MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters and Statements

Date Issued Regarding
August 19, 2016 Letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry regarding Turkish government measures taken against universities and academics
July 21, 2016 Threats to Academic Freedom and Higher Education in Turkey
June 15, 2016 Iran Sanctions and Scholarly Activity
April 20, 2016 Changes to the Visa Waiver Program
February 10, 2016 Security Alert for Study and Research in Egypt
November 30, 2015 American Scholarly Societies Joint Statement on “Campus Carry” Legislation
November 23, 2015 Stereotyping and discrimination against people of Middle Eastern and Muslim background
February 24, 2015 Reliance on an increasingly contingent academic workforce
April 18, 2011 Potential cuts to Title VI and Fulbright Hays Funding
June 13, 2008 Revocation of appointments held at the University of Utah’s Middle East Center
July 5, 2006 MESA and AAUP joint statement on “Iraq: Higher Education and Academic Freedom in Danger"
November 5, 2004 Joint Statement by MESA, AAUP, AAAS on “Iraq: Higher Education and Academic Freedom in Danger"
June 14, 2002 Attorney General Ashcroft June 5, 2002 proposal
April 27, 2002 National Flagship Language Initiative-Pilot Program (NFLI-P)
April 27, 2002 House Resolution 3525
February 12, 2002 Professor Sami Al-Arian
September 21, 2001 September 11, 2001
December 1, 1999 Research in Turkey

August 19, 2016

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
via fax 202-647-1811

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) to express our deep concern about the measures taken by the Turkish government against universities and academics in the aftermath of the July 15th attempted coup. We ask that you raise these concerns during your upcoming visit to Turkey.

We believe that the Turkish government’s actions against the country’s academics and universities exceed the bounds of a legitimate and targeted effort to detain and prosecute those responsible for the coup attempt. In just over one month, these actions have damaged the structure and autonomy of Turkish higher education through university closures, asset seizures, mass suspensions of faculty and staff, and investigations and detentions of academics. The breadth of these actions creates the appearance of a purge rather than an appropriately tailored investigation.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Since July 15, the Turkish government has closed fifteen private universities and transferred their assets to the Turkish treasury. The Ministry of Education has dismissed over 27,000 employees. The Turkish Higher Education Council announced on Friday, August 12th that 5342 academic faculty and staff across the country are currently suspended and under investigation. The figure includes 4225 faculty members and 1117 administrative staff. In addition, all 1576 deans at universities across the country were forced to resign. A travel ban was imposed on all academics and Turkish academics abroad were required to return to Turkey. The travel ban has since been adjusted, but all faculty still require permission to travel, to be granted by university rectors on a case-by-case basis. Official updates on the detentions of university faculty and staff have not been provided but the number detained is reportedly in the hundreds.

The assaults on academic freedom and higher education by the Turkish government are proceeding on the basis of allegations of links between the individuals and institutions targeted and the planning of the failed coup. Those allegations do not appear to include direct involvement in the planning or execution of the attempted coup but rather suggestions of financial and other ties to the exiled cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who the government holds responsible for the coup attempt. Public reports suggest that some academics are under investigation because they took out a mortgage with a bank that is allegedly tied to Gülen or attended a school with links to the cleric’s educational network. Without more evidence of a direct relationship between the attempted coup and the affected universities, academic faculty and staff, the basis for these actions amounts to little more than guilt-by-association. Moreover, blanket policies requiring the resignation of all deans and the imposition of broad travel restrictions have impacted all academics without distinction.

On July 21, MESA was joined by over fifty other academic associations in a statement calling for Turkey’s government to end “moves to dismantle much of the structure of Turkish higher education through purges, restrictions, and assertions of central control.” At that time, Amy Newhall, executive director of MESA, noted that this statement showed unity across disparate academic organizations “coming together around the situation in Turkey because we recognize an existential threat to independent academic freedom across all disciplines.” Since that statement the situation of academics and universities in Turkey has deteriorated, with the numbers of suspensions, investigations and detentions of academics growing at an alarming rate. The existential threat to academic freedom in Turkey has only increased.

We write now to echo our statement of July 21st and reiterate our dismay at the suspensions and investigations of academics, the closure of universities, the blanket restrictions impacting higher education and the cumulative effects of these actions on academic freedom and the autonomy of higher education in Turkey. We respectfully request that you raise these serious concerns during your upcoming visit to the country, particularly in meetings with representatives of the Turkish government, including President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yıldırım.

Respectfully,

Beth Baron                                                                               
MESA President                                                                      
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

cc:
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski

July 21, 2016

Academic Engagement Network
African Studies Association
American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association
American Association of Geographers
Executive Committee of the American Comparative Literature Association
American Council of Learned Societies
American Folklore Society
American Historical Association
American Library Association
American Philosophical Association
American Musicological Society
American Society for Environmental History
American Sociological Association
American Studies Association
Association for Middle East Women's Studies
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities
Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present
Association of College & Research Libraries
British International Studies Association
British Society for Middle Eastern Studies
Canadian Association of Geographers
Canadian Philosphical Association
Executive Committee of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom
College Art Association
Economic History Association
European Association for Middle Eastern Studies
European Association of Social Anthropologists
European Network for Cinema and Media Studies (NECS)
Executive Board of the European Society for Translation Studies
German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO)
German Studies Association
Gingko Library
International Center for Medieval Art
International Courtly Literature Society
International Society for Third-Sector Research
Italian American Studies Association
Italian Society for Middle Eastern Studies (SeSaMo)
Latin American Studies Association
Law and Society Association
Linguistic Society of America
The Medieval Academy of America
Middle East Studies Association
Modern Language Association
National Communication Association
Organization of American Historians
Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association
Peace and Justice Studies Association
Political Studies Association
Société Française de Littérature Générale et Comparée
Society for Cinema and Media Studies
Society for Classical Studies
Society for Ethnomusicology
Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts
Society of Architectural Historians
Society of Biblical Literature
Southeastern Medieval Association
TESOL International Association
West African Research Association
Western Society of Criminology
World History Association

The above listed organizations collectively note with profound concern the apparent moves to dismantle much of the structure of Turkish higher education through purges, restrictions, and assertions of central control, a process begun earlier this year and accelerating now with alarming speed. 

