Thinking that now is a good time to review the Forum’s development over the past decade, I’d like briefly to recall our beginnings and provide an overview of our current efforts, all in the context of current Middle East issues.
Why did we start this organization on that memorably icy day in January, 1994? Because we saw a gap and sought to fill it. That was just four months after the Oslo accords, a time when most specialists and policymakers were wearing rosy-tinted glasses – prophesying an Arab-Israeli peace breakthrough, subsiding radicalism in the Middle East, enhanced economic cooperation, and so on.
We were skeptical and made this known from the outset, pioneered issues and points of view, such as the bad faith of the Palestinian leadership; the Syrian regime’s unwillingness to conclude a peace agreement with Israel; the threat of militant Islam against America and the West. The inaugural issue of our journal, the Middle East Quarterly, caused a mild sensation in March, 1994, with a lead article by Hilal Khashan asking the unseemly question, “Are the Arabs Ready for Peace With Israel?”
And here are two examples from my own writing:
Within days of the Oslo accord signing in the White House, I wrote that “Mr. Arafat has merely adopted a flexible approach to fit circumstances, saying whatever needed to be said to survive. The PLO has not had a change of heart – merely a change of policy … enabling it to stay in business until Israel falters, when it can deal a death blow.”
In 1995, I wrote, “Unnoticed by most Westerners, war has been unilaterally declared [by militant Islam] on Europe and the United States.”
Today, this outlook is widely accepted. Back then, it was not, and we set out to invigorate the public debate by promoting a new and sound definition of American interests, addressing issues that others neglected, publishing a journal in which those topics could be examined, and taking advantage of our location outside Washington, D.C., to look at the larger picture and bring fresh perspectives on policy.
Our start was modest; Al Wood, Amy Shargel, and I conjured up the Forum while sitting around my kitchen table. We had $25,000 in the bank; one secretary; and we worked for reduced or no salary. We worked the first six months out of a “home office” – my house. My dining room, study, children’s room, and guest room served as MEF world headquarters. Those early days demanded endless hours and involved some rough moments, as we forwarded a more skeptical approach to the Middle East. Frankly, this doubtful approach had a tough time getting heard.
Today, the issues that galvanized us ten years ago – such as militant Islam’s jihad against the United States of America, the persistence of Palestinian hostility to Israel, the unacceptability of Saddam Hussein’s rule, the need to address Syrian treachery and adventurism, and the danger posed by Islamist groups operating in the United States – are among the dominant national U.S. political issues. Our work is no longer a somewhat arcane specialist’s concern; it is now the vital area of foreign policy (and, increasingly, domestic policy too). We no longer need to worry about getting heard. The challenge now is to find enough hours in the day to get all the work down.
Operationally, things have also changed dramatically. No more lugging files up and down three flights of steps. Currently located in downtown Philadelphia, we recently expanded our office to accommodate a growing staff that now numbers fifteen, plus student interns (fifteen on-site and five off-site this past Summer). We raised almost $1 million in 2003. The Forum now boasts boards in four cities (Boston, Cleveland and New York, in addition to Philadelphia), with plans for a fifth in Los Angeles.
Have we succeeded? While much remains to be accomplished, the Forum’s voice is heard in a wide range of circles, governmental, media, and academic, as the following suggests:
Research & Publications
Publishing – books, features, columns – was from the beginning essential to our work. After 9/11, interest in our work increased dramatically and with it opportunities to publish. My own writing reflects this interest, with two books out in two years (Militant Islam Reaches America and Miniatures), a weekly column that appears in a number of newspapers and is regularly translated into 6-8 languages, and a web-log.
The Middle East Quarterly, now edited by Martin Kramer, continues to be a cutting-edge journal, bridging the scholarly and public divide. We have placed a wide range of the highest profile leaders, diplomats, and scholars under the microscope: interviewees in the Quarterly over the years have ranged from Tariq Aziz to Yitzhak Shamir. In addition to the Quarterly, we now co-publish the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, edited by Gary Gambill, and have an active listserv, MEFnews.
Our four websites – www.meforum.org, www.Campus-Watch.org, www.MEIB.org, and www.DanielPipes.org – attract an astounding 3 to 4 million readers a year – by far the highest number for any organization providing Middle East-focused information.
Public Lecture Series.
From the beginning, we sought to advance public understanding of the Middle East by sponsoring lively programs with leading figures. Today these events take place in four cities – the Robert Guzzardi Lecture Series in Philadelphia, the Middle East Briefings in New York, and programs in Boston and Cleveland -- and often receive coverage from television and print media. Our programs have included heads of state, leaders of the opposition, and leaders of the opposition who are now in power, as well as a wide array of American politicians and analysts.
There is, of course, much about the Forum today that stands no comparison to ten years ago. An example is Campus Watch (CW), an initiative in operation only 17 months that exposes lapses in professionalism in Middle East studies in North American universities, especially its guild, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). The subject of a front page article in the January 13, 2004, issue of the Washington Post, CW focuses on five areas: analytical failures; the mixing of politics with scholarship; intolerance of alternative views; apologetics; and the abuse of power over students. Staffed by Jonathan Harris and Asaf Romirowsky, CW’s influence has provoked this lament from a Middle East writer in the Lebanese Daily Star: “You can’t mention MESA without mentioning its nemesis: Campus Watch.”
Our efforts have caught on among college students who frequently report their travails to us, ask for guidance in dealing with the radicalized faculty, or contact our Campus Speakers Bureau to invite MEF staff to give talks. In addition, students at Yale and Brandeis have formed MEF Clubs, adopting the MEF mission statement as their own in an effort to bring more balanced voices to their campuses.
Our success has made us the target of much hostility; and, while this is not pleasant, especially given its crude nature, the name-calling, and the inaccuracies, noisy opposition has given us much publicity and thus an unprecedented opportunity to get our views heard. Two examples from 2003 illustrate this point:
Another interesting indication of this visibility: I am one of the very few analysts in any field with over 100,000 citations at google.com.
In a decade, we have come a long way, from the periphery to center stage, from humble beginnings to a multifaceted operation.
Two things alone determine our success and future impact: our elbow-grease and the resources supporters make available to us.
In closing, I thank those who have made the MEF’s work possible through generous funding motivated by a far-sighted concern with some of the most dangerous issues facing the United States of America. Bolstered by the confidence in us, we remain determined to promote American interests and to face the challenges in the next decade.
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
The Middle East & the Arabs
The Middle East & the Problem of Iraq
The Problem of Rogue States:
Iraq as a Case History
The Middle East & the Problem of Syria
The Middle East & the Problem of Iran
Islamism & Jihadism:
The Threat of Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
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War & Peace in the Real World
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * France
Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control