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The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the principal professional organization for academic scholars whose subject is the Middle East, was established in 1966 with 50 founding members. This private, non-profit organization now has more than 2,600 members, including 60 institutional members and 39 affiliated organizations. It is associated with the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Council of Area Studies Associations; it is also a member of the National Humanities Alliance.
While MESA promotes itself as a "non-political organization," its membership is dominated by anti-America, anti-Israel leftists who are apologists for Islamic terrorism. For example, on February 22, 2002, MESA issued a statement on behalf of its Board of Directors in support of Sami Al-Arian, the University of South Florida professor who was once the North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
Each year, MESA members convene at a conference where hundreds of papers are presented and many discussions are held regarding Middle East history and contemporary relevant issues. These conferences are commonly used by anti-Semites as forums to air their views.
For example, Professor Rebecca Luna Stein of Duke University, an outspoken critic of what she characterizes as unwarranted American and Israeli "violence" against Palestinians, made a presentation titled "Invasion, Occupation, and Other Tourist Practices" at the 2004 MESA conference. Dr. Ilan Pappe of Haifa University made a presentation titled "The Right of Return, [Palestinian] Statehood and Reconciliation." Pappe is a revisionist historian who has likened Israel to Hitler's Nazi regime.
MESA has refused to focus attention on the problem of Islamic extremism and the violence it breeds. At the 2002 annual MESA conference in Washington, DC, only one of the 500 papers presented addressed the topic of al Qaeda terrorism. Not a single paper examined the phenomenon of militant Islam. Palestinian suicide bombings targeting Israelis were labeled as acts of "resistance." The 9/11 attacks were mentioned only in the context of the Arab suffering that allegedly spawned them. Professor Joel Beinin said, “MESA members … did not participate much in the scholarly field of terrorology. In my view, there was great wisdom in this abstention. The terrorologists have not … enhanced our understanding of the causes of such acts. What they have done is to focus attention on tactics and symptoms, thereby impeding investigation into historical and social causes."
The pattern had been much the same in 2003. MESA's four-day conference that year featured nearly 300 papers, panels, and presentations, yet the words "terror", "terrorist," "terrorism," and "suicide bombing" were not mentioned once.
Among MESA's most prominent figures are its past Presidents John Esposito and Rashid Khalidi, who have set the tone not only for the organization's dismissal of the Islamic terrorist threat, but also for MESA's condemnation of American policies. Khalidi objects to President George W. Bush's use of the term "'terrorism' to justify [anti-terror] measures which are blatantly unconstitutional." Esposito, a longtime advocate of political power for Islamic fundamentalists, advises Jews and other Westerners to reject the "irrational fear of terrorism" that he claims the U.S. government promotes. Just prior to 9/11, Esposito likened that fear to Americans' supposedly unfounded concerns regarding the Soviet threat during the Cold War.
In 2004, MESA President Laurie Brand delivered an address titled "Scholarship in the Shadow of Empire," a denunciation of America's alleged ambition to gain hegemony over large portions of the globe on the pretext of increasing national security. "Imperial expansion is justified [by the U.S. government] based on the exigencies of prosecuting a war against terrorism," said Brand. "… The attacks of September 11, 2001 provided those sectors of government and industry nostalgic for the Manichean simplicity and lucrative military contracts of the Cold War a convenient ideological replacement. Like its predecessor, the war on terror ... is said to require … 'sweeping new programs of domestic surveillance, rearmament, foreign base expansion and military operations.'" She asked rhetorically, "What greater abdication of responsibility, as both citizen and scholar than to remain silent in the face of [alleged American transgressions at] Guantánamo, Abu Ghrayb, and Fallujah[?]"
Another notable past President of MESA is Lisa Anderson.