On the same day nearly two years ago, Harvard and Georgetown announced their delight at receiving separate $20 million gifts from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. The prince said that he wanted to “build a bridge” between East and West for the sake of “peace and tolerance,” according to statements issued through the two schools.
Harvard agreed to establish the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies program, with new faculty positions and research opportunities. Georgetown pledged to do much the same through the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
These were generous gifts from one of the world’s richest men. But will they help? “The problem with Middle Eastern studies on campus isn’t money — the problem is ideas,” warns Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank.
It’s a problem that philanthropists can address — but only if they spend their money wisely, with an eye toward the quality of ideas they’re funding.
Alwaleed’s own ideas about the Middle East sparked controversy shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. They troubled New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani so much, in fact, that he refused the prince’s $10-million disaster-relief donation.
The rejection, coming so soon after the destruction of the World Trade Center, generated headlines around the world. In a news release that accompanied the gift, Alwaleed made a political statement: “At times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe that the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause.” Moreover, explained the release, “Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.”
Giuliani expressed outrage at these remarks: “I entirely reject that statement,” he said. “There is no moral equivalent for this [terrorist] act. There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people. And to suggest that there’s a justification for it only invites this happening in the future. It is highly irresponsible and very, very dangerous.” (The death toll was later revised downward to less than 3,000.)
If Harvard or Georgetown had any such reservations about accepting Alwaleed’s money, they didn’t say so in their own press releases hailing the donations. “We are deeply honored by Prince Alwaleed’s generosity,” said Georgetown president John J. DeGioia. The gift was the second-largest in the school’s history.
How much the Alwaleed-funded programs at Harvard and Georgetown actually will teach Americans about Islam and the Middle East is an open question. “Just about everywhere, the state of Middle Eastern studies is a disaster,” says Pipes. He and other critics say the field has become deeply flawed and radicalized — so much so, in fact, that it is now virtually useless in helping U.S. policymakers come to grips with current foreign-policy challenges or in developing a new generation of leaders and experts who have a strategic understanding of the Middle East.
One of the original concepts of Middle Eastern studies was to build expertise in a region, so that government officials could draw on academic specialists. When the president of Iran threatens Israel, is he really serious? What are the aims of Hezbollah? Does the Algerian military support the government? Experts within government can attempt to answer these questions — but it helps to have non-governmental views as well. A robust discipline of Middle Eastern studies might help.
“Unfortunately, the colleges and universities are almost useless to policymakers,” says Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official who worked in Iraq and is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “They’re handicapped by taboo and stigma.”
For philanthropists, this problem presents an opportunity — a chance to compensate for the traditional academy’s failure. With smart investments, they can actually open a new front in the war on terror. “The government is chiefly responsible for fighting and preventing terrorism,” says Nadia Schadlow, a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation. “But the philanthropic community has a lot to offer by helping lay the intellectual foundations for countering extremist ideologies.” Government officials often find themselves in full-time reactive mode as they deal with crises. For long-range planning, they rely upon the advice of intellectuals who aren’t on the public tab.
Philanthropic activity in this area will spring from the same patriotic impulses that encouraged many foundations and individual donors to promote freedom and democracy during the Cold War. In a 21st-century struggle against an equally committed foe, philanthropists may find that helping the United States fight the global war on terror is one of their most urgent callings. Perhaps it is worth noting that philanthropy, whose Greek roots literally mean “lover of mankind,” is the very opposite of terrorism, which is motivated by hatred and characterized by violence.
The terrorist attacks of 2001 have been called a “Sputnik event” for the way in which they sparked academic interest in Arabic and the Middle East. Ironically, it was the original Sputnik, launched half a century ago this October, that gave one of the first big boosts to Middle Eastern studies. Under the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the federal government poured money into a broad movement known as “area studies.” It was a creature of the Cold War, supported by the belief that Americans would have to become more familiar with faraway places as they faced an international communist threat.
At first, Middle Eastern studies was just a bit player in this wide effort. Over time, however, its importance grew and it became a standard subject of scholarship on campus. The Middle Eastern Studies Association, an umbrella organization for professors and graduate students, currently boasts more than 2,600 members.
Because Middle Eastern studies aspired to immediate relevance, it became vulnerable to mixing scholarship and activism, with combustible results. Many professors believed they should become activists for positive change, such as modernization in the Arab world — a helpful concept, but perhaps a job best left to diplomats and nonprofit groups.
