Dear Career Counselor:

I am in bad shape. I cannot get a job or support myself. I want to be rich and famous and powerful but I have no idea what to do. Can you suggest a powerful, prestigious, high-paying field where I need do no study or training?

Signed, Destitute and Dumb

Dear D&D:

I’m so glad you wrote me as I have the perfect solution: become an expert on the Middle East and Islam. It’s easy, painless (for you, though many others will pay for it with their lives), and profitable. Just look at these examples:

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Sure they were tenured professors but they hadn’t produced anything of note in years. Then they had an idea. Write a paper attacking the power of the Jewish lobby. Years of study? Intensive research? Nah. A few hours by a grad student on the internet. Result: Fame, a huge book contract, invitations to speak, largely respectful media coverage! Within months.

Or how about Bob Leiken. A washed-up Latin American expert, former Marxist revolutionary. The left hated him because he was an instrument of Oliver North in supporting the Nicaraguan Contras. Even North made fun of him. Things got so bad he had to sell his house and move his family into an apartment. Things looked dim. And then, presto! A grant from Smith-Richardson, another grant from the CIA, two articles in Foreign Affairs, a contract with Oxford University Press. All this within about a year. Invited to brief the State Department. Why? Because he decided to be an instant Middle East expert. Did he take courses, learn languages, spend hours reading texts? Nope. Just sat in a room with some radical Islamists. They told him they were moderates. He wrote it down.

And like the great language expert, the rival of Henry Higgins, who in “My Fair Lady” proclaims that the flowerseller Eliza Doolittle is a Hungarian princess of royal blood, Leiken proclaims that the radical Islamists are really moderates who the United States can engage. Wow says Condi Rice. Do tell, asks the State Department.

Has he read their extremist statements in Arabic? Nope, who needs Arabic. How about the translations and academic papers on the subject? Waste of time. Study of Koranic and Islamic sources? That’s for wimps and suckers. All you have to do is talk to them and then you know. Because hardline supporters of terrorism who cheer the murder of people by kidnappers and suicide bombers wouldn’t lie to you, would they?

Or how about Mary Habeck? A military historian, lost her job at Yale. Hey, why is everyone else having all the fun! I’ll be an expert on the Middle East and on Islam too! So she loaded up the truck and took a brief trip to Iraq. Next thing you know she’s got a book, testifies to Congress, is briefing Hillary Clinton, and being consulted by the great and powerful. Does she know anything about Islam? She thinks that jihad is an inner struggle, not having much to do with smiting infidels and conquering lands. But what’s the difference? If you don’t want to do so you don’t have to see the dead bodies produced by your advice.

So what are you waiting for? How could you NOT decide to be a Middle East expert or a sage about Islam? You’d have to be crazy not to do it.

Our operators are standing by.

Disclaimer: This is a satire. A Barry Rubin production.

UPDATE: Life imitates Satire


  1. fp/ says:

    part of the collapse of the educational system and the west.

  2. RL says:

    you are pretty relentlessly negative. look, if the educational system had really collapsed (rather than malfunctioned significantly), then the blogosphere wouldn’t have so many intelligent sites. i think you romanticize the past. there have always been massive failures, redeemed by a small but significant number of successes. we romanticize the past in order to devalue the present.

    we’re in a crisis. that always calls out the best and worst in people. but it also clarifies things. the kind of nonsense that people like norton and esposito were selling eager optimisitic americans in the 1990s will find increasingly limited audience as things clarify.

    things in crisis do not go in linear trajectories.

  3. fp/ says:

    no, it’s not i who am relentlessly negative — REALITY is!!! i am a realist, not a wishful thinker.

    the roman empire was in a similar crisis and it did not recover. the parallels are astounding.

    in the sense in which i am operating, it is not a malfunction but a collapse. to the extent that there are knowledgeable and intelligent people/sites around (a) they exist despite, not because of the educational system (b) they are rare exceptions, not the rule (c) they are overriden by the avalanche of ignorance and stupidity, which determines events.

    but tell you what: let’s watch events and see who is right. as i always say, do me a favor and prove me wrong.

  4. fp/ says:

    incidentally, if you are right about the demopaths feeding on each other so thoroughly, what exactly is going to prevent the logical conclusion? the blogosphere? permit me to be highly skeptical, to be polite.

    there are several daily kos for every augean stables. they have an influence on the dhimmicrats, but the repugnicans are flying solo into oblivion.

  5. Colin Meade says:

    I recently talked to someone who had voted at the UCU (British academics’ union) conference for the motion to boycott their Israeli counterparts. He told me that he had been mightily impressed by the “fact” that so many of the pro-boycott speechs had come from people who had visited the region, whereas their opponents employed abstract arguments. This is another instance of the impact of instant pseudo-expertise, I think.

    Colin, welcome back to the comments pages. I wonder how much that argument is specious in any case. Amir Hanifes, a Druze graduate of Haifa found that these folks who tell you they privilege eye-witness reports, weren’t in the slightest bit interested in his testimony. I’d be surprised if the anti-boycott arguments were so “abstract” — unless “this is not going to help peace” is considered abstract. in which case we are dealing with both/either a) people with limited ability to think, and/or b) people whose real agenda has nothing to do with “evidence.”

  6. Cynic says:

    you are pretty relentlessly negative.

    Cynical? :-)

    I thought James Baker was a “realist”.
    Yup, the educational system leaves a lot to be desired when such confusion reigns.

  7. fp/ says:

    a cynic is what a realist is for the optimist.

    in one sense baker is: he probably detects that the US is on the way out and he wnats to talk its way out of defeat, so that he can salvage his deals and power.

    but in another sense he is not: because he does not have a clue about the enemy (poor education) he deludes himself regarding such ability of the US.

