academy’s experiences during the Cold War to bear on our current situation.   The Cold War has ended, the respite was short, and we are now again, according to state discourse and practice, a country/an empire at war, with many of the same implications for which questions are given priority, how the terms of debate are set, and why certain voices are empowered while others are marginalized. 

The Empire and Scientific/Academic Inquiry Today

I would now like to turn to some specific, current examples of the relationship between the empire and the academy, or education and scientific inquiry more broadly.

 The most significant new initiative which is reminiscent of early Cold War government involvement in the academy is the provision of grants to universities to establish what are called Homeland Security Centers.  According to the website,

The objective is the establishment of a coordinated, university-based system to enhance the Nation's homeland security. The Homeland Security Centers are envisioned to be an integral and critical component of the new homeland security complex that will provide the Nation with a robust, dedicated and enduring capability that will enhance our ability to anticipate, prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks. These Centers will also provide a locus to attract and retain the Nation's best and brightest academic scholars in pursuit of homeland security related disciplines… Grant funds may be used by selected universities for: (1) targeted research areas that leverage the multidisciplinary capabilities of universities and fill gaps in our needed knowledge and our ability to counter terrorist attacks; and (2) involve U.S. graduate and undergraduate students who are interested, dedicated and committed to making important contributions in science and technology endeavors that will enhance the overall security of the nation.[18]

While Homeland Security clearly involves far more than developing expertise on the MENA region, the degree to which our institutions and programs of study may be affected cannot be ignored. For example, one related initiative, launched under the controversial National Security Education Program (NSEP) aims to increase the number of Americans who speak Arabic (as well as a number of other key languages) and to provide them with better training.  Coupled with the NSEP-funded scholarships, the National Flagship Language Initiative (NFLI) is designed to produce a significant number of graduates across disciplines with advanced levels of proficiency in languages critical to national security, many of whom will be candidates for employment with agencies and offices of the federal government.[19]  

Among recent legislative initiatives aimed at shaping academic inquiry and output, the one best known to the MENA community is probably the inclusion in HR 3077, the International Studies in Education Act, of a provision to establish an International Education Advisory Board. As proposed, this board was to review and oversee the Title VI Centers to make sure that they were providing “all points of view” regarding US policy.  This bill was pushed through the House in fall 2003 with no discussion, before the implications of this segment and its contents could be thoroughly considered.  A mobilization by a host of universities, centers and other concerned actors prevented a parallel stealth passage through the Senate, as the prevarication that was the hallmark of the advisory board’s most avid sponsors was exposed through a careful presentation of the record.  As a result, HR 3077 never emerged from committee for a vote in the Senate. Hence, with the end of this Congress, it in effect died.  However, the question of the reappropriation of international educational programs will have to be addressed by the next congress and, given the outcome of the 2004 elections, there is no reason to assume that the fight over the advisory board is over.

             Yet these examples touch on only a small part of the current relationship between the academy and the empire. To appreciate its full dimensions, this story must be told using not just developments or anecdotes about our field, but with a much wider sweep.

            The treatment of those who opposed the war in Iraq before it was launched –scholars and others -- is known to all of us. It is a sad commentary to have to characterize as “positive” the fact that the record was mixed. That is, while there are myriad stories of government and other attempts to censor or harass faculty and students for their statements, writings and other forms of activism, there are other examples of continuing institutional and community support for a free exchange of ideas that included criticism of the war and its aftermath. I term this a positive, in the sense that, given the overwhelming power of the American state and the administration’s willingness to put its coercive apparatus and fellow travelers to use in silencing opposition, we may take some comfort in the fact that not all were intimidated, that pockets of resistance remained, and that gradually, those who have come to be referred to as embedded patriots – members of various bureaucracies who used their position to expose administration lies – did emerge. Their stories, along with the unfolding disaster in Iraq, helped significantly to widen the margin of expression well beyond what existed prior to the war.  From these individuals came the leaks that led to reporting on the Justice Department’s and White House counsel’s “torture” memoranda, on Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s authorization of the holding of ghost prisoners in violation of international law, and on Iraqi interim prime minister Allawi’s supervision of a CIA-funded bombing campaign in Baghdad a decade ago.[20] 

            Nevertheless, with the current administration’s having secured another four year-term -- this time by winning an election -- there is every reason to believe that the challenges of the recent past will continue, if not intensify. I will mention here just a few of the myriad recent and current challenges.  They are disturbingly illustrative of the age in which we live and of the approaches of many of those in positions of executive and legislative authority to free and honest academic and scientific inquiry.