“A lot of what they do is just glorified advocacy journalism,” says Rubin of AEI. To complicate matters, Middle Eastern studies isn’t rooted in a traditional academic discipline. Like African-American studies and women’s studies, it’s an interdisciplinary response to dramatic events and social movements. Because of this, the field has a tendency to attract teachers and students with passionate political beliefs that can get in the way of objective research. Although several sub-fields of Middle Eastern studies have flourished, especially in early history, art and architecture, and a few other areas, these subjects are far removed from the modern strategic concerns that Middle Eastern studies might be able to address.
Self-censorship is another problem. Rubin points to the example of Eason Jordan, a CNN news executive who admitted in 2003 that his network chose not to report on atrocities in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq because it might limit CNN’s access to information. “The same thing goes on with a lot of academics,” says Rubin. “To get a Ph.D. nowadays, it’s not good enough to go to archives in Britain. You need to find primary sources in Middle Eastern countries — and the autocratic regimes that control these countries won’t give them to scholars who are going to make them feel uncomfortable.”
The result is that large areas of potential scholarship, on provocative subjects such as the Egyptian military and Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, go unexplored. Research into the authentic state of human rights is extremely rare.
As it happens, the finest analysts of the Middle East, such as Bernard Lewis of Princeton and Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins (who won a Bradley Prize in 2006), are not the products of programs in Middle Eastern studies. Likewise, the better books published in recent years on Islam and the Middle East — Islamic Imperialism by Efraim Karsh, While Europe Slept by Bruce Bawer, and Victory of the West by Niccolo Capponi — have come from scholars and journalists working in other areas.
This raises an important question: What exactly have Middle Eastern studies centers and scholars been doing? If philanthropists are to become active in promoting knowledge about the region, in the hope of helping the United States confront Islamic radicalism, they must understand exactly what went wrong.
Martin Kramer outlined the problem in Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, an influential monograph he authored for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 2001. He has talked about it ever since, too — on his blog (www.martinkramer.org), in campus lectures, and at think tanks.
Last April, the Manhattan Institute hosted Kramer in New York. “His speaking to us today is primarily for reasons that belong to his outspokenness on behalf of the idea of not politicizing history, especially Middle East history,” said Roger Hertog, the vice chairman of AllianceBernstein, in his introduction. “You should all get a copy of Martin’s book Ivory Towers on Sand, where he really discusses and analyzes what’s happened on college campuses, relative to Middle Eastern history.”
In the speech, Kramer explained the fundamental problem: “In the 1980s and 90s, Middle Eastern studies were transformed into a field where scholarship took a backseat to advocacy, where a few biases became the highest credentials, where dissenting views became thought crimes.” (His remarks may be heard on the Manhattan Institute website.)
Kramer points to the late Edward Said’s seminal 1978 book Orientalism as chiefly responsible for the political poisoning of an entire academic field. Others have shared this insight, which is explored in rich detail by Robert Irwin in Dangerous Knowledge, a comprehensive book published last year.
Kramer, for his part, presented a devastating picture of how Said’s book spread like a virus as it encouraged professors to trade scholarly pursuits for ideological agendas. “Middle Eastern studies came under a take-no-prisoners assault, which rejected the idea of objective standards, disguised the vice of politicization with the virtue of commitment, and replaced proficiency with ideology,” he wrote.
The fundamental purpose of Ivory Towers on Sand was to highlight an important problem in our country’s understanding of the Middle East, and in this respect it succeeded. It certainly did not lead to a sea change in attitudes on campus — a desperately tall order. Today, Kramer says the situation among the professoriate hasn’t changed. “If anything, it’s gotten worse,” he admits.
Because of Kramer’s work, however, opinion leaders and policymakers now have a much more sophisticated understanding of what they’re up against. And from a philanthropic perspective, Kramer’s work accomplished something else as well: It showed how private donations to nonprofit organizations and research projects can help shape public perceptions.
Despite Kramer’s warnings, the federal government — responding to 9/11 as a “Sputnik event” — has decided to throw more money at Middle Eastern studies, through Title VI of the Higher Education Act. “President Bush will go down as the Title VI president, and the greatest material patron of Middle Eastern studies in American history,” says Kramer. It’s more proof that money can’t buy you love, because the tenured radicals who make up the membership of MESA are unrelentingly critical of the Bush administration’s foreign policy — not because they’re concerned about tactical missteps following the invasion of Iraq, but because their blame-America-first outlook is hostile to the mission in the most fundamental of ways.
