Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2003 / 23 Adar I, 5763

Terrorists profs

By Daniel Pipes | "It was quiet in [Cooper Hall] 464 Thursday night, where [Sameeh] Hammoudeh's 6 p.m. Arabic IV class was scheduled to meet. Two students who hadn't heard of his arrest came to class, and a substitute was assigned to teach in Hammoudeh's place."

Hammoudeh missed teaching his Arabic class last week due to a slight inconvenience: he had just been charged with racketeering and conspiracy to murder. In fact, he was one of eight men indicted at a U.S. District Court in Florida as "material supporters of a foreign terrorist organization," that organization being Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

It is striking that three of those eight are academic specialists on Middle Eastern and Islamic subjects. Their arrests reveal to what extent Middle East studies is a field that serves as an extension of the region's radicalism.

(The other defendants teach computer engineering, manage a medical clinic, own a small business, and serve as imam in a mosque; the professional life of one defendant is unclear.)

The three instructors on Middle East topics all have establishment credentials.

All three alleged terrorists succeeded in talking the academic talk, fooling nearly everyone. Shallah wrote in 1993, in his capacity as director of WISE, that the organization's long-term goal is "to contribute to the understanding of the revivalist Islamist trends, misleadingly labeled 'fundamentalist' in Western and American academic circles." Almost any North American academic specialist on Islam could have written those same sneering and duplicitous words. Many do.

The three passed for genuine scholars. Carrie Wickham, a specialist on Egyptian Islam at Emory University, said she "felt deceived" on learning who Shallah really was and expressed surprise that "a serious intellectual counterpart" like him could also be a terrorist.

Even after the indictment, Arthur Lowrie, formerly vice-chair of USF's Committee for Middle Eastern Studies, praises Shallah for his "good scholarly work." And Gwen Griffith-Dickson, director of Islamic studies at Birkbeck, describes Nafi as "highly respected," lauding him for his efforts "with energy and commitment, to encourage critical thinking about religious issues and academic balance in his students, and thus to encourage social responsibility."

That three accused terrorists passed without suspicion as genuine Middle East studies scholars points to the crisis in this academic discipline. Middle East studies is already criticized for providing refuge to what might be called intellectual terrorists - scholars known for their extremism, intolerance, and dishonesty. Now we learn it may also harbor the real thing.

Conclusion: This field must be scrutinized very closely, especially by the U.S. Congress that funds Middle East studies.

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JWR contributor Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and the author of several books, most recently Militant Islam Reaches America. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Daniel Pipes