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Tuesday, August 27, 2002

UNC, Eat Your Heart Out

Well isn't this special. This past semester the University of Oregon offered a class in International Studies, entitled In the Wake of September 11th: Issues and Concerns.

Let's take a look at the course outline, shall we?

Week I: Introductory Class

Week II: A Primer on States, Politics and Economics of the Middle East

Week III: Islamic Attitudes toward Reform and Secularism: A Historical Perspective

Week IV: Globalization and Islamic Societies' Grievances with the Western Order Today

(The truth begins to rear its ugly noggin.)

Week V: Afghanistan, the Taliban and International Assistance, and Domestic Challenges in Pakistan & Links to Afghanistan and the Wider Muslim World

Week VI: Other States in the Mix: Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Yemen, and others

Week VII: International Law and Self-defense: Analyzing the Use of force in Afghanistan and other US options

Week VIII: The Media's Coverage of September 11th and Subsequent Events

Week IX: Effects of September 11th Events on US Foreign Policy

Week X: Effects of September 11th Events on Internal US issues

There are readings from the following authors: Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Ron Paul, Bill Moyers, and---to be fair---Bernard Lewis and David Fromkin, and a whole bunch of people I've never heard of.

(The media section is particularly interesting, since here the instructor---presumably---has provided gloss for some of the listed titles. "This is a rich source of information on media concentration and its implications for democracy." "This article briefly reviews the clash between the rise of world fundamentalisms and economic globalization, discussing how both trends undermine the possibilities for deepening world democracy.")

Conspicuous by its absence---or, at least, its proportionate absence---is the American view of things. That is, the view as the US government (if you can imagine such an continuous entity in a country where the administration changes every eight years at most) might see it. How did we get from there (the past) to here (September 11)? Most of the authors listed have their ideological axes to grind. If you believe that the US government has set out to deliberately consolidate its economic hegemony, or that it is run by oil companies for oil companies, or that it is simply a force for evil in the world, then you will find intellectual fellowship somewhere here.

But if you have a less hysterical, more balanced view---if you believe that at the very least no one of these things can be the entire explanation---then you would seem to have very little support in the readings for this class. You may take a tour of opposing and oppositional viewpoints, but I doubt you'll arrive at enlightenment.

In plain English---the instructor has weighted the class heavily in favor of September 11th being the result of harmful American foreign policy, and is choosing to cast American media and society as a whole in an unfavorable light.

(Here are a few things about the course instructor, Anita Weiss, who was in Pakistan on September 11. Here are her views on military action in Afghanistan (scroll down some). Before you click, guess what they are.

She was also present at this "Teach-In" (ugh---the Sixties are OVER, OVER do you hear!) at U. of Oregon. Googling for this course leads to a lot of similar courses or seminars at other colleges, but I didn't see any media attention.)

Perhaps the instructor expects that any American already has a naive (i.e. pro-American) view of the history of US-Arab/Islamic relations. Or perhaps she expects that a student of International Studies will already have covered that material in another class. Or possibly, this being International Studies, an American viewpoint is considered unnecessary, even disadvantageous.

If you look at the list of courses in the department, you see a heavy emphasis on the problems of "development", and a somewhat lesser emphasis on various aspects of cultural sensitivity.

While I have to resist the temptation to get carried away here, it looks as if students in this field are trained to be sensitive to others' expectations, without any thought of reciprocal effort on their part.

In other words, I don't see any courses on distorted images of the US in foreign political literature (whereas there is a class on distorted images of Southeast Asia in---presumably Western---political novels and films).

This must be where State Department employees come from.