In an April interview with London’s Daily Telegraph, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff warned about complacency toward terrorism and pointed a finger at professors: “Where you find some softness is in some elements of the media or in some elements of the intellectual class who convince themselves that this is our fault, or that there’s an easier way to avoid the problem if we can just figure what price we have to pay. That is a plea to the sensibility of exhaustion, and history has shown that’s a very damaging and destructive impulse.”
Much has been made about how the CIA’s failure to penetrate al Qaeda — a shortcoming in “human intelligence” — paved the path to 9/11. Yet one of the greatest human intelligence failures occurred among scholars associated with Middle Eastern studies. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as Kramer documents, they downplayed the threat of terrorism. John Esposito of Georgetown University even suggested that Islamic radicalism would lead to democracy and reform: “The nineties will prove to be a decade of new alliances and alignments in which the Islamic movements will challenge rather than threaten their societies and the West.”
Esposito’s colleague John Voll defended the Islamic government of Sudan: “It is not possible, even using exclusively Western political experience as a basis for definition, to state that if a system does not have two parties, it is not democratic,” he said in Congressional testimony. Today, Sudan is one of five countries on the Department of State’s list of terrorism sponsors — and Esposito and Voll are director and associate director, respectively, of Georgetown’s HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
The British politician Enoch Powell once commented that history is littered with wars which everybody knew would never happen — it would of course be wrong to say that Middle Eastern studies is responsible for 9/11. Yet it might be reasonable to suggest that the field didn’t do enough to prepare the United States for what did happen. There were certainly Cassandras who warned about imminent dangers, especially after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. By and large, however, they weren’t employed by universities.
Following the attacks, Americans rushed to understand what had happened and the tests they would face. For answers, many of them turned to books — and it is perhaps notable that Taliban, which suddenly became a bestseller, was written by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, rather than any of the scholars whose work was underwritten by the federal government.
Especially striking is the fact that even after 9/11, MESA didn’t seem especially interested in studying terrorism. At its annual conference in November of 2001, the organization convened a two-hour “special session” on the attacks, but devoted most of its time to panels with titles such as “Empowering Muslim Women” and “Gender and Sexual Identity in Modern Arabic Literature.”
Perhaps it’s unfair to blame Middle Eastern scholars for failing to anticipate 9/11 — the event blindsided just about everybody, including the U.S. intelligence agencies. Yet these agencies have undergone severe scrutiny and major structural changes. Academics associated with Middle Eastern studies, by contrast, haven’t participated in anything comparable. As Kramer argued in a recent paper: “In sum, Middle Eastern studies, post-9/11, are not plunged into an existential crisis. To the contrary: They’re awash in resources, their ideas have resonated in high places, and all of academe has rallied to their defense.”
For donors who want to become active in this field, it may be helpful to begin with an observation that should apply to all university-oriented philanthropy: Just because a school is your alma mater doesn’t mean that it will spend your gifts wisely. In other words, the very worst thing a donor who wants to improve the study of the Middle East can do is to write a blank check for a professorship or academic center at a favored institution, assuming that talented scholars will spend it well.
“The key is to keep the money out of the hands of the university, so that donor intent can be preserved,” says Pipes. Contributions to colleges and universities require careful oversight.
Philanthropists must resist the enormous pressure they face to send in their donations and forget about them. When a controversy erupted at Columbia over the ideology of a Middle Eastern studies professor, the New York Civil Liberties Union jumped to the professor’s defense. In a long letter, the ACLU made claims that would startle anybody who has even considered making a large gift to a college or university: “While those outside the university community remain free to criticize academic scholarship, it is entirely inappropriate for potential donors to try to use this power of the purse to dictate the content of scholarship or the composition of the university’s faculty or one of its departments.”
In other words, donors should have no say in how their funds are used. William E. Simon, the late president of the John M. Olin Foundation, often equated this higher-education practice to “letting the inmates run the asylum.”
Right-of-center foundations surely aren’t the only ones that need to keep a watchful eye on where their grants go. In 2003, investigative reporter Edwin Black of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a wire service that provides content for Jewish newspapers around the world, accused the Ford Foundation of funding Palestinian groups that had organized anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activities at a United Nations conference in South Africa.