As scholarly associations, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The recent moves in Turkey herald a massive and virtually unprecedented assault on those principles. One of the Middle East region’s leading systems of higher education is under severe threat as a result, as are the careers and livelihoods of many of its faculty members and academic administrators.

Our concern about the situation in Turkish universities has been mounting over the past year, as Turkish authorities have moved to retaliate against academics for expressing their political views—some merely signing an “Academics for Peace” petition criticizing human rights violations. 

Yet the threat to academic freedom and higher education has recently worsened in a dramatic fashion. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 15-16, 2016, the Turkish government has moved to purge government officials in the Ministry of Education and has called for the resignation of all university deans across the country’s public and private universities. As of this writing, it appears that more than 15,000 employees at the education ministry have been fired and nearly 1600 deans—1176 from public universities and 401 from private universities—have been asked to resign. In addition, 21,000 private school teachers have had their teaching licenses cancelled. Further, reports suggest that travel restrictions have been imposed on academics at public universities and that Turkish academics abroad were required to return to Turkey. The scale of the travel restrictions, suspensions and imposed resignations in the education sector seemingly go much farther than the targeting of individuals who might have had any connection to the attempted coup.

The crackdown on the education sector creates the appearance of a purge of those deemed inadequately loyal to the current government. Moreover, the removal of all of the deans across the country represents a direct assault on the institutional autonomy of Turkey’s universities. The replacement of every university’s administration simultaneously by the executive-controlled Higher Education Council would give the government direct administrative control of all Turkish universities. Such concentration and centralization of power over all universities is clearly inimical to academic freedom. Moreover, the government’s existing record of requiring university administrators’ to undertake sweeping disciplinary actions against perceived opponents—as was the case against the Academics for Peace petition signatories—lends credence to fears that the change in university administrations will be the first step in an even broader purge against academics in Turkey.

Earlier this year, it was already clear that the Turkish government, in a matter of months, had amassed a staggering record of violations of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The aftermath of the attempted coup may have accelerated those attacks on academic freedom in even more alarming ways.

As scholarly organizations, we collectively call for respect for academic freedom—including freedom of expression, opinion, association and travel—and the autonomy of universities in Turkey, offer our support to our Turkish colleagues, second the Middle East Studies Association’s “call for action” of January 15, request that Turkey’s diplomatic interlocutors (both states and international organizations) advocate vigorously for the rights of Turkish scholars and the autonomy of Turkish universities, suggest other scholarly organizations speak forcefully about the threat to the Turkish academy, and alert academic institutions throughout the world that Turkish colleagues are likely to need moral and substantive support in the days ahead.

June 15, 2016

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) notes with concern the serious impact that sanctions placed on Iran by the United States will have on valuable scholarly activity.

Beginning with the 1996 passage of the “Iran and Libya” Sanctions Act, a series of legislative enactments and executive branch regulations in the United States have placed increasingly severe restrictions on activity involving Iran. As a scholarly association, MESA takes no position on United States policy toward Iran in general. The organization does, however, vigorously advocate scholarly research and exchange. 

In that regard, we note that the text of the relevant legislation and regulations shows evidence of attempting to carve out protections for educational and scholarly activity. Given the issues at stake, it is especially important that such activity be encouraged; it would be difficult to claim that this is a time when people need to know less.

Yet we write out of a strong concern that the efforts to protect scholarship and education are not effective. A whole series of activities that might be considered normal scholarly research and study—such as conducting a public opinion survey—requires application to the relevant executive branch body (the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Department of the Treasury) for a license. Such a procedure is cumbersome at best and adds to an already restrictive environment for polling in much of the region. 

Interest in other kinds of scholarly activity—including normal travel and research—would lead a scholar through a forest of legislation, regulations, and authoritative guidance in search of an answer on what is permitted, what requires a license, and what is forbidden. Even when officials provide answers with the best of intentions, guidance is complicated and sometimes indeterminate (using phrases like “case by case basis”). We are not only concerned that normal and salutary scholarly activity will be prohibited, but that even scholars in universities able to obtain helpful legal guidance will be discouraged from research and travel. Graduate students, independent scholars, and others who do not have such supportive research infrastructure may be at sea in determining what they may do.

In April 2016 we wrote out of a similar concern that amendments to the Visa Waiver Program passed into law would have an adverse effect on scholars who conduct research in a number of Middle Eastern countries.

We call upon lawmakers reviewing the long-standing network of Iran sanctions at this time, and executive branch officials responsible for implementing them, to take care not to continue imposing restrictions on the free flow of ideas and knowledge and to reach out to the scholarly community to understand the negative impact of these legislative decisions.

