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Journal of Democracy 13.3 (2002) 95

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Middle East Studies After 9/11

The shocking events of September 11 not only changed the face of international relations; they also are prompting a reassessment of the ways in which we have analyzed the political world. While the questioning in the wake of 9/11 has principally targeted the failings of intelligence agencies and government policy makers, it has begun to focus on the relevant academic disciplines as well. (For a critique of the political science profession in this context, see Larry Diamond, "What Political Science Owes the World," in PS Online, Inevitably, no academic field has been more exposed to such questioning than Middle East studies. [End Page 95]

The debate over Middle East studies was spurred but also complicated by the publication in October 2001 of Martin Kramer's Ivory Towers on Sand, a lively polemic—written well prior to the attacks on New York and Washington—that charged the field with ideological biases and numerous other shortcomings. The bitter controversy that Kramer ignited ensured that the field would not escape reexamination, but it also meant that much of the debate would be colored by the personal and political animosities fueled by Kramer's book.

In an effort to take a fresh look at the questions raised about Middle East studies, our International Forum for Democratic Studies organized a half-day conference on March 11 entitled "Islamism, Democracy, and Autocracy: The Post-9/11 Debate." Our goal in organizing this meeting, as we noted in our letter of invitation, was "not to add heat to the polemics surrounding this matter but to explore in a forward-looking way the prospects for genuine political change in the Middle East." And we believe that, to a considerable extent, we succeeded.

The first panel, which featured Ibrahim Karawan and Steve Heydemann as speakers and Laith Kubba and Graham Fuller as commentators, was more directly focused on the state of Middle East studies. The second panel, featuring Daniel Brumberg and Vickie Langohr as speakers and Ellen Laipson and Samer Shehata as commentators, was entitled "New Directions in the Study of Islam and Politics." In the pages that follow, we present short essays by the four principal speakers expanding upon their remarks at the conference. These essays will give readers some sense of the debate sparked by Kramer's book, but they also point the way toward a rethinking of the vitally important issues at stake in the effort to understand the relationship between Islamism and the obstacles to democracy in the Middle East.


—The Editors



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