            One is the so-called Academic Bill of Rights. Introduced by Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) in October 2003, it owed its inspiration and a good portion of its text to the left-wing turned right-wing commentator David Horowitz, who has been seeking to counteract what he calls a stranglehold of left-wing politics on American campuses. “Designed to take partisan politics out of America’s colleges and universities,” the bill called partisanship by professors “an abuse of students’ academic freedom.” [21]  It did not seek to place quotas based on party affiliation in hiring process at universities, nor to dictate any academic curriculum; however, according to its drafters it aimed to “challenge Universities to voluntarily adopt ideologically neutral processes and academic policies,” to “secure the intellectual independence of faculty members and to protect the principle of intellectual diversity.” Among its provisions were the following paragraphs:

1a. “All faculty members will be hired, fired, promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences and the arts with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.” (emphasis added) The sciences are not mentioned, so I suppose creationism is secure.

1e. “Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences will respect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas and provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints.” (emphasis added)

1g. “Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.” (emphasis added)

            A version of this bill was passed by the Georgia State Senate (Kingston’s home state); on the other hand, a similar measure died in committee in the California Senate, thanks in part to protests from the California Conference of the American Association of University Professors.[22] The last action on this bill was in fall 2003, when it was referred to the House subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness.  The fact that no further action was taken in the House is good news, but clearly, contrary to its name, the initiative needs to be seen as part of the larger picture of attempts to curb, not protect, academic freedom. 

Indeed, the bill’s concern for the promotion of a multiplicity of perspectives must be evaluated against the record of the empire, a record in which respect for what counts as evidence in scientific inquiry has been repeatedly, cynically, and arrogantly, violated. 

For example, for months, against not just a preponderance, but all evidence, there was nothing "unsettled,” to use Kingston’s bill’s words, in the continuing claims of Vice-President Cheney regarding a relationship between Iraq and al-Qa`ida.

There was no permission of a plurality of views or, apparently, even dissent, behind the administration’s insistence that aluminum tubes Iraq sought to acquire were to be used to make nuclear bomb fuel.  Officials at the very top of the government deliberately ignored evidence from nuclear experts refuting the contention.

And, in the face of predictions and analyses ranging from gloomy to dire from experts across the political spectrum -- except those of the handpicked  few, the ideologues or the sycophants – the situation in Iraq continues to be portrayed as “sovereign and free,” part of a process inexorably sowing democracy – the flipside apparently of its gradual erosion at home. 

I will not go into further detail on the process by which the lie reconstructed as truth has won the day in critical policy discussions. The fact that the decision to go to war against Iraq was taken well before the justifications were in place and as the administration continued to proclaim that it would exhaust all options before choosing a military response has been widely written about. Prisoners of war become illegal combatants and are thereby deprived of rights under the Geneva Conventions; they are held in a US prison, but one not officially on US territory so that, until a recent Supreme Court ruling, they could be denied recourse to constitutional provisions protecting those on US soil.  Pressures are placed on the intelligence community to produce evidence to support administration policy goals.  The process of “stovepiping,” whereby raw intelligence data is sent directly to higher-ups without being subjected to rigorous scrutiny, is used to exclude the voices of experienced analysts who might differ with administration policy.[23] The abuses at Abu Ghrayb are dismissed as the work of a few low-ranking “bad eggs,” and expert legal advice is sought to legitimate the use of torture. All of these shameful, deplorable and/or illegal episodes were made possible by the empire’s creation of an atmosphere in which inconvenient information is suppressed, evidence to support lies and crimes is manufactured, and the outcome is redefined as patriotic policy. 

 This is clearly not an empire seeking to encourage anything resembling intellectual diversity, nor one which accepts an “unsettled quality of knowledge,” to quote again from Kingston/Horowitz.       

Now, lest one be tempted to argue that in fact all politicians lie, all administrations notoriously twist and distort the truth to serve their interests and therefore, what we have been witnessing is merely the most proximate example, I would argue that indeed, it is an example, but the most extreme and damaging one that most Washington watchers can recall. In this empire, the leadership is infallible even when it blunders; what it says is always true, even when it is a lie; and its policies always succeed, even when they are dismal failures.[24]  Beyond that, we deceive ourselves if we conclude that the lying and perversion or suppression of evidence is limited to the foreign policy realm.

