Monday, August 11, 2003

Saudi Money and Middle East Studies

Given all the coverage the classified 28 pages from the 9/11 report is getting, it makes sense we'll start hearing more about the corruption of Middle East Studies by Saudi funding. Martin Kramer once wrote about this here. The basic argument is that scholars of the Middle East avoid studying Saudi Arabia in the hopes that some Saudi royal will give money to your institution.

To be honest, there is a dearth of scholarship about Saudi Arabia, but I don't think that's the explanation. What is? In order to do serious research about a country, you have to go there armed with access and research clearance. It is very difficult to get into Saudi Arabia: When I was in Jordan, one guy wanted to go there for religious reasons, and had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get his visa. In addition, Saudi Arabia is not notoriously open to outside scrutiny. As a grad student with no agenda other than my own academic interests and career, I wouldn't want to gamble my future on a dissertation proposal that required Saudi approval before I could proceed.

Academic departments aren't like corporations. Especially once you have tenure, you can go research whatever you want, and I just can't picture department meetings where everyone agrees not to look to closely at Saudi Arabia, especially given the potential book sales and speaking fees you could get personally if you do a good job at it. Maybe there's something somewhere in all these charges, but I can think of many other explanations which make sense based on my experiences.


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