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Defund Middle East Studies

By Daniel Pipes

Here's a prime example, one which involves me personally, of how the radical Left and the Islamists, those new best friends, readily deceive.

It has to do with a proposed piece of U.S. legislation passed by the House, the "International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003" (known familiarly as H.R. 3077), and waiting action by the Senate. H.R. 3077 calls for the creation of an advisory board to review the way in which roughly US$100 million in taxpayer money is spent annually on area studies (including Middle East studies) at the university level.

This board is needed for two reasons: Middle East studies are a failed field and the academics who consume these funds also happen to allocate them - a classic case of unaccountability. The purpose of this subsidy, which Congress increased by 26 percent after 9/11, is to help the U.S. government with exotic language and cultural skills. Yet many universities reject this role, dismissing it as training "spies."

Martin Kramer pointed to the need for Congressional intervention in his 2001 book, Ivory Towers on Sand. Stanley Kurtz picked up the idea and made it happen in Washington, testifying at a key House hearing in June 2003.

My role in promoting this advisory board? Writing one favorable sentence on it eight months ago, based on an expectation that the board creates some accountability and helps Congress carry out its own intent. While hoping the Senate passes H.R. 3077, I have otherwise done nothing to praise or lobby for this bill.

Well, that' the record. But why should mere facts get in the way? Seemingly convinced that turning H.R. 3077 into my personal initiative will help defeat it in the Senate, leftist and Islamist organizations have imaginatively puffed up my role.

The American Civil Liberties Union accuses me of "enlisting the aid of the government" to impose my views on academia.
The American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee titles its alert "Academic Freedom Under Attack by Pipes and Big Brother."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations states that I am "actively pushing" for the advisory board.

This deception prompted campus newspapers (e.g., at Columbia, CUNY, Swarthmore, Yale) to link me to the bill, as have city newspapers (Berkshire Eagle, Oregonian), websites, and listservs.

What these folks missed is my skepticism about the advisory board's potential to make a major difference. It is important symbolically and it can throw light on problems. But odds are it won't be able thoroughly to solve them.

I say this because unlike comparable federal boards, this one has only advisory, not supervisory powers. It also has limited authority, being specifically prohibited from considering curricula. Professors can teach politically one-sided courses, for example, without funding consequences. More broadly, such federal boards generally do too little. I have sat on two other ones and find them cumbersome bureaucratic mechanisms with limited impact.

Will a new board improve things? Sure. But Congress should consider more drastic solutions. One would be to revoke post-9/11's $20 million annual supplement for area studies at universities, using this money instead to establish national resource centers to focus on the global war on terror. They would usefully combine area expertise with a focus on militant Islam.

A second solution would zero out all government allocations for area studies. This step would barely affect the study of foreign cultures at universities, as the $100 million in federal money amounts to just 10 percent of the budget at most major centers, funds those centers could undoubtedly raise from private sources. But doing this would send the salutary message that the U.S. taxpayer no longer wishes to pay for substandard work.

Either step would encourage younger scholars to retool in an effort to regain public trust and reopen the public purse.

If the advisory board is not the ideal solution, it is the best to be hoped for at the moment, given the power of the higher education lobby. I am ready to give H.R. 3077 a chance. But should the board not come into existence or fail to make a difference, I'll advocate the better solution: defunding, and work to spread these ideas among the public and in Congress. My opponents will then learn what happens when truely I am "actively pushing" for Congress to adopt a measure.

Daniel Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers)

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