Phi Beta Cons

Scholarly Imbalance at MESA

At the recent annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association, a panel on last summer’s conflict in Lebanon included no Israeli perspective. Israeli attacks on Lebanese cities were labeled “aggression,” whereas Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli cities were excused as “resistance.”

One attendee, Professor Pierre Atlas of Marian College, observed:


Conservative pundits often accuse academia of the “crime” of postmodern thinking — of denying that basic facts and certainties exist. This, they say, leads to moral relativism.

But “truth” is often multi-faceted, consisting of different and sometimes incompatible perspectives. All of history’s totalitarian movements, secular and religious, have begun with people believing that they possessed “the Truth” with a capital T. Scholarly discourse, at its best, articulates and acknowledges different understandings of the truth, and thus serves as an antidote to such absolutist thinking.
I sat stunned as the panelists asserted that there was only “one truth” to the Lebanon conflict. In that moment, my MESA colleagues sounded more like the conservative attackers of academia than the progressive, postmodern thinkers they thought themselves to be.

Candace de Russy — Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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