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Friday, November 07, 2003

MESA annual conference this weekend in Anchorage

FrontPageMagazine: The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) meets for its annual conference on November 6-9 in Anchorage, Alaska. The event displays the work of hundreds of Middle East specialists, and thus offers a good barometer of the state of the field of Middle East studies.


Of nearly three hundred papers, panels, and presentations over a four-day conference, the words “terror”, “terrorist,” “terrorism,” “attack,” and “suicide bombing” do not appear once.
In contrast, eight papers discuss “American Orientalism,” an allusion to the late Edward Said’s theory of a racist West that is incapable of understanding the Middle East. The nine papers on women in the Middle East somehow manage to avoid the topics of “honor” killings or female circumcision.

Israel is rarely mentioned except in discussions of “expropriation of Palestinian Refugee Land” and “occupation.” Zionism, or Israeli nationalism, is the topic of only three papers. By contrast there are five papers on “Palestinian Nationalism” and an additional fifteen papers presented on other Palestinian issues.

There is also some progress. Three scholars will present papers on “Islamic Activism” and five will address “Rescuing Islamic Political Theory from the Jihadist Ideology.”

MESA is also offering a special session on the Middle East legacy of Nobel Peace laureate Ralph Bunche, the UN negotiator who brokered four armistice agreements between Israel and Arab states after the 1948 war. Less inspiring is the composition of the panel on Bunche: Joel Beinin, Georgetown’s Michael Hudson, Naseer Aruri of the University of Massachusetts – all driven anti-Zionists.

MESA’s film festival is a mixed bag. Three of the 48 films deal directly with terrorism or militant Islam. Of six 9/11-themed films, four examine the Arab-American perspective after the attacks, and two films actually present a Saudi perspective, featuring interviews with the parents and relatives of, as MESA delicately puts it,“the accused hijackers.”

MESA describes one terrorism documentary with characteristic glee: “Cynicism and outrage animate this exploration of how American foreign policy has fueled resentment around the world.”

But other films are more promising. “Islamic Fervor” documents the struggle of the reforming regime in Morocco and its efforts to resist Islamic extremism. Two movies examine the reality of Islamist violence toward women.