April 20, 2016

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) wishes to bring to the attention of executive and legislative branch officials in the United States the serious obstacles to scholarly exchange erected by recently legislated changes in the Visa Waiver Program governing travel to the United States.  We call on U.S. government officials to amend the law and to exert efforts when implementing the Program to ensure that academic inquiry is not impaired.
MESA’s annual meeting—and many scholarly conferences, workshops, public lectures, and seminars—have been greatly facilitated by the Visa Waiver Program.  The Program has made it possible for scholars from many countries to travel to the United States for short periods and without undue advance planning and bureaucratic procedures. Without the Program, scholars are subject to lengthy procedures and opaque decision making; organizers of academic gatherings are forced to plan much farther in advance and make contingency plans for visa delays and refusals.

The benefits of the Visa Waiver Program are often reciprocated for U.S. citizens, who similarly can travel freely for scholarly purposes to a wide array of countries.
Recent changes in the Program throw up significant obstacles that particularly affect MESA members, which may inspire reciprocal moves by other countries that could restrict the ability of U.S. scholars to travel abroad.  These changes, passed into law at the end of 2015, require citizens in Visa Waiver Program countries to obtain a visa prior to travel if they have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen since March 1, 2011. It also requires visas for nationals of those countries even if they are also citizens of countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.

Visits to these countries are part of the professional work for scholars studying the Middle East, and should not create extra visa burdens for them. A European specialist on modern Iran, for instance, should be expected to travel to Iran; avoiding the country would be detrimental to his or her scholarship.  In addition, academics born in one of these countries—some of whom accepted positions in Europe and elsewhere in search of academic freedom—would be denied eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program if they retain citizenship in their country of origin.
Surely the purpose of the legislation is not to throw up roadblocks to international scholarly exchange that greatly enriches American understanding of the Middle East.

We understand that executive and legislative branch officials are now deliberating over a series of problems that have arisen from the changes made in the Program. We ask that they take special care to safeguard academic inquiry and scholarly exchange as they do so.

February 10, 2016

Security Alert for Study and Research in Egypt

In view of recent developments in Egypt, the MESA Board feels compelled to alert those considering traveling to Egypt for research and study—as well as those who are based in country—about a sharp escalation in the nature of threats to those studying and conducting research in Egypt. Many of these threats come from official bodies whose task would seem to be to work to provide a safe environment for study and research.

For months, the MESA Board has noted that our Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) has been documenting the increasing number and scope of attacks on freedom of expression and academic freedom in Egypt. CAF has repeatedly written to express its concern regarding violations that include, but are not limited to:

  • the denial of entry to the country and harassment of numerous scholars and researchers;
  • gross state interference in university student and faculty governance; 
  • the dismissals and expulsions from universities of hundreds of students and faculty;
  • the sentencing of academics to death

The growth of violence and repression against academics and associated researchers in Egypt has now reached its tragically predictable outcome with the murder of University of Cambridge Ph.D. student Giulio Regeni. On February 3, 2016, Regeni, in Egypt to conduct doctoral research while affiliated with the American University in Cairo, was found dead by the side of the road to the west of the capital. While Egyptian authorities state they are investigating the death, indications are that he was abducted and then tortured to death.

As the elected representatives of MESA, the preeminent association of scholars of the region, and as advisors and mentors to graduate and other students, we now feel it is incumbent upon us to issue a special alert to academics and researchers of all levels and backgrounds who are considering conducting research in Egypt.

We believe there is reason for serious concern regarding anyone's ability to carry out research safely. Our concern is for both non-Egyptians going to Egypt and Egyptian colleagues; with Egyptian and non-Egyptian students; and with those whom we may seek to collaborate or involve in our research. We therefore urge all of our colleagues to reflect carefully and exercise extreme caution in considering research or study-related travel to Egypt for themselves and their students.

At the same time, we stress MESA's continuing commitment through CAF to investigate academic freedom violations in Egypt, to work vigorously to draw attention to these violations, to write letters of protest about these violations to the relevant Egyptian authorities, and in all ways possible and appropriate to support our Egyptian colleagues who are on the front lines in the ongoing battle to defend this basic right.

For its part, the MESA Board offers its condolences to the family and friends of Giulio Regeni; joins others in demanding a full, honest, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death; strongly supports the work of CAF; and resolves to remain apprised of the academic environment in Egypt and to update its members about significant developments in that regard.

November 30, 2015

The undersigned learned societies are deeply concerned about the impact of Texas’s new Campus Carry law on freedom of expression in Texas universities. The law, which was passed earlier this year and takes effect in 2016, allows licensed handgun carriers to bring concealed handguns into buildings on Texas campuses. Our societies are concerned that the Campus Carry law and similar laws in other states introduce serious safety threats on college campuses with a resulting harmful effect on students and professors.

November 23, 2015

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association condemns the increasing frequency and intensity of violent acts against civilians taking place in countries around the world.  We are also alarmed at the related rise in the stereotyping and vilification of people of Middle East or Muslim background.

We urge, therefore, those with responsibility for United States policy in the Middle East and the Islamic world to avail themselves of the insights of scholarship as they seek to understand the background of these violent acts and to frame responses to them.

We are deeply concerned that people who are or appear to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern background—citizens, residents and displaced persons seeking refuge—have been and continue to be the victims of discrimination in the US as well as other countries. This discrimination can occur in any area of public life, including employment, travel, access to accommodation and access to other goods, services and facilities. It can involve harassment, vilification and at times actual violence.