At first, the Ford Foundation denied the charges. A month later, however, president Susan Berresford acknowledged a problem: “We deeply regret that Foundation grantees may have taken part in unacceptable behavior.” The foundation then drafted a letter for grantees to sign, agreeing not to “promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry, or the destruction of any state” or to make sub-grants to groups that do.
The Rockefeller Foundation drafted its own letter that used similar language. Nine universities — Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Penn, Princeton, Stanford and Yale — joined together and objected, citing concerns about academic freedom. They eventually accepted a side letter in which the Ford Foundation said that it did not seek to control the content of classroom discussions, faculty publications and internet chat rooms.
The good news is that philanthropists who want to improve the study of the Middle East have many choices, even within university settings. The now-defunct John M. Olin Foundation provides an interesting example of how much one organization can accomplish through smart grantmaking. In the late 1980s, it launched a debate that still rages today, and one with special pertinence for the war on terror.
The most fascinating foreign-policy debate in the wake of the Cold War began in 1989, when Francis Fukuyama delivered a lecture at the University of Chicago, as part of a series sponsored by the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy, which the Olin Foundation had assisted professors Allan Bloom and Nathan Tarcov in creating several years earlier.
Fukuyama’s address proposed what probably became the most-talked-about thesis on global affairs since George Kennan, writing anonymously as “X” more than 40 years earlier, published his famous article on containing the Soviet Union’s ambitions. Fukuyama suggested that civilization had reached “the end of history” — a point at which political and economic liberalism had prevailed over all other potential forms of social organization. He did not say, as many would misinterpret him as having said, that the future would be free of conflict. Instead, he argued that humanity’s ideological evolution had crossed a finish line and come to a halt.
Several months later, Fukuyama’s speech appeared as an essay in the National Interest, a foreign affairs quarterly for which the Olin Foundation had provided seed money and sustenance. Suddenly, this article appearing in a small-circulation magazine zoomed onto the required reading lists of foreign policy intellectuals everywhere. “I still remember the proprietor of a very busy news outlet on K Street telling me with wonder that it was outselling the pornography,” said Owen Harries, who as editor had commissioned the article.
A vigorous debate ensued, with scholar Samuel P. Huntington emerging as Fukuyama’s chief sparring partner. He replied on the pages of the National Interest, and eventually at greater length elsewhere, including an Olin Center paper and eventually a book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. With the struggle between communism and freedom over, Huntington argued that nations would shift away from ideological disputes and take up cultural conflicts. All the while, he served as director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
Technically, Huntington’s ideas were not a reaction to Fukuyama. They could stand or fall on their own merits. Yet “the end of history” versus “the clash of civilizations” offered two categorically different ways of looking at the world, each holding assumptions with important policy implications.
The debate over these ideas was hot nearly two decades ago, and it revived after 9/11. Are Muslim societies capable of accepting democratic capitalism? Or are they too culturally different from the West to make the transition? The world may not face a more important set of questions today.
Amazingly, the Olin Foundation funded the programs, speeches and journals that made much of this debate possible — it essentially sponsored both sides of the argument, to the edification of all who paid attention. Other philanthropies chipped in as well: Huntington first floated his “clash of civilizations” concept at the American Enterprise Institute, in a speech sponsored by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
Even though the Olin Foundation essentially closed in 2005 — it had planned all along to deplete its endowment — the Olin Institute at Harvard still exists and so do similar programs elsewhere. Yale University’s International Security Studies, for instance, hosts fellowships and seminars for both undergraduate and graduate students with a heavy focus on diplomatic and military history — fields of inquiry that have suffered from neglect in many traditional history departments. “Our goal is to train the next generation of policy leaders,” says associate director Ted Bromund. “How can we expect them to lead if they don’t know anything about military or international history?”
In recent years, the annual budget of ISS has approached $1 million, but it will soon rise because of large gifts from two philanthropists, former Treasury secretary Nicholas F. Brady and Charles B. Johnson, who is part-owner of the San Francisco Giants baseball club. These are long-term investments. “They may not pay off for 20 years,” says Bromund. “We’re training people, not trying to solve problems. That can make our program a hard sell, especially to individuals who take a short-term view, but this work is critically important and not many other places are doing it.”
