Hit List

I had not heard about Beshara Doumani’s Academic Freedom After September 11, but Neve Gordon’s review in the Boston Globe certainly intrigued me.

Immediately after Sept. 11, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), founded by Lynne Cheney and Senator Joseph Lieberman, published a report accusing universities of being the weak link in the war against terror and a potential fifth column. As if the general hint at treason were not enough, an appendix to the report listed the names of more than 100 “un-American” professors, staff members, and students, and the offending statements they had made.

A few months after ACTA’s study was disseminated, Daniel Pipes, the director of a think tank called Middle East Forum, launched an Internet site called Campus Watch, which publishes dossiers on scholars who criticize US policy in the Middle East or Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. On the website, one finds a “Keep Us Informed” section, where Pipes encourages students to inform on any professor who deviates from “correct conduct.”

As Beshara Doumani, a University of California at Berkeley history professor, points out in his compelling introduction to “Academic Freedom After September 11,” Pipes and friends have cynically appropriated the liberal terminology of the New Deal and civil rights eras, employing code words such as balance, fairness, diversity, accountability, tolerance, and not least, academic freedom in order to justify the enforcement of a political orthodoxy that undermines these very values.

The book describes this new assault on academic freedom in detail, distinguishing the current wave from the one launched by Senator Joseph McCarthy. As Stanford University professor Joel Beinin observes, the geographical and political context has changed, so that if in the 1950s scholars who offered a dissenting analysis of the Soviet Union and Cold War were decried as traitors, today it is Middle East specialists who are being accused of treason.

But the main difference between the two situations is that today private interest groups and not the government are running the show.

Read it all here.