Ivory Towers on Sand

The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America

Martin Kramer
Release Date: June 30, 2001

In the days immediately following the heinous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the American media turned to Middle East “experts” for over-the-airwaves analysis of the motivation, rationale, and ideology of the perpetrators-and, at times, for advice on what the United States should do in response. Not since the Gulf War a decade ago had so many academics been brought before the cameras and the microphones. Some were insightful, informed, and informative. Many, however, were superficial, misguided, and plain wrong.

On campuses throughout the United States, thousands of professors study and teach the Middle East. They fill the pages of journals, the shelves of libraries, and the minds of students with their paradigms, theories, and predictions. In Middle East crises, the media seek their opinions. Their enterprise is deemed a national resource: the federal government subsidizes over a dozen academic centers devoted to the Middle East.

Yet for the past twenty years, Middle Eastern studies in America have been factories of error. The academics, blinded by their own prejudices and enslaved to the fashions of the disciplines, have failed to anticipate or explain any of the major developments in the Middle East. Within the field, hardly a voice dares to protest, but beyond it, each debacle chips away at academic’s credibility. Middle Eastern studies have failed–at a time when understanding the Middle East has become crucial to America.

In this iconoclastic exposé, Martin Kramer surveys the ruins of Middle Eastern studies, to ask how and why they went wrong. Ivory Towers on Sand is the most thorough critique of Middle Eastern studies ever published in the United States–and a necessary step toward their reconstruction.