Middle East Studies Association

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The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a private, non-profit, non-political learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world. [1] It has drawn criticism from principally American conservative groups that believe it underestimates the danger of militant Islam and presents an unbalanced view on campus; at least one competing academic organization, Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, has formed.[2]

Earlier, however, MESA was joined by the American Association of University Professors Committee on Academic Freedom in investigating harassment of scholars and disruption of academic freedom.[3]

From its inception in 1966 with 50 founding members, MESA has increased its membership to more than 3,000 and now serves as an umbrella organization for more than sixty institutional members and thirty-nine affiliated organizations. The association is a constituent society of the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Council of Area Studies Associations, and a member of the National Humanities Alliance.[1]

As part of its goal to advance learning, facilitate communication and promote cooperation, MESA sponsors an annual meeting that is a leading international forum for scholarship, intellectual exchange and pedagogical innovation. It is responsible for the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the MESA Bulletin and a quarterly newsletter.

Its journal refused an ad from Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, which accused it

Based in the Arizona desert, insiders say it breaks through the wall of silence imposed on its members by Campus Watch through stealth outreach efforts that include: frequent appearances on national and international broadcast and cable news networks and radio; articles and citations in newspapers and magazines from around the world; countless classes involving thousands of students on thousands of university campuses worldwide; thousands of publications, including academic and non-academic journals and books; and frequent public speaking gigs in every state and province and scores of foreign countries.

The organization is known to be a fearless defender of academic freedom, even in the face of intense internal pressure to increase its intellectual diversity. This spirit is exemplified by former MESA president Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, who once said, “The FBI should investigate how Walid Phares, an undistinguished academic with links to far right-wing Lebanese groups and the Likud clique, became the ‘terrorism analyst’ at MSNBC.”[4]

Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, a publication of the Middle East Forum, wrote a book, available online, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.[5] Kramer proposes to cut off U.S. Department of Education Title VI funding to Middle East area studies programs, increased after the 9/11 attack, and redirect it to a new Defense Department program.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Description, Middle East Studies Association of North America
  2. Cinnamon Stillwell (8 July 2008), "Truth About Islam in Academia?", Middle East Forum
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kristine McNeil (11 November 2002), "The War on Academic Freedom", The Nation
  4. Winfield Myers (7 November 2007), "MESA Turns Down Campus Watch Ad", FrontPageMagazine.com
  5. Martin Kramer (2001), Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, ISBN 0-944029-49-3