Middle East Studies
Settler colonial studies developed as a distinct field of research to address the particular circumstances of settler societies. Since its advent in the 1990s, this field has only marginally considered the Middle East and North Africa, focusing instead on the Anglophone settler societies of North America and Australasia. And yet, this neglect is unjustified. Settler colonialism targeted countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and these endeavors were crucial to developing a transnational network of settler-colonial ideas and practices.
I was among a small group of activists who started the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) in early 1971 and was chief editor of its monthly flagship publication, MERIP Reports (later Middle East Report) until 1995. Some of us had served in the Peace Corps or other volunteer organizations in the Middle East in the mid 1960s and had come together as an informal “Middle East caucus” in the Committee of Returned Volunteers, an anti-Vietnam War group.
In order to broaden our frameworks for thinking critically about the new round of uprisings, MERIP editorial committee member Jillian Schwedler asked a number of critical scholars for their perspectives on how we should be thinking about regional protests and what is often overlooked or misunderstood.
Even as the 2000’s saw the return of traditional forms of imperial intervention—with the US deployment of military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq in pursuit of a quixotic and unwinnable War on Terror—there are increasingly new forms of intervention that must be understood, assessed and mapped.
In the past few years, pro-Israel groups have mounted an escalating and concerted effort to set the contours of scholarly debate about Israel on American campuses. This fall, two such organizations, the AMCHA Initiative and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, are lobbying Congress and the Department of Education to punish Middle East studies centers that present alternatives to staunchly pro-Israel viewpoints. The lobbying campaign demands that the Education Department stop federal funding to these centers under Title VI of the Higher Education Act or engage in intrusive oversight of the departments to assure the prevalence of viewpoints more sympathetic to Israeli government policies. The Higher Education Act is up for Congressional reauthorization this year.
Research on the political and economic development of the contemporary Arabian Peninsula is often relegated to the fringes of general comparative and Middle Eastern scholarship, isolated from larger theoretical debates and narrowly defined in terms of threat typologies, regional security alliances and the stability of major oil-exporting states. The intellectual marginalization of the Peninsula is the result of a monopoly on access.