We deplore the reckless rhetoric of some public figures that is only increasing the likelihood of discrimination and the violation of the civil rights of people of Middle East and Muslim background. We commend the efforts of public officials to prevent acts of harassment and retaliation and encourage them to redouble their efforts in this direction.

Ignorance and misunderstanding of the Middle East and the Islamic world are rife in the US and other Western countries. This lack of accurate information must be addressed by the educational system at all levels. We call upon MESA members to actively share their expertise about the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamic world with the communities in which they live and work, and to make every effort as educators to communicate their invaluable knowledge and understanding to representatives of the media and policy makers.

We advocate tolerance, education, understanding, and thoughtfully planned measures to assure that these acts of violence are not followed by further senseless destruction or discrimination.

February 24, 2015

The MESA Board of Directors has identified the rising reliance on an increasingly contingent academic workforce as one of the greatest current challenges to the academic profession. It therefore views the efforts of other academic associations with great sympathy. Taking special note of the Modern Language Association's "Action for Allies," [http://actionforallies.commons.mla.org/] the Board supports that effort “to ensure that every campus provides appropriate working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty members.”

April 18, 2011

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association expresses great concern over reports of a possible $50 million or 40% cut to Title VI and Fulbright Hays funding. These programs are housed within the US Department of Education; the cut was mandated by the 2011 budget passed by Congress last week. Although we understand the need for fiscal austerity, we believe that such a drastic cut to these two programs would jeopardize the United States’ national capacity in language expertise and area studies knowledge. Many of the Title VI programs in Middle East studies are located at state universities that already are under enormous financial pressure. Title VI is a collaborative program; each federal dollar leverages more money from university budgets to support  the education of students. Without that incentive vital pipeline programs producing students who serve our country in a wide variety of ways, from public service to education to business, to government agencies to the military, will be lost.

Ultimately, the allocation of cuts within the Department of Education will be decided by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. His will not be an easy task but we hope that he will recognize the important role these programs have played in developing over the long term our national security, our economic competitiveness and our reservoir of leaders (including the current Secretary of Defense) and specialists.  As events continue to unfold in our particular area of expertise, we see no future that is without the need of experts in the languages and cultures of the Middle East. To turn off the tap of the pipeline now would inflict incalculable damage to our ability to meet the challenges of the future. Once gone, these programs will not easily be resurrected.


June 2008 (pdf version)

Michael K. Young, President
Office of the President 
John R Park Bldg 
201 Presidents Cir Rm 203 
Salt Lake City, UT 84112

via fax 801-581-5701 

Dear President Young,

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express our concern about Dean Robert Newman’s summary and arbitrary revocation of the appointments held at the University of Utah’s Middle East Center by Professors Peter Sluglett and Harris Lenowitz. This incident has unfairly damaged the reputations of two very senior and distinguished scholars and it has also seriously undermined the standing of the Middle East Center and of the University of Utah. We therefore ask that you fully and expeditiously investigate this decision and take appropriate action to remedy the wrong that appears to have been done to Professors Sluglett and Lenowitz.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. MESA has more than 2800 members worldwide and publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the preeminent scholarly publication in this field, as well as other journals.

According to the information we have received, Dean Newman has stated that he dismissed Professors Sluglett and Lenowitz because of their alleged “lack of collegiality.” He is further reported to have alleged, in a letter that was widely distributedthat Professors Sluglett and Lenowitz had helped create an “intimidating,” “unprofessional” and “toxic” atmosphere at the Middle East Center which, he claimed, had led to the departure from the university of five junior center faculty, four of them women. These allegations would seem to have no basis in fact: all reports indicate that there was no “lack of collegiality” at the Middle East Center, and all four of the women faculty to whom Dean Newman alluded have written to him to clarify that neither Professor Sluglett nor Professor Lenowitz contributed in any way to their decisions to leave the University of Utah.

We are also concerned about the arbitrary and high-handed way in which Professors Sluglett and Lenowitz were dismissed and the denial to them of any due process. Neither had received any prior warning about the allegations on whose basis the dean dismissed them; they were dismissed by letter, after Dean Newman had refused to meet them or with their legal representatives; and they were denied an opportunity to appeal the dean’s decision before it took effect. 

We are aware that dismissal from the governing board of an academic unit is not equivalent to termination: Professors Sluglett and Lenowitz are tenured, and neither their employment status nor their ability to teach or conduct research is at issue. Nonetheless, summary dismissal based on vague and specious allegations – especially those that allude to something close to sexual harassment – can only be hurtful and embarrassing and may cause damage to the reputations, standing and careers of these very distinguished scholars who have for many years been leading figures at the Middle East Center. The fact that the center’s director and associate director have both resigned their positions to protest the injustice done to their colleagues indicates that Dean Newman’s action has also significantly undermined the functioning and reputation of the Middle East Center and diminished the stature of the University of Utah.

We therefore request that you, and the appropriate university body or bodies, investigate this incident fully and carefully, to ensure that proper procedures were followed, that the due process rights of Professors Sluglett and Lenowitz were not violated, and that all allegations made against them are either supported by solid evidence or withdrawn. We trust that if it is found that Professors Sluglett and Lenowitz were treated unfairly, the university will publicly apologize to them and reinstate them at the Middle East Center.

We look forward to receiving your response to this request.

Sincerely,

Mervat F. Hatem
MESA President
Professor of Political Science, Howard University

cc: Peter Sluglett, Harris Lenowitz, Ibrahim Karawan, Peter von Sivers


Professors’ Associations Decry Violence Against Academic Colleagues in Iraq (pdf version)

Issued July 5, 2006

Washington, D.C., and Tucson, Arizona — The Middle East Studies Association and the American Association of University Professors jointly released the following statement, titled “Iraq: Higher Education and Academic Freedom in Danger,” on July 5.

