Across the Bay

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Experts and Access

Picking up on my previous post, Michael Young elaborates further:

[F]ew of those writing on Hezbollah bothered to search beyond what the party told them about Mughniyah—and even came to internalize the party line on him.
This is emblematic of a wider problem. Hezbollah has been very adept at turning contacts with the party into a supposedly valuable favor. Scholars, particularly in the West, who can claim to have a Hezbollah contact are already regarded as “special” for having penetrated a closed society, so that readers are less inclined to judge critically the merits of what the scholars got out of Hezbollah. The same goes for book editors. Since Hezbollah denied knowing Mughniyah, few were willing to say “This is rubbish, I’m going to push further.” The mere fact of getting that denial was regarded as an achievement—one the authors were not about to jeopardize by calling Hezbollah liars.

The issue of "access" and its potential (yet fairly regular) detrimental effects on scholarship is equally applicable to academics working with regimes. The examples from the Syrian case are easily observable.