Twin Towers and Ivory Towers

The twin towers are still standing -- not in New York, but in Israel! They are fifty and forty-six stories tall -- side-by-side near the main highway in Tel Aviv. Are those twin towers still standing because Israel is surrounded by friendly nations? Hardly! Recently the Associated Press reported that two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine planned to detonate a massive car bomb designed to topple the towers -- but officials apprehended them in time. The Weekly Standard adds that in Israel, "That happens on almost a daily basis, though most of the failed or intercepted plots never make it to trial or into the media . . ." From all indications, AP didn't report the August attempt until September 23 -- apparently because it took the New York attack to make the other attempts "newsworthy." Well, if Tel Aviv's twin towers are still standing, despite almost daily threats to them and to other terrorist targets in Israel -- why have those in New York fallen? Why was aviation security so lax that, for example, four-inch knives were legitimate carry- on items? Dr. Martin Kramer wrote a book before the attacks that has gained relevance because of the attacks. Kramer is editor of the Middle Eastern Quarterly and director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. His new book is Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Dr. Kramer says, ". . . American academics have failed to predict or explain the evolutions of Middle Eastern politics over the past two decades. . . . Time and again, academics have been taken by surprise by their subjects; time and again, their paradigms have been swept away by events. . . . In Washington, the mere mention of academic Middle Eastern studies often causes eyes to roll." Why? Kramer says most academics misunderstand the growing role of Islam in the culture and politics of the Middle East -- because the academic field is dominated by scholars searching for signs of secular, democratic, and populist movements in the Arab world. Since they prefer to see these signs, they think they do see them. To someone wearing "ideological blinders," wishing makes it so.
  1. Stephen Humphreys, a Middle Eastern historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara, agrees. He says his field has mistakenly regarded Islam as "something of residual cultural importance and declining political salience." In other words, scholars with secular worldviews prefer to see the world as becoming increasingly secular as all religions wane. Their preconceptions cause them to imagine that that's what they're seeing. But they're not seeing anything of the sort. They're dreaming it and it's past time for them to awaken from their dream.
Listeners have occasionally wondered if I might be overemphasizing the issue of "worldview." Is it really all that important? Well, the worldview of some academics may have led them to give America inadequate, inaccurate information -- and to overlook key factors about the nature of the terrorist threat to America. If they had viewed the world differently, maybe -- just maybe -- the view of New York might be like Tel Aviv -- a view with twin towers still standing. For further reading: "The Other Twin Towers," The Weekly Standard, October 8, 2001 "Author Blames Scholarly Orthodoxy for 'Repeated Failures' of Middle East Studies in U.S.," The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription Website) Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America (Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 2001, ISBN 0-944029-49-3).


Chuck Colson


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