Let us move away from the realm in which lies about mobile chemical weapons facilities are produced, and return specifically to the academic and research community, Here again, we find an extremely disturbing record of an administration that has, according to many scientists, been purging, censoring, manipulating and distorting science to serve political ends.  There is no question that previous administrations have also used science in dishonest ways.  Yet, what we have seen in the last few years, according to most analysts, far surpasses previous levels of politicization.  Again and again, “sound science” becomes whatever the administration says it is; that is, whatever serves the goals of the empire’s leaders, in the area of the environment, health, biomedical research, and nuclear weaponry.  On 18 February 2004, more than 60 of the nation’s top scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, leading medical experts and former federal agency directors issued a statement charging the administration with deliberately distorting scientific facts for political ends and calling for regulatory and legislative action to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking.  

The Bush administration has also put in place a policy that politicizes the process of making available the expert advice of US scientists to the international community. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services has barred “the World Health Organization from asking experts in the US government to serve as scientific or technical advisors. Instead, the WHO must now ask the HHS Office of Global Health, a political office, to pick which federal employee, if any, can provide assistance.” [25] 

 In another example, the administration withdrew at the last moment from a major conference on global health held in Washington, D.C., 1-4 June 2004, a withdrawal that “came in the wake of misleading ideological accusations from conservative groups and represented the first time the United States had not supported the conference in 30 years.”[26]  As Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) letter of protest concludes, “the appropriate response to the growing disconnect between international health policy and scientific evidence is to revise Administration policy, not to attempt to silence the scientists.” These are but two, of what are myriad examples.

 And lest one conclude that the intent to control extends only to major policy areas, be aware that correcting punctuation and altering the size of type-face can also be a criminal offense. A case which arose late last year concerns the scope of the powers of the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury. In essence, the government has warned publishers that they may face grave legal consequences for editing manuscripts from Iran and other disfavored nations on the grounds that such tinkering amounts to trading with the enemy. Anyone who publishes material from a country under a trade embargo is forbidden to reorder paragraphs or sentences, correct syntax or grammar, or replace “inappropriate words” according to a number of 2003 Treasury Department advisory letters.  At least in theory, routine editing could subject publishers to fines of half a million dollars and 10 years in jail. A Treasury Department spokeswoman confirmed that banned activities include “collaboration on and editing of the manuscripts, the selection of reviewers, and facilitation of a review resulting in substantive enhancements or alterations to the manuscripts.”[27]  This move by the OFAC is supported neither by the statutory language nor its legislative history, and runs counter to the intent of Congress as expressed in both. It also appears to violate the First amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press. 

 We also face a continuing and apparently expanding array of restrictions on who may enter this country, which threatens to undermine existing professional and intellectual networks, but which, at its most basic, may be seen as an assault on academic freedom.  You are all aware that the growth in the number of foreign students studying in the US has dropped dramatically since 9/11. [28] Tightened visa procedures have contributed to this low growth rate, and students from Asia, the Middle East and Africa have experienced the greatest delays obtaining visas. The restrictions imposed exceed in scope those of any other Western democracy.[29]

             The most recent and high-profile of academy-related visa cases was the recent revoking by the State Department of the visa of Tareq Ramadan, a Swiss-Egyptian scholar who was to have taken up a Luce chair at Notre Dame this past fall. The State Department’s decision was reportedly made based on information provided by the Department of Homeland Security.  The State Department’s response to MESA’s  Committee on Academic Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (CAFMENA)’s letter simply says that his “visa was revoked prudentially based on information that became available after the visa was issued…the revocation of Mr. Ramdan’s visa is not an attempt to prevent him from sharing his ideas with students and scholars in the United States. We…appreciate and understand that the free exchange of ideas is one of the hallmarks that make this country great.”[30] 

             Before concluding this survey, let me turn briefly to Iraq, for a discussion of scholarship in the shadow of empire would not be complete without some mention of the state of the academy in the place where the shadow of US imperial reach is currently the darkest.