Think of it this way: A future Secretary of State and a future National Security Advisor will sit in college classrooms this fall. Perhaps they have an interest in the Middle East. They can take courses on diplomatic history with ISS scholars such as John Lewis Gaddis, Charles Hill and Paul Kennedy, and also take advantage of internships made possible by the growing number of ISS alumni who work in policy circles. Or they can enroll in the standard fare of a Middle Eastern studies program and learn about cross-dressing in Cairo. Philanthropic dollars spent right now can influence these choices, with consequences that will be felt only after today’s funders pass from the scene.
Language training is another area of opportunity for strategic philanthropists. “We’re very poor in this area,” says Mary Habeck of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies — a strategic studies program similar to the one at Yale — and author of Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror.
It is of course difficult to know the enemy, to say nothing of friends, when you don’t know the language. The Iraq Study Group, headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, reported that only six of the 1,000 U.S. employees at the embassy in Baghdad spoke fluent Arabic. In March, a report from the National Research Council highlighted the problem. “The nation’s infrastructure for international and foreign language education is weak at a time when the United States faces unprecedented demands for globally aware citizens and professionals,” said Janet L. Norwood, chairman of the committee that produced that NRC document.
College enrollments in Arabic language classes have almost doubled, from 5,500 in 1998 to 10,500 in 2002, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Moreover, the number of institutions offering courses in Arabic grew during that same period from 157 to 233. There is now a shortage of teachers who can meet the demand from students — instructors can command salaries 20 percent higher than those who specialize in other languages.
The problem is even more severe for languages such as Persian (spoken in Iran) and Pashto (spoken in Afghanistan), where there is not only a lack of teachers but also teaching materials. The sorry result, says the Chronicle, is “a shortage of people qualified to translate and analyze intercepted messages from terrorists, missed opportunities for American businesses, and, in general, a diminished capacity to engage constructively with the rest of the world.”
Philanthropists possibly could play a useful role in addressing this problem, perhaps by helping colleges and universities improve their language curricula. But even this may only go so far. Arabic is an extraordinarily difficult language for English speakers to master. Access to college-level classes may be better than nothing, but does it come too late?
This September, New York City will open its first public school dedicated to the study of Arab language and culture, with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Khalil Gibran International Academy, based in Brooklyn, plans to serve as many as 60 sixth graders this fall and eventually to expand so that it enrolls both middle school and high school students. If it avoids steeping itself in multiculturalism, perhaps it will educate a few future CIA case officers.
Another potentially helpful development in higher education is the rise of Israel studies. This small but growing field offers college students a way to study the politics and culture of a country that sits near the center of many events. It’s not the ideal lens for studying the entire Middle East, but it does have the potential to increase knowledge about an important nation. It also offers a helpful corrective to Middle Eastern studies programs that are compromised by anti-Israeli bias.
“A couple of years ago, we conducted a survey and discovered that the vast majority of colleges and universities don’t offer any courses on Israel,” says Lisa Eisen, national program director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “Our goal is to create opportunities for students to learn about Israel both in and out of its conflict — everything from Jewish literature to modern counterterrorism — in accurate ways.”
Working through the American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, the Schusterman Family Foundation sponsors visiting professorships in the United States for Israeli scholars and gives awards to graduate students who want to research topics in Israel. It currently supports programs at Brandeis, Columbia, UCLA and several other schools.
Improving the quality of university study of the Middle East faces real obstacles. “Donors need to be very careful about how they give to universities because their money can be used for purposes that are contrary to their intentions,” warns Mitchell Bard of the AICE.
Bard points to the case of Helen Diller, the wife of real-estate developer Sanford Diller. In 2004, she gave $5 million to the University of California at Berkeley and its Center for Middle East Studies to finance research grants and underwrite visiting professorships.
“You know what’s going on over there,” she said of Berkeley to a San Francisco Jewish newspaper. “With the protesting and this and that, we need to get a real strong Jewish studies program in there . . . .Hopefully, it will be more enlightening to have a visiting professor and it’ll calm down over there.”
Berkeley didn’t seem to care about this motive. As its first Diller Visiting Professor, the university hired Oren Yiftachel — “one of the Israeli academics most critical of his country’s policies,” according to Moment, a Jewish magazine that covered the controversy. Diller was helpless. “Having given the endowment, there was nothing she could do but wince,” reported Moment.
