Juan Cole: Outside pressure groups are making work dangerous for scholars, says U.S. historian

Historians in the News

Many professors keep regular blogs, but few are as widely read, and as controversial, as Juan Cole’s Informed Comment. Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan, is both an example of how an academic may share his expertise with rigour and plain diction—and that such expertise is in demand, judging by the size of the blog’s readership, which Cole says attracts 600,000 to a million visits a month—and, depending on who you ask, an example of how Middle East scholars are too politicized and rather un-American.

Early this month, a group of Middle East historians and academics—including Princeton’s Bernard Lewis and John Hopkins political science professor Fouad Ajami, and others who generally support a robust U.S. foreign policy—started a new group called the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) to counter what they say is the politicization of Middle East studies by academics such as Juan Cole and organizations such as the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which Cole is a member of and once headed. MESA is holding their annual conference in Montreal this weekend.

Cole disputes such charges, saying ASMEA is “exclusively ideological, for people on the right.” (ASMEA did not return calls from the Mirror). The biggest problem facing Middle East academics, however, is the pressure by off-campus interest groups that disagree with a professor’s stances, he says.

“Outside groups, non-specialists, intervene because they don’t like the conclusions,” he says. “The politicization of scholarship is very dangerous. Scholars are like canaries in a mine. They are on the cutting edge of research, and most sensitive to dangers in a society. If you silence them, you’re poking out the eyes of society.”...

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