            Evidence from journalists and Iraqis themselves makes clear that the condition of Iraqi universities is rapidly deteriorating. The number of incidents of violence targeting professors, including assassination, has grown. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, university and public libraries were looted, classrooms and research spaces were robbed and damaged, and the most basic infrastructural elements -- chairs, desks, blackboards, windows, doors, were stolen. Student records and transcripts also disappeared. The universities have continued to suffer from a lack of public safety, from problematic transportation and unreliable supplies of water and electricity.[31]

             As characterized by Keith Wattenpaugh,


“For higher education in Iraq, the fundamental challenge is to regain the intellectual integrity and professional autonomy lost during the brutish reign of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist apparatus. But also, and more fundamentally, Iraqi higher education faces unremitting civil strife, the infection of campuses with partisan and religious politics, and a heavy-handed and clumsy quasi-colonial US policy that plans to continue to Americanize and “manage” Iraqi academic and intellectual life for the foreseeable future.[32]


Forms of Interaction with Government

With all this as background the question that arises is, what should our relationship as scholars be to the state, now the empire? 

            I dare say that most of us, at least those who are American citizens, have government-sponsored programs to thank for at least some of our initial area or language training and probably some of our subsequent research funding.  Yet, even in the late 1970s, when the image of the US in the region was far better than it is today, most American scholars and students I encountered felt it prudent to keep a distance from the US embassy.  While some of us were critical of certain aspects of US policy, the decision to maintain this distance proceeded – not from a sense of anti-Americanism, which in any case is distinct from criticizing US foreign or domestic policy – but from a desire to do our job – learn Arabic or conduct our research – in as honest and unimpeded a way as possible.

However, in the current atmosphere, the stakes are much higher, the challenges much greater.  And, while I have been speaking from an American experience here, certainly all of us, regardless of our country of citizenship or residence should seriously reflect on what our relationship with our respective governments should be.  For those of us here in the US, it is imperative that we interrogate the connection between intellectual/professional integrity and citizenship in this empire at war. How broadly or narrowly should we define the concept of the citizen-scholar and, once having made that determination, what are the implications for our professional lives?  

            Clearly there is no single answer.  Each of us must make his/her decision based on what we understand the demands of professional integrity, citizenship, and hopefully as well, morality, to be.  For some the answer is to withdraw as far as possible from any interaction with the government; for others, the response is to attempt to seek greater access in order to help shape the policy agenda.

Unfortunately, contemporary evidence suggests that the empire today is less inclined to listen to academics than in the past. Of course, some of us do not study topics immediately relevant to policymakers, and that is fine and proper. Others do, but need to learn the language that makes their message more accessible to policymakers and their concerns.   Part of the problem relates to disciplinary jargon; another derives from different orientations – scholarly versus policy, long-term contextual versus short-term electoral or bureaucratic. However, as freedom of expression has been circumscribed by the coercive power of the empire, the problem has deepened.  The combination of group-think in some governmental circles, reinforced by mainstream media intimidated by the empire’s power or corporately complicit in its ideological line has raised issues far more serious than simply those of differences of terminology.

 In many cases, those whose ideas do not fit the policymakers’ categories are simply excluded. The most obvious and perhaps now banal, but also lethal, example is that of terrorism and terrorist. Either one accepts the language and participates in using it, or there is no place at the table. This is not just a question of a discrepancy over definition or desire to divide political actors into a small set of manageable categories. An initial drive for simplification may derive from the cognitive exigencies of the policymaking process, but it has become increasingly clear today that it is ideological, rather than cognitive, exigencies that drive such framing. 

             That said, it is not the case that academics have been uniformly excluded from the halls of power or the councils of the powerful.  Indeed, there is a handful of highly visible academics who do enjoy access and influence. However, in keeping with the empire’s approach to “knowledge and science,” it is precisely because of their ideological orientation that these academics’ participation is embraced. What has become increasingly clear is that it matters little if one has extensive regional, language and political expertise if one’s conclusions do not match those of the administration of the empire. Advice is sought, not from a range of experts, but rather from the likeminded, so as to reinforce the argumentation or rationale for a policy line already selected. 