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) express continuing concern about the dangers facing academic life in Iraq today.

Virtually every Iraqi institution of higher education is at risk. Universities, colleges, and research institutions operate under severe political duress and without adequate resources, transparent funding mechanisms, or the civil and legal protections needed to nurture and promote a vibrant intellectual climate and civil society.

Iraq’s intellectual and academic community, long oppressed by the highly restrictive and paranoid policies of Saddam Hussein’s government, have been unable to recover in the pervasive atmosphere of lawlessness and political violence that has followed the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of the country. All campuses and scientific institutions suffered heavily from the months of looting that followed the collapse of the former régime.

The present government of Iraq has done little to ensure the safety of academics since it took office. A significant portion of the current violence against academics has been perpetrated by sectarian militias affiliated with the ruling political coalitions. Professors have been threatened, harmed, kidnapped, and assassinated because of their actual or alleged political affiliations, or because they failed to respond positively to demands of students for special treatment. Communities of students are becoming politicized in a way that threatens the institutionalization of tolerance and the protection of intellectual diversity.

Moreover, the continuing generalized insecurity in the country has forced thousands of Iraq’s best-educated academics, doctors, and professionals to flee, taking with them the intellectual capital for building a stable, democratic, and free nation.

With this statement, we register our profound alarm at this state of affairs. With it, we also pledge our collective determination to take steps, together and with sister organizations, to promote programs and policies in Iraq and on behalf of the international community of scholars and researchers that will positively address this disturbing situation. 

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has about 45,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2,600 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.


Joint statement by MESA, AAUP, AAAS: "Iraq: Higher Education and Academic Freedom in Danger"

Issued November 5, 2004

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) are profoundly concerned about the dangers facing academic life in Iraq today. 

Virtually every Iraqi institution of higher education is at risk. Universities, colleges and research institutions operate under severe political duress and without adequate resources, transparent funding mechanisms, or the civil and legal protections needed to nurture and promote a vibrant intellectual climate and civil society.

Iraq’s intellectual and academic community, long oppressed by the highly restrictive and paranoid policies of Saddam Hussein’s government, have been unable to recover in the pervasive atmosphere of lawlessness and political violence that has followed the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of the country. All campuses and scientific institutions suffered heavily from the months of looting that followed the collapse of the former régime. Professors have been threatened, harmed, and assassinated because of their actual or alleged political affiliations, or because they failed to respond positively to demands of students for special treatment. Communities of students are becoming politicized in a way that threatens the institutionalization of tolerance and the protection of intellectual diversity.

As North American-based professional academic and scientific associations, we wish to register our grave alarm at this state of affairs. With this statement we also pledge our determination to take steps, together and with colleague organizations, to promote programs and policies in Iraq and on behalf of the international community of scholars and researchers that will positively address this disturbing situation. 

Iraq’s universities were once considered to be among the best in the developing world. Iraqi students enjoyed an excellent educational system and often traveled abroad to complete their training. Iraqi professors, medical doctors and other professionals could be found at institutions of higher learning, hospitals and research centers not just in Arab countries, but throughout the world. However, Saddam Hussein’s consolidation of state power in the late 1970s and early 1980s, transformed Iraq into a police state that denied intellectual, academic and political freedoms, as well as most basic human rights. Systems of learning and research were thoroughly controlled by the Ba`th party, and party membership became almost essential for those seeking academic rank and tenure, access to research support, and travel abroad. Nevertheless, Iraqi scholars could travel abroad only with great difficulty and those who did so were considered suspect thereafter. Intellectual and professional academic exchanges became virtually extinct for a generation of Iraqi scholars and academics. More often, Iraqi intellectuals have left the country altogether, contributing to a drain of experts, teachers and researchers that continues and represents a crippling loss of intellectual capacity for the country and the region. The threat of violence and the prevalence of insecurity have contributed to the fact that more than a thousand Iraqi professors have left Iraq, by some accounts, and many others have indicated their intention to leave for Arab countries or the West.

Iraq’s war with Iran also drained resources and students from higher education. The former government’s drive to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the 1980s led to the militarization of academic science and research, with the result that most areas of higher education were starved to support specialized institutions.

This wartime impoverishment was aggravated by the comprehensive economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Aside from the resource shortages that resulted, these sanctions left little or no room for foreign institutions and academics to exchange information and ideas with their Iraqi counterparts. Nor did they permit any exceptions for subscriptions to, or even donations of, journals and books. Thus, even if they had had the hard currency to do so, Iraqi universities and other higher learning institutions could not import journals or educational technology. 

Today, more than a year after the overthrow of the former government by U.S.-led coalition forces, the dictatorship is gone but in most other respects the situation has only deteriorated. Nearly every campus and academic institution experienced losses during the weeks of systematic looting that followed the collapse of the former government. In some cases the losses were limited to easily replaceable items like computers, but others, including the National Library and Archives, were devastated. Items ranging from simple desks and blackboards to relatively sophisticated laboratory equipment were plundered, along with books and academic records. Many institutions now lack the sheer physical wherewithal for teaching and research. Iraqi deans have told MESA that little rebuilding and redevelopment has been accomplished since the invasion.