Some of the best opportunities for developing a proper understanding of the Middle East and influencing public policy exist off campus. In 2004, for instance, Robert S. Leiken of the Nixon Center published Bearers of Global Jihad: Immigration and National Security after 9/11, with support from the German Marshall Fund as well as the Smith Richardson and Bradley Foundations.
Leiken’s monograph begins with the observation that immigration and terrorism are linked — not because all immigrants are terrorists but because nearly all terrorists are immigrants. (Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kasczynski, the “Unabomber,” are obvious exceptions to this general rule.)
Leiken points out that second- and third-generation Muslims in Europe are prone to radical Islamic ideologies, in part because European countries don’t assimilate newcomers with the same success as the United States. More worrisome for Americans is that fact that these citizens of Europe enjoy easy entry to the United States.
“Leiken’s work is an example of the kind of non-governmental research that identifies important issues worthy of further study and in turn can drive increased policy attention to neglected issues,” wrote Smith Richardson’s Schadlow, in her Philanthropy Roundtable guidebook, The Struggle against Radical Islam: A Donor’s Guide.
Another example of private philanthropy sharpening the public’s knowledge of the Middle East and its challenges is the work of Michael B. Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based think tank. In 2002, he published the highly acclaimed Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
Earlier this year saw the release of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present — in February, it reached #5 on the New York Times bestseller list of nonfiction titles. The reviews have been positive, too. Writing in the Times, Max Rodenbeck of The Economist called Power, Faith, and Fantasy “hugely ambitious” and “a finely balanced overview of this enormously complex subject.”
One of the book’s key lessons is that U.S. involvement in the Middle East stretches back much further than the current Bush administration or even the Truman and FDR administrations — all the way back, in fact, to the founding of the country. “The United States is often portrayed as an imperialist power, but Americans have worked for the independence of Middle Easterners for nearly 200 years — Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Libya owe their independence largely to American support,” says Oren. The first U.S. soldiers to die in combat overseas were the victims of Arabic-speaking hijackers.
“My research is enabled solely through philanthropy,” says Oren, who was born in the United States, trained under Bernard Lewis at Princeton, and now resides in Israel. Unlike the Western world, with its open archives and free access to documents, similar materials in the Arab world must be bought. “If you want the war archives of the Jordanian and Syrian armies, you need money,” says Oren. “It’s cloak-and-dagger stuff, involving envelopes of cash and so on.”
This experience mirrors that of Rubin, whose area of expertise is Iran. To buy the minutes to the meetings of the Iranian opium commissions that were organized under the League of Nations, he went to a used bookstore in Tehran. Documents such as these simply aren’t available in public repositories.
There are conventional research expenses as well. Oren traveled to libraries in the United States, Canada and Russia. He estimates that the cost of writing his two books ran between $500,000 and $600,000.
One of his supporters is Michael Granoff, a New Jersey investor. “There’s a lot of misinformation and false perceptions about how the United States came to its current position in the Middle East,” he says. “Oren provides a context that helps us understand what’s going on today in Iraq, Iran and Israel. It turns out that modern issues are actually historical ones. There are a lot of continuing themes.” After a book is published, an author must make sure its audience learns about it. “When all the research is done, you have to promote a book — and philanthropy can help with that, too,” says Oren, who participated in a two-and-a-half-month book tour of the United States.
For his part, Granoff contributed to a fund that bought copies of the book for policymakers in Washington, D.C. “We’ve heard back from some Congressional staffers — I’m confident that we put books into the right hands,” he says.
The book found its way into the hands of at least one influential reader, as Elaine Shannon of Time reported in March: “On the night flight to Egypt, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to curl up with Michael Oren’s Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. Recommending the bestseller to the reporters traveling with her, she noted that American involvement in the region went back to Thomas Jefferson.”
If one of the problems associated with the study of the Middle East is that not enough serious people have engaged the subject, then that may change before long: Thousands of American soldiers are now spending months and years over there. Upon their return to the United States, most will want to return to their ordinary pursuits, as veterans always have done. Some members of this group, however, may want to devote themselves to understanding the region, possibly even making careers of it — a direction they would not have chosen but for their experience. “I think we’re going to see a big influx,” says Bromund of Yale. Their views are likely to be quite different from those of students who have never put on a military uniform.
Will they receive the training they seek? Philanthropists may want to make sure the answer is yes.