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Op/ed: Scholars Who Study the Middle East Are Afraid to Speak Out

UMD-GWU Poll Shows Frequent Self-censorship Amid Rising Political Furor on Campuses Nationwide

By Shibley Telhami and Mark Lynch

man with zipped lip

Most scholars of the Middle East don't feel free to speak their minds, a new UMD poll found.

Photo by iStock; collage by Office of Marketing and Communications staff

A new poll conducted by the University of Maryland and George Washington University found that 82% of U.S- based researchers who focus on the Middle East self-censor when they speak professionally on their area of expertise. Among 93 respondents to the most recent Middle East Scholar Barometer, which was fielded Nov. 10-17, 81% said they hold back critiques of Israel, while 11% said they did the same with critiques of Palestinians.

In an analysis of the results published Wednesday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at UMD, and Mark Lynch, director of the Middle East studies program at George Washington University, urge campus leaders to stand up for scholars of the region, arguing that Israeli-Palestinian issues are often a “canary in the coal mine” for broader academic freedoms.

American college campuses have been at the center of charged political disputes in the weeks since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, and the subsequent attacks by Israel on Gaza. These heated debates have focused on the pressures on university presidents to take a stand, the behavior of student groups, allegations of antisemitism, and the censorship of pro-Palestinian speech. But less attention has been paid to one group directly affected by the controversies: the scholars who work on and teach about the Middle East, who every day concentrate professionally on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

How have those scholars who write, research, and teach the conflict navigated the post-October 7 wave of campus polarization? Have college and university administrators protected their freedom of speech? How do they manage the political passions and personal sensitivities of their Jewish and Palestinian students?

Read the rest in The Chronicle of Higher Education



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