             Over the years, numerous professional associations have confronted the relationship between government and the academy, between activism and scholarship. For example, because of the role that anthropologists had played in a number of projects associated with counter-insurgency in the 1960s, the American Anthropological Association created an ad hoc committee on ethics in 1968.  This unleashed a broad discussion about the introduction of politics into the association, and the debate on professional responsibility toward the topics and people studied has subsequently swung back and forth.[33]  In his 2001 presidential address to the American Historical Association, William Roger Louis reflected on the relationship between scholarship and activism, a tension that had come close to politicizing the AHA during the Vietnam years.  For his part, Louis concluded that the association had made the right decision by rejecting politicization. His own position was that “eternal vigilance [was] needed in resisting political pressure and refusing to make the AHA anything other than an association dedicated to the study and teaching of history.”[34] 

             Turning to our own association, through its nearly forty years, MESA’s primary focus has been on academic, research, and educational issues; but we are also an association that has on occasion taken positions on contentious political issues.  This activism no doubt owed in part to some of the personalities involved, but I think its real sources are more systemic.  We are a regionally focused association, and our region has figured centrally into some of the most serious political and economic developments of the post-war period.  It is also a region whose conflicts ignite deep passion. All of this has largely deprived us of the luxury of choosing whether our profession is politicized or not. MESA is not a political organization, but our region is violently politicized by forces from without and within, thus making it difficult for the academic and professional concerns of our members not to be drawn into the broader politics of the region and their relationship to US foreign policy.

            This past spring as we revised our mission statement, many of you sent messages expressing your desire that MESA not become a political organization. We have reiterated that in the revised statement.  Nevertheless, it bears emphasizing that politicization does not proceed only from within our ranks; it can be, and in fact periodically has been, thrust upon us, both as an association and as individual members. Some issues fall within the purview of MESA and our CAFMENA, while others are more appropriately engaged outside our associational framework.  Whichever the case, in the current period, when academic freedom, which is so basic to the continuation of our profession and our work, is under siege by those insisting that we toe a particular ideological or political line or in effect fall silent, a polite retreat to archives or our offices, eschewing involvement in the dirty world of politics seems to me as irresponsible as it is impossible.  

Our duty as scholars is, in the first place, to be true to the questions we study as well as to the sources (human, documentary and otherwise) we consult; to guide our students to find their way through a sea of different paradigms and approaches, and to share our findings with wider audiences – in the academy, the community and beyond.  In the shadow of empire, those of us who are members of the academy here in the United States have a  special responsibility: to teach history in a way that enables students better to understand their place in it;  political science so as to instruct in the content of the uses and abuses of power, economics to interrogate the reality of the impact of markets whether free or state-controlled; anthropology and sociology to help portray the complexity and the richness of societies beyond these borders; and language to give access to the dreams and desires of those upon whom America often uncritically projects and inscribes its own.  

            Those of us who have benefited from government funding – of whatever source or magnitude -- and who have the opportunity to “speak truth to power” have an even broader/deeper responsibility.  And here, I would insist that those who draw strict lines between accepting a government-sponsored educational grant and participating in a conference by the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency, need to rethink their positions.  It is not that I do not see a qualitative difference among various forms of interaction with the government. I do, quite clearly, and I respect everyone’s right to decide the form and limits of his or her direct interaction or involvement with this empire. Rather, my point is that if one has reservations about aspects of US policy, one cannot simply accept one’s Fulbright and then deny implication in the broader imperial/political system because the funding comes from the Department of Education, as opposed to a department that militarily invades another country or an agency that hides away so-called illegal combatants. If we take funding from the empire, we cannot deny a degree of responsibility for its actions. When bombs drop on Iraq, when Apache helicopters are used against a refugee camp in Palestine, to one degree or another, we are implicated.

            Having said that, it is what one chooses to do in the face of such a situation that is the issue.  If we have objections, then we have a professional and moral obligation to make that opposition known. The avenues for doing so are many:  publishing in various places, giving talks inside and outside the academy, joining in protests, establishing weblogs, and/or participating in government fora in which our positions can be voiced directly to decisionmakers.   If ever there were a time to rethink the bounds and morality of what Laura Nader has called “narrow professionalism,”[35] a time to register one’s views, to stand up and be counted, and to resist marginalization and silencing, this is indeed is that time.  