Even more alarming is a climate that imperils free inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. Educators were among those dismissed arbitrarily in the “de-Ba`thification” drive decreed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. (It is not known what effect-if any- the subsequent reversal of this policy has had on universities and institutes.) Violence and threats of violence affecting academics have multiplied. We are aware of reports of more than 200 incidents, including killings, directed against academic officials and professors. A statement by the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights in early October 2004 said that 78 university professors were among the approximately three thousand Iraqis killed in the immediately post-war violence.

Not all of these killings were politically motivated, but many were. Some, if not most, of such politically-motivated killings took the form of vendettas against academic officials who were ranking members in the ruling Ba`th party. One such case was the murder of the dean of Mosul University’s law school, Layla Abdallah Said, in June 2004. Other such attacks have been mounted against professors known to be critical of the former government, such as Abd al-Latif al Mayyah, a dean of political studies at al-Mustansiriyya University, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in January 2004 after having criticized Saddam Hussein’s policies in a television appearance. The fact that most of these attacks have taken place not on campuses but at the homes or outside offices of the victims does not mitigate the extreme “chilling effect” they have on both academics and public intellectuals. Under such threats the possibilities for open debate and discussion of pressing issues are sharply reduced. A spokesman for the University Teachers Association told Al-Hayat in late September 2004 that more than 400 teachers had received threats of harm. Some Iraqis have expressed fear that the killings of academics and other professionals may be a replay of the phase of killings in Algeria that aimed at eliminating or at least silencing the intelligentsia as a class.

Another source of threat to teachers and professors are students. A dean at Baghdad University showed a reporter a stack of threatening letters, some with bullets taped to them. Some of these were politically motivated—complaining for instance about the Ba`thist background of a teacher. Others were aimed at ensuring that the student received passing grades, sometimes citing the lack of electricity and the difficulties of attending classes to justify the demand. Campuses, moreover, are becoming increasingly politicized, and many students have aligned themselves with existing Iraqi political parties and tendencies. Political activism is on the rise and along with it increased opportunities for educators to teach and vividly illustrate the importance of protecting civil and political rights. Unfortunately, at the same time, administrators have felt compelled to resist demands for student government elections. 

Prior to the first Gulf war, a large proportion of Iraq’s university professors were women, and female students made up approximately half of all campus populations. There are now growing signs that women's access to higher education may be at risk as a consequence of civil disorder and  religious polarization. We urge authorities in Iraq to take special measures to monitor equal access to higher education and the role of women professors and teachers. Likewise faculty exchange and educational assistance programs must insure that their efforts take into account these threats to women's participation.

We share the concern of many Iraqi colleagues with the increasing political, religious and ethnic polarization of the country, the growing sectarian character of political violence, the formation of militias, and the appearance of death squads of different political inclinations. These developments imperil the possibilities of genuine academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. Professors and university administrators know that it is not possible, or even desirable, to assign security details to each threatened individual. We nonetheless urge the Interim Iraqi Government and the U.S.-led coalition forces to do their utmost to protect Iraq’s academic institutions and professionals as essential components for building democratic practice and a viable civil society in Iraq.

The removal of the old régime has certainly contributed to the potential realization of academic freedom and enquiry on Iraq’s campuses, as well as greater access to new technologies for teaching, learning and conducting research. Academics now can travel abroad without fear of reprisal. Still, the manifold threats of increasing religious and political polarization, civil disorder, and the manifest indifference to the needs of Iraq’s academic community on the part of the United States government and the international donor community render these gains extremely vulnerable.

The failure of the CPA to adequately fund programs for university rebuilding and revitalization must be redressed. Billions of dollars are needed to rebuild Iraq’s system of higher education, but only US $10 million has been put aside for reconstruction. Furthermore, the overtly partisan nature of the CPA's management of Iraq's higher education prior to June 30. 2004, hindered the creation of more than just a handful of independent programs linking US colleges and universities, and there are almost no bi-lateral and multi-lateral relationships between American and Iraqi institutions and professional societies. 

The violations of freedom of expression and academic freedom that we see today in Iraq do not come mainly from state authorities or, for the most part, from identifiable political organizations. In other words, there is at the moment at least no "address" to which we can protest or make recommendations.

We nevertheless wish to alert our colleagues in the academic and in the scientific and research communities, here and elsewhere, and the larger public, to the grave difficulties faced by academics and intellectuals in Iraq. It is also crucial to lay the groundwork for viable collegial exchange between Iraq and the international academic community. We pledge greater efforts to monitor this situation, to gather and disseminate information about developments in this area, to advocate on behalf of our Iraqi colleagues with the U.S. and other governments as well as within our own institutions and communities, and to promote supportive ties between professional and scholarly institutions in our countries and their Iraqi counterparts as a contribution to the promotion of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.

Note: The information in this statement comes from articles in The Independent (July 14, 2004), The Globe and Mail (June 23, 2004), Al-Hayat (September 25, 2004), Financial Times (September 6, 2004); Keith Watenpaugh, “Between Saddam and the American Occupation: Iraq’s Academic Community Struggles for Autonomy,”  Academe (September-October 2004), pp. 18-24; Opening the Doors: Intellectual Life and Academic Conditions in Post-War Baghdad (www.hnet.org/about/press.opening_doors/); and reports from MESA members to the MESA Secretariat and Committee on Academic Freedom.


