Critics of Campus Watch often apply the label “McCarthyism” to our project.
John Esposito of Georgetown University disparages Campus Watch as “the rantings of a self-appointed McCarthyite organization.” Asma Barlas, of Ithaca College finds that “It’s precisely this kind of McCarthyism that is most detrimental to being a good citizen of America.” “A horrid form of cyber-McCarthyism” complains Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi. “An exercise in McCarthyism,” declares Ralph M. Coury of Fairfield University. “All of this reeked of McCarthyism and I considered it a gross attack on the freedom of expression,” intones Khaled Fahmy of New York University. Laurie King-Irani, former editor of Middle East Report magazine, dubs it the “McCarthyist Campus Watch website.” Eric Foner of Columbia and Glenda Gilmore of Yale write in the Los Angeles Times that Campus Watch’s call for outsiders to keep an eye on Middle Eastern studies “conjures up memories of World War I and the McCarthy era.”
Which raises the question: Is there any similarity between Campus Watch and McCarthyism? To answer this question requires a look at what McCarthyism was, and at what Campus Watch is. One must then compare the two to see if there are any points in common.
DEFINING MCCARTHYISM The term McCarthyism originated with the actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-57) of Wisconsin, four years after his first election in 1946. McCarthy was both famous and feared on account of his relentless campaign against Americans he perceived as communists.
His effort began in 1950, at a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he announced he had a list of 205 covert communists working in the State Department. The claims were dubious, as McCarthy could not provide evidence of criminal activity or espionage among those named. Indeed, the number 205 would become 108 and even later 57, but the senator never acknowledged the change. Nonetheless, his charges fueled the fears of communism in America. McCarthy parlayed these sentiments into a winning reelection theme in 1952 and subsequently ascended to the chairmanship of the Government Operations Committee, the Senate’s permanent investigative arm at the time. As chairman of this powerful committee, he held sensational hearings that propelled him to the forefront of the “Red Scare” debate.
In 1952-54, McCarthy’s committee investigated government departments and employees whom he accused of being members of the Communist party. Soon, a pattern became clear: Witnesses could either undergo further career-damaging public harassment, or lend credence to McCarthy’s efforts by naming other members of the party. McCarthy’s attacks ruined hundreds of careers in government and academia on the flimsiest evidence; both the press and his colleagues decried his inability to provide real evidence, but to little avail.
McCarthy was vicious to opponents and most politicians shrunk from criticizing him. One exception was Connecticut senator William Benton. Benton’s counterattack prompted McCarthy and his supporters to allege that he had protected communists while serving as assistant secretary of state, an allegation that played no small part in Benton’s defeat in the 1952 elections.
In 1954, McCarthy overreached, accusing the U.S. Army of concealing evidence of Communist espionage. The Army fought back, countercharging that the senator and his staff sought preferential treatment for an aide. President Eisenhower, who had tired of McCarthy’s tactics, gave the green light for Vice President Richard Nixon publicly to criticize the senator, thereby marking the beginning of the end for the Wisconsin senator’s campaign.
Growing opposition to the lack of evidence and the blind malice evident in McCarthy’s attacks eventually prompted the Senate to condemn him by a vote of 67-22 on December 2, 1954. With this rebuke, and with the Democrats in control of Congress after the 1954 elections, McCarthy’s power diminished rapidly before his early death in 1957.
“McCarthyism,” therefore, contains two key attributes: undocumented, unfounded accusations that damage a person’s career, and accusations charged by someone in a position of authority.
INTRODUCING CAMPUS WATCH The nature of Campus Watch is best summed up by the mission statement:
Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum [a private, Philadelphia-based think tank], reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.
Campus Watch came into existence when it became apparent to MEF scholars that academic specialists on the Middle East had created a closed and insular environment, admitting only certain viewpoints and doing their best to close off alternate views. Other problems include the avoidance of important topics, such as militant Islamic violence, and the common practice of presenting an activist propaganda in the classroom. These and other glaring problems were elucidated in the pages of a book by Martin Kramer entitled Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.
The Campus Watch website offers proof of these failures. The site brings together information from a wide variety of sources (professors’ writings, scholarly organizations, the national press, student newspapers, and original research by Campus Watch itself). It also contains a large number of articles about Campus Watch, ranging from flattering to critical. Additionally, in an effort to stay current with campus debates, the site solicits information from students, faculty and others relating to Middle Eastern studies.
CAMPUS WATCH VS. MCCARTHYISM From the two accounts above, the differences between Campus Watch and McCarthyism are numerous and obvious. Campus Watch is not a government activity or associated with any government organization. Campus Watch has no legislative or judiciary authority. It cannot dictate to any educational institution hiring or firing decisions. Campus Watch lacks any coercive powers. Campus Watch has no intention that any scholars lose a position or be deprived of freedom of speech. Rather, it seeks to spur discussion of what it perceives as a faulty, extremist, intolerant, apologetic, and abusive record in Middle East studies. Campus Watch regularly proves its belief in freedom of speech by publishing views at odds with its own. In fact, all the statements above accusing CW of McCarthyism are available at www.Campus-Watch.org. Campus Watch is in the business of providing very specific information; a quick look at www.Campus-Watch.org shows the extent of its documentation. Campus Watch analyses are heavily referenced and fully footnoted. Campus Watch does not label or otherwise engage in spurious accusations or calumnies against its opponents.
There is, in short, not a single element in common between McCarthyism and Campus Watch. Three experts on McCarthyism confirm this opinion. Sam Tanenhaus, author of a biography of Whittaker Chambers, states that McCarthyism was essentially “an attack on government from within government.” He notes “the legacy of McCarthyism lives on in the extremist faction of the current anti-war ‘movement’ rather than in Campus Watch.” Harvey Klehr, professor of politics and history at Emory University, coauthor of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, notes, “The charge of McCarthyism is the last refuge of academics who are losing an argument.” Klehr finds that, “In Middle Eastern Studies academics who have enforced their own orthodoxies on numerous departments and programs are quick to label anyone such as Daniel Pipes or Martin Kramer who dares to criticize them as McCarthyites. Instead of slandering critics they should try to answer their arguments.” Ron Radosh, professor emeritus of history at Queensborough Community College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and coauthor of The Rosenberg File and The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism, writes, “It is actually in the tradition of what I call left-wing McCarthyism that the critics of Campus Watch are acting. Accurately citing and reprinting the views of professors, and making known their own point of view from their own writing, is definitely not McCarthyism.” Radosh continues, “Ironically, the very tactic of guilt by association and smears used by Senator McCarthy has now been adopted by the academic left-wing, who seek to stifle debate and free discussion by resorting to unfounded smears of their critics.”
Campus Watch finds it particularly distressing that professors of U.S. history such as Columbia’s Eric Foner, Yale’s Glenda Gilmore, who are supposed to know better, feel free to throw around this misplaced charge of McCarthyism.
Accordingly, we call upon professors to cease their unfounded incriminations of Campus Watch, to emerge from behind their ivory towers, and to answer our charges. Improvement in Middle Eastern studies will begin only when Campus Watch’s legitimate critiques are answered in full, and positive steps are taken to correct them.