             In the current atmosphere, we owe it to our profession and to our colleagues in other countries who do not enjoy the same privileges of study, research, travel, access and publishing that we still do, to uphold and protect the highest standards of academic integrity and freedom. In practicing our profession in this way, we honor the very best of scholarly tradition. And for those of us who are American citizens, in so doing we reinforce and insist upon rights enshrined in the constitution, rights that the empire cannot be allowed to trample or annul.  Indeed, how better to serve “the national interest” in its most basic formulation than through a bold insistence upon the protection of academic freedom and freedom of expression. What greater abdication of responsibility, as both citizen and scholar, than to remain silent in the face of Guantánamo, Abu Ghrayb, and Fallujah.




[1] Ronald Steel, “Totem and Taboo,” The Nation, 20 September 2004, p. 29

[2] Michael Ignatieff, “The Burden,” New York Times Magazine, 5 January 2003, p. 22.

[3] Steel, p. 30.

[4] Ronald Susskind, “Without a Doubt,” New York Times Magazine, 17 October 2004.

[5] Will Rasmussen, “Scholarship ‘politicization’ may be seeping into West,” The Daily Star, 17 September 2004.

[6] Stuart Wood, “Transcending the Nation: A Global Imperial History?” in Antoinette Burden (ed.), After the Imperial Turn: Thinking With and Through the Nation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), pp-44-56.

[7] Margery Perham, Colonial Sequence: 1930-1949 (London: McThien & Co., LTD.,  1967), p. xx.

[8] Julia Stapleton, Political Intellectuals and Public Identities in Britain since 1950  (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), chapter five, “Alfred Zimmern and the world ‘citizen-scholar,’” pp. 91-111.

[9] See Paul Clay Sorum, Intellectuals and Decolonization in France (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1977).

[10] Christopher Simpson, “Universities, Empire and the Production of Knowledge: An Introduction,” in Christopher Simpson (ed.) Universities and Empire: Money and Politics in the Social Sciences During the Cold War ( New York: The New Press, 1998), p. xii.

[11] Ibid., p. xiii.

[12] As cited in Allan A. Needell, “Project Troy and the Cold War Annexation of the Social Sciences,” in Simpson, op cit., p. 23.

[13] Simpson, p. xxiv.

[14] Ibid., p. xxix.

[15] As cited in Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Unintended Consequences of Cold War Area Studies,” in  Noam Chomsky et al., The Cold War and the University:  Toward an Intellectual History of the Postwar Years (New York, The Free Press, 1997), p. 211.

[16] Ellen Herman, “Project Camelot and the Career of Cold War Psychology,” in Simpson, op. cit., p. 110.

[17] Irene Gendzier, “Play It Again Sam: The Practice and Apology of Development,” in Simpson, op. cit., pp. 87-8.


[19] Materials from the National Flagship Language Initiative Advanced Language Programs: Arabic. Application Forms and Guidelines.  National Foreign Language Center, University of Maryland, College Park.

[20] William Greider, “Embedded Patriots,” The Nation, 12 July 2004. 

[21] From the website of Congressman Jack Kingston, and from the text of H. Con. Res. 318.

[22] Dr. Graham Larkin, “What’s Not to Like About the Academic Bill of Rights,”

[23] Seymour M. Hersch, “The Stovepipe,” The New Yorker, 27 October 2003.

[24] See Paul Krugman, “Ignorance Isn’t Strength,” New York Times 8 October 2004.

[25] Letter from Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), ranking minority member, Committee on Government Reform, to The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, 24 June 2004.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Adam Liptak, “Treasury Department is Warning Publishers of the Perils of Criminal Editing of the Enemy,” New York Times, 28 February 2004.

[28] Steve Giegerich, The New York Times, 3 November 2003.

[29] John N. Paden and Peter W. Singer, “America Slams the Door (On its Foot),” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2003, page 3, web edition.

[30] Letter from June O’Connell, Chief, Public Inquiries Division, Visa Services, U.S. Department of State, to Amy Newhall, Executive Director MESA and Barbara DeConcini, Executive Director, American Academy of Religion, 3 September 2004. 

[31] Keith Wattenpaugh, “Iraq’s Academic Community Struggles for Autonomy,” Academe, September-October  2004, p. 22

[32].Ibid., p. 20.

[33] Laura Nader, “The Phantom Factor:  Impact of the Cold War on Anthropology,” in Chomsky et al., op. cit.,  p. 124.

[34] Wm. Roger Louis, “Presidential Address: The Dissolution of the British Empire in the Era of Vietnam,” The American Historical Review, vol. 107, no. 1, February 2002, p. 3.

[35] Nader, op. cit., p. 135.