Letter to Attorney General Ashcroft

June 14, 2002

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America views with extreme concern your June 5 proposal to fingerprint and photograph visitors to the United States from Middle Eastern countries. Such humiliating procedures will have a profoundly chilling effect on all scholarly and artistic exchanges and discourage visitors from Middle Eastern countries to the United States. These measures will impede the free exchange of information and ideas that allow United States citizens to study and understand Middle Eastern societies and that enable Arabs and Muslims to study and understand American society. We strongly urge that this matter be reconsidered and that no discriminatory measures be taken against ethnically or religiously targeted groups.

Sincerely,
Joel Beinin
President

CC: President George W. Bush
Vice President Dick Cheney
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Ted Kennedy
Senator Patrick Leahy
Congressman Dick Gephardt
Congressman James Sensenbrenner


Re: National Flagship Language Initiative – Pilot Program (NFLI-P)
Approved at the spring board meeting on April 27, 2002; revised April 26, 2003

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) is concerned about the potential negative consequences of aspects of the recently announced National Flagship Language Initiative – Pilot Program (NFLI-P), under the National Security Education Program (NSEP) authorized by Congress in 1991. The NFLI-P institutional grants were announced on April 1, 2002, with the closing date for applications from U.S. universities stipulated as May 15, 2002.

We fully endorse the most broadly defined aim of the program, “to address the need to increase the ability of Americans to communicate and compete globally by knowing the languages and cultures of other countries.” (NFLC-P Advanced Language Institutional Grants, Application Guidelines, Section A: Program Guidelines, www.nflc.org/flagship/application). We believe that such a goal requires commitment to a broad range of educational programs in the humanities and social sciences, including but not limited to language acquisition. We have and will continue to support fully programs administered through the U.S. Department of Education, which we believe is the appropriate governmental entity to implement educational programs established by acts of Congress. At the same time, we have (1992, 1995) noted our strong reservations concerning the decision to locate the NSEP administration in the Department of Defense and the involvement of the CIA on the Board that oversees the NSEP. We believe it is essential to maintain the administrative independence of such programs from government agencies involved in national security.

While MESA welcomes enhanced attention to language-study programs, we are uneasy about the directed goals of NFLI-P, and in particular the direct link that it envisions between academic programs and government employment. The program guidelines for the NFLI-P note that the success of this program will “depend in large measure on the capability of U.S. higher education to supply to the U.S. government graduates from across disciplines and who are proficient in critical languages.” NSEP was instituted specifically to address the personnel needs of federal agencies responsible for national security. Students accepting NSEP fellowships have a national service obligation. We regard this as a matter of individual choice and have urged simply that students be made fully aware of their contractual obligations under the program. However, we are apprehensive that the proposed establishment of university programs will link all participating students by association with Defense Department language study funding through the institutional grants that NFLI-P has announced.

Scholars wishing to carry out academic research, language training, collaborative work with colleagues outside of the U.S., and other professional activities in the Middle East and North Africa already face daunting governmental and extra-governmental obstacles. Recent political events have only increased the obstacles and risks to U.S. citizens and residents who carry out academic work overseas. A government-funded program that emphasizes cooperation between the U.S. academy and government agencies responsible for intelligence and defense will increase the difficulties and dangers of such academic activities, and may foster the already widespread impression that academic researchers from the United States are directly involved in government activities. This may discourage foreign colleagues from collaboration with Americans in scholarly projects. Ultimately, such a program may actually undermine the research and teaching of languages, histories and culture that area studies programs in U.S. universities strive to advance.

Furthermore, if the full-fledged NFLI-P is funded and established in years to come, according to the description of the Pilot Program, participating universities “must be ready and able to accept those students, as well as U.S. government personnel, who may not be matriculants or degree seekers.” While we are in favor of the expansion of second-language learning in the U.S. educational system, we view with alarm this implication of direct government participation in deciding who may be admitted to university programs.

We believe that “national security” should be broadly defined and that it should include the continued vitality and academic independence of this country’s higher education system. We urge that funding for second-language acquisition, like other educational programs, be administered through the Department of Education. We deplore the channeling of funds for education through defense or intelligence agencies.

The MESA Board of Directors recognizes the urgency of developing a more appropriate institutional location and structure of governance for NFLI-P, one which will better protect the interests of the people whom the program is intended to support. It has therefore resolved to work actively with other concerned organizations to effect the desired changes.


To the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the President of the University of South Florida. 

Issued February 12, 2002

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America is deeply disturbed by the University of South Florida’s decision to fire Professor Sami Al-Arian. The decision was made after Professor Al-Arian appeared on FOX News’ “O’Reilly Factor” on September 26, 2001. The interviewer, Bill O’Reilly, revived old and never-proven accusations that Professor Al-Arian had ties to terrorist organizations. As a result, Professor Al-Arian and the University of South Florida began to receive threatening letters, and “in light of … very real concerns for safety,” the university put Professor Al-Arian on leave (President Judy Genshaft, Report to Trustees, Sept 28, 2001, www.usf.edu). Three months later the Board of Trustees voted to dismiss him.

The reasons given by university officials for the dismissal are 1) Al-Arian violated his contract by returning to campus once after being put on leave; and 2) he did not make clear in off campus speeches that his views were his own, not those of the University of South Florida. University officials maintain that the case “is not about academic freedom” (St. Petersburg Times, 20 December 2001, www.sptimes.com). The basic requirements of due process have not been observed here. In comments about Al-Arian’s dismissal, an attorney hired by the university noted that donations to the university had suffered as a result of the O’Reilly Factor coverage. And in a letter to the New York Times (Sunday, 3 February 2002) President Genshaft singled out a statement made in an off campus speech by Professor Al-Arian in 1988 to explain her actions thirteen years later. Thus it seems that behind the ostensible grounds for dismissal cited by the university, lies the desire not to offend supporters of the university at the expense of firing a professor whose opinions are repugnant to them.