  8. N00man says:

    The medieval texts I study are full of complaints about false counselors enriching themselves by telling their betters what they wish to hear.

  9. Richard Landes says:

    to N00man:

    the lauzengiers, the hypocritical slanderers and flatterers are a theme of trobador poetry.

    probably the best embodiment of them is Tokleins’ Grima Wormtongue, who literally paralyzed King Theoden of Rohan with his poisonous advice.

    the more i think of it, we’re dealing with a massive attack of hypocrisy — above all, from the Palestinians — and a radical inability to detect the danger of not resisting that hypocrisy.

    it’s one thing to fall prey to ingratiating hypocrites who just want to take advantage of your generosity. but to fall prey to hypocrites who wish your ruin… that’s just incredibly stupid.

  10. Richard Landes says:

    as for cynics, pessimists, and realists — it doesn’t take much intelligence to be a cynic and a pessimist, all it takes is a good eye for the obvious (ie a refusal to deny the evidence). but to be an optimist and a realist takes much more effort.

    there are ways out of these, even relatively non-violent ones. the west still has by far the overwhelming advantage. we just need the will to respond firmly.

  11. fp\ says:

    hard to reconcile your 10 and 11.

    being an optimist is actually the easiest, because it’s part of the self-preservation instinct. it is much harder to be a cynic or a realist in bad times: first, psychologically, for going against the instinct and second, socially, because the vast majority goes by the instinct and dislikes/dismisses those who insist to make it face reality.

    it’s not the currently optimistic about the us and west’s future that are gonna stop the decline.

  12. Cynic says:

    … the west still has by far the overwhelming advantage. we just need the will to respond firmly.

    And that’s where the doubt lies – in the will of the west to do something positive and not just sacrifice many for short term gains (my understanding of Baker’s realism).
    Certainly today’s leaders do not inspire optimism.

  13. fp\ says:

    cynic, the understatement of the year.

    what leaders, where?

  14. fp\ says:

    you mean these leaders?

  15. Eliyahu says:

    RL, hypocrisy and lying are both expressions of falsehood. They both mean bad faith, Sartre’s mauvaise foi [if I am correct about Sartre], etc. Both lying and hypocrisay can be seen as two sides of the same coin. However, let’s look at them as opposite ends of a continuum joining two kinds of falsehood. In this situation, I would see Westerners, particularly European politicians, as hypocrites. They are far from making the gross lies that are so commonly uttered by Arabs. Their hypocrisy involves pretending to hold and honor values that they in fact don’t honor.

    On the other hand, Arabs lie very often and grossly and extravagantly, and about matters that are clear cut and should be undeniable, about concrete matters. For instance, an Arab craftsman working for a building company was supposed to come to my place at 10 AM Tuesday to do some repairs. He made the appointment with my wife. However, he didn’t show up until 12 noon on Wednesday. And not only did he not apologize or express regret for not coming at the appointed time, but he denied having agreed to come at 10 am Tuesday and insisted that the appointment was for 12 noon Wednesday. That’s lying about something very clear and concrete. It’s lying but –in my view– not especially hypocritical.

    On the other hand, Europeans are full of fine talk about peace, development, transparency, human rights, but in practice these are just words. They pretend to be your friend, to want to help, to regret the Holocaust, etc. But they facilitate the terrorist and mass murder activity of the Arabs. In my view, without EU and other Western support, the Arabs would not engage in nearly as much terrorist mass murder as they do.
    The Talmud is pretty clear about which is worse: An ancient Jewish king told his wife on his deathbed: Don’t fear the Pharisees and don’t fear those who are not Pharisees. The ones to fear are the hypocrites.

    – – – – –
    By the way, I quoted the above Talmudic story to Avrum Burg in a conversation. He didn’t like it.

  16. Richard Landes says:

    Posted for Joanne:

    How is it that “experts” with such limited knowledge avoid scrutiny so easily? Don’t staffers at television stations or on Capitol Hill research their backgrounds, looking past their new-found fame?

    On a related note, I’ve always wondered about two things when it comes to area specialists in academia.

    First is the ideological component. It seems to me that when an academic becomes associated with a particular methodological approach or ideology, he has a stake in defending that approach or ideology. After all, his own professional standing is tied in with it. You don’t see many major philosophical changes in mid-career. As a result, it’s easy to stop questioning one’s own assumptions and to concentrate on attacking those of one’s adversaries.

    Second, how can an academic stay independently minded when he is dependent on certain colleagues or institutions for research grants, appointments, access to journals for publication, etc.? I would think that he’d also have to enjoy some favor in the country or region he covers—for access to grants, universities, archives, libraries, government officials, even visas. It would be possible to function without being favored by foreign governments or colleagues. Martin Kramer writes about the Arab world with apparently few problems. But I can’t help thinking that Rashid Khalidi and John Esposito have an easier time of it—at home and in the Middle East.

    I would imagine that journalists and writers have similar pressures. Any major questioning of long-held opinions could incur professional ostracism, especially if journalists/writers are associated with media outlets or publishers with pronounced points of view. Journalists/writers also need access to the regions and countries they cover, and they have the added pressure of tighter deadlines.

  17. fp\ says:

    There is no better evidence of the collapse of the educational system than the ME studies. You ought to read Martin Kramer on MESA, Beinin, Pappe, Morris, Esposito, Finkelstein, Cole, Massad, Makdisi et. al.

    Here’s what he wrote in 2002:

    If you wanna know why our ME policy is so successful, there it is. Leiken guy is the “expert” that the govt has consulted on “engaging” the Muslim Brotherhood.

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