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9/11 and Middle Eastern studies past and future: revisiting ivory towers on sand

By Fred Halliday


The events of 9/11 intensified attacks on the field of Middle Eastern Studies, especially in the US—attacks whose reverberations have been felt ever since in academia and beyond. A key moment was the publication in 2001 of a book by Martin Kramer, Ivory towers on sand, which accused the field of irrelevance, failure to predict, lack of patriotism and wilful blindness to the failings in the Arab and Islamic world. In a Foreword to this review article, Gerd Nonneman points out that the importance of the heated debate this occasioned, both on intellectual and political grounds, has if anything been heightened in today's policy environment. At the request of International Affairs, Fred Halliday therefore revisits the book's arguments. He accepts the desirability for scholars to engage in public assessment and critique of others’ work and to relate this to broader concerns of both epistemology and public policy. He also acknowledges shortcomings in the literature on Islamism and civil society, and in Edward Said's Orientalism. But he concludes that Kramer's book fails to resolve the questions broached, adds nothing that is original to debates on social science method and theory, distorts the state of contemporary Middle Eastern Studies (in part by ignoring most of the important work done outside the US) and that the book has had damaging consequences for university life itself. In part, the article suggests, this is a reflection of a lack—shared by significant areas of recent social science writing, including Said's Orientalism—of an adequate grounding in issues of social science methodology and philosophy. It also reflects an untenable assumption about the nature of the relationship between academic work and public policy issues

Topics: DS Asia
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs
Year: 2004
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2004.00427.x
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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