The Al-Arian case IS about academic freedom. It is also about the basic first amendment right to freedom of speech. The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America calls on the administration of the University of South Florida to reinstate Professor Sami Al-Arian. In the words of the “Statement on Academic Freedom in the Wake of September 11, 2001” endorsed by the American Association of University Professors: “It is incumbent upon universities and their leaders to protect the freedom to assemble and debate, explore questions and test ideas. That can be difficult in a time of stress and pain, but it is never more important.” (www.aaup.org)


Re: H.R. 3525, “Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act”

Approved at the spring board meeting on April 27, 2002

“The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act,” which passed unanimously (97-0) in the Senate on Thursday, April 18, prohibits admission of people from Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan and North Korea unless they are coming to the United States as immigrants.

This provision will either eliminate or severely complicate any scholarly exchange, track two diplomacy, family visits, civil society contacts, training, and/or university enrollment in the United States for any individual from a country identified in the State Department list.

There have been no recent terrorist actions by individuals from any of these states. The United States has historically suffered terrorist attacks by individuals from major U.S. allies, including Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and no doubt other countries, none of which is covered by this legislation.

This provision represents a grave violation of freedom of expression and will involve untold personal hardship. It will also place immense additional obstacles against individuals from those countries who want to seek a U.S. education or even to expand their contacts among those who may be opposed to the actions of their governments—including terrorism.

In terms of real U.S. security, it is likely to accomplish little or nothing.


Statement Regarding September 11, 2001

Issued September 21, 2001

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association condemns the violent acts of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. We offer our sincere condolences to all those personally affected by the tragedy.

It is with great sadness that we write in response to the tragic events of last week. We call for calm and seriousness of purpose as those who planned and perpetrated the crimes are identified and brought to justice in courts of law. We urge those with responsibility for United States policy in the Middle East and the Islamic world to avail themselves of the insights of scholarship as they seek to understand the background of the tragedy and to frame responses to it.

We are deeply concerned that people who are or appear to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern background have been and continue to be the victims of discrimination, harassment, and violence in this country and in other Western countries. Their safety and their civil rights must be protected. Any abrogation of the civil rights of Middle Eastern and Muslim citizens would constitute an additional and unconscionable form of discrimination. Further, we are deeply concerned that innocent people in the Middle East may become the targets of misguided retaliation. We commend the efforts of many public officials to prevent such acts, and encourage them to redouble their efforts in this direction.

Ignorance and misunderstanding of the Middle East and the Islamic world are rife in the United States, and must be addressed by the educational system at all levels. We urge our association’s members to share their expertise about the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamic world with the communities in which they live and work, and to make every effort to communicate their invaluable knowledge and understanding to representatives of the media and to policy makers.

We advocate tolerance, education, understanding, and thoughtfully planned measures to assure that the horrific events of September 11 are not repeated or followed by further senseless destruction.


The following letter was sent on

December 1, 1999

to the Turkish Minister of Culture and Minister of Foreign Affairs with copies to Turkish ambassadors in various countries, and to other organizations.

I am writing to you on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association. It has come to our attention that the Under-Secretary of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, Tekin Aybas, has expressed himself willing to investigate the possibility of changing the rules concerning residence and research permits in Turkish libraries and museums for both Turkish and foreign scholars who use them. We would like to encourage the initiative on behalf of the international research community which we represent.

Access to the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives (the Basbakanlik Osmanli Arsivi) has improved considerably in the last 10 to 15 years, allowing for more immediate access to the catalogues of the collection, and general permission to use the documents within a few days. These simplified procedures have resulted in the increased use of the BOA which is reflected in recent studies on the Ottomans and the early Republic by both Turkish and foreign scholars which have appeared since that time.

For all the other libraries and research collections under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture there remain serious obstacles to access to the materials. There are basically two separate problems. One is the “ikamet” or residence permit process, required of any foreign scholar who wishes to conduct research in Turkish libraries and museums. The other is the need to request permission to use each and every facility which an individual scholar, including Turkish scholars, may think is important to his or her research from the central office of the Ministry of Culture in Ankara. A letter of permission must be sent from the Ministry in Ankara to each library or museum concerned, which, for some researchers, could involve five to ten libraries. This can lead to situations where the potential researcher has 1) the residence permit, but cannot use the library or museum because there is no research permit, or 2) has the research access, but not the “ikamet.” Similarly, the process of renewal of permissions once acquired can seriously derail a research agenda if the “ikamet” expires before the completion of a project, and the individual scholar is forced to leave the country before the residence renewal has been granted.

What is important is access to unique resources. The manuscript collections of Turkey are some of the richest in the world. The international community of scholars understands the need to control the use of valuable and vulnerable collections from the point of view of preservation. The practice of restricted access to fragile and unique documents, and restricted photocopy and microfilm privileges is hardly unique to Turkey.

We do suggest, however, that your serious attention be given to a simplification of the research permit procedures, plus a reconsideration of the necessity of linking the “ikamet” requirements to bona fide scholarly research, especially for short-term visits.

The research community which we represent which includes scholars in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, as well as in Turkey and its neighboring countries in the Arab world and the Balkans, would appreciate any effort which could be made by the Ministry to improve the research environment in Turkey.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark J. Lowder
Acting Executive Director



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