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November 21, 2006



Dear AA,

I think there are 2 reasons why young MESA scholars don't blog:

1. Blogging is mainly a kind of e-publishing, i.e. to say things in public. Many (if not most) pre-tenure scholars don't want to risk ruffling the feathers of advisors, tenure committees, or future hiring committees. Particularly the massive flak that Juan Cole is getting will discourage many from sticking their necks out.

2. Among many, blogging still has the status of "not serious" and thus is seen as a waste of time. Once having a blog or writing in an academic blog attain the status that authoring an article in IJMES has ... you'll see more young scholars blog.

As for the anonymity issue, again it's a question of how safe one wants to play it. Once you're tenured it's no big issue to blog under one's real name. Also, if you live in the U.S. or Europe it's fairly low-risk to speak your mind under your real name. It's different if you live in the MidEast or want to keep getting visas to, say, Syria or KSA or Iran etc.pp.

So it's easy for As'ad Abu Khalil to call for bravado - and if he is ready to face every and any consequences ... well, for the most part that'll be courageous but personally I don't sympathize much with becoming a matyr for one's ideals. And he has no right to ask others to do so.

Btw, it's actually fairly doable to blog anonymously.

Personally, I think that if MESA bloggers want to become successful there has to be more synergy. Nobody wants to have to track dozens of academic blogs on MidEast issues. There are already too many websites out there. Also, the examples of Juan and Josh exemplify how personal views can seriously affect an otherwise good blog. Juan was/is good where he assembles information on an area which he knows well - like Iraq - but does the stated aim of his blog ("informed comment") a grave disservice when he ventures into areas where he patently is out of his depth - like Lebanon - and/or where he goes on an ideological warpath, regardless how right he might be. Josh, on the other hand, is trying to be evenhanded and only claims a sense of authority in areas where he actually knows what he's talking about.

Ideally one would have a MENA blog aggregator. Qahwa Sada could include something like that, which would then also be a solution to the current dearth of articles. It's very, very hard to get people to write for one's site but it's easier to get bloggers to have their blogs featured on a group site.

Just a thought ...




it's funny, i was going to add a comment about the necessity of anonymity, or not, and immediately faced the question of whether to input my real name into the box above. I chose not to. Why not? Well, part of my comment is that I think Juan Cole is a vivid example of the ill effects of blogging. I agree with the commentator above on Cole -- it's absolutely wonderful to read him on topics of his expertise, and those are great examples of how scholarship can inform great blogging. In that, he's much like Josh Landis and the abu Aardvark blog, which to me are both state of the art for blogging as a place for academics to be public intellectuals, in the best sense. Unfortunately, at other times, Cole is worse than the worst caricature of Middle East academics who emotionally pontificate on subjects on which they have little expertise. Having a blog -- and the requisite attention and praise that have come Cole's way as a result -- would seem to reinforce the already strong impulse among academics to see themselves on experts on all things under the sun, and thereby lose humility and balance. (abu Khalil is neither a scholar nor a public intellectual of quality, and speaks only to how blogging aggressively can serve as a poor substitute for some in those regards.)

The point in re anonymity is that both Cole and abu Khalil are powerful in distinct ways, and it wouldn't be wise for anyone -- tenured or non-tenured -- to openly characterize them as I have above.


Time commitment is far from the main reason why un-tenured academics are hesitant to blog - much more important is the fact that academia is based to a great extent on fairly subjective peer review and assessment standards, and whether you're writing a grant proposal or applying for a job, you have to gain the approval of established and powerful people in your field. In a field as polemical as Middle East studies, it is easy to have important political differences, and no matter what you might like to think, it can sink you.

In short, the problem lies with academia as much as the nature of blogging (quick, error-prone, opinionated, etc etc). "Academic freedom" is a pious fiction without tenure, and those with tenure sadly tend to use this freedom to haze in the way they were hazed, though they are really the ones best placed to write or blog freely. You don't see many academics writing in newspapers and magazines either, so why should blogging be different.

Most good bloggers are journalists or activists, and this is likely to remain the case. You're an exception, AA, and sadly I don't think this will change. Blogging in the MENA region itself is much more interesting than academics re-playing academic games in a different field but with the same rules.

Tom Scudder

I'm not an academic, but I've found my own blogging restricted in recent months by the fact that I am using my real name - there's been some interesting stuff that's happened in the media world that I know about through my work connections, and don't feel would be appropriate to mention on-line, even though the story will certainly have come out by the time the next issue hits people's mailboxes in January.


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Brian Ulrich

Actually I think Juan Cole knows quite a bit about Lebanon, probably more than he knew about the Kurds before he started blogging about Iraq. He lived there for a little while, and Lebanese Shi'ism has featured in his publications. He also probably knows a lot from editing IJMES all those years. The main places I disagree with him are on Israel, where I think he reduces Israeli policies to a sort of essentialized caricature, and his rare forays into Central Asia.

The Lounsbury

Well, on anonmymity and the like, your discussion focuses on the academics. Which I am not a fan of, in grosso modo, although Bou Arfvrk is an exception.

Obviously those of us in the professional world, where the concept of "tenure" is meaningless face rather different restrictions. My comrade Tom above makes that obvious. Myself, there is much I hesitate to comment on because of potential blow back - and I am not particularly risk averse in commentary.

Abu Khalil has an activist's point of view, and his critique I consider self indulgent bordering on idiotic.

And Tom, always thought you were a fool for using your professional identity. Secret Dubai is the model for that, she's in the business as well.

Tom Scudder

L: My pro identity wasn't so closely linked to my blogging interests back in the day. Been considering a pseudonymous reboot, lately.

The Lounsbury

Do so, Bro.

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