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Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Theatre of Life: Remapping the Middle East at the LSE (“Libyan School of Extremism”?)

The motto of the London School of Economics (LSE) is “rerum causas cognoscere”: to know the causes of things. In my Amsterdam home the LSE coffee-mug carrying this motto is practically an extension of my right hand. As an LSE alumnus, I regularly receive LSE's public-relations journal LSE-Connect. On page 28, its latest issue (Summer 2011), carries an apology by the editor. The object for the apology is a piece on the LSE's Middle East Centre which had appeared in LSE-Connect's Winter-issue. This item had contained a map of the Middle East which omitted the name of a country that should have been on it: That country was Israel.

The editor of LSE- Connect, Claire Sanders, makes the point that this omission gave rise to negative reactions from many LSE alumni. As a result she apologizes for any offence caused. She also goes on to say that the map in question had not been provided by the Middle East Centre whose task is quality research on all countries in the Middle East, including Israel. The editor goes on to inform her readers that the omission was an oversight and has been “put right” on the electronic version of the magazine on the LSE's web-site. Putting it right however did not involve adding Israel to the map but removing the map altogether from the item on the Middle East Centre on the web edition of LSE-Connect magazine. The editor further emphasises that the erroneous map had not been provided by the LSE Middle East Centre.

So, does someone who has been taught at the LSE believe he now knows “the things and their causes”? Let's look at things first. Let's assume that all we are told by LSE-Connect's editor is true. If so, does she tell her readers all that is relevant?

Unfortunately not. A little research turns up additional relevant facts that throw doubts on the causes put forward:

  • A separate map of the Middle East on the Middle East Centre's website also omitted Israel's name. So even if the map used by LSE Connect was not the same, the map of the LSE centre had made the same mistake.

  • When alumni pointed out this mistake to the then Director of the LSE, Howard Davies, he stated that it had been an oversight by the printers. He also stated that The Middle East Centre had “corrected the error” on its website by removing the map (and not by putting in a corrected map).

  • Two out of 4 members of the Management of the LSE Middle East Centre are prominent campaigners for the boycott of Israeli Universities. The Middle East Centre states that it aims to work with universities in the countries of the Middle East that it is researching. How credible is this, if half of its management is committed to boycotting universities in Israel? What coincidence that the printer made his mistake just on this country!

  • A critical report on the LSE's Middle East Centre was published in February by the NGO Student Rights which fights extremism on campus. ( I am a member of its advisory board).

Well, perhaps these are just too many coincidences for an LSE alumnus who is proud to have studied at the LSE and was encouraged to look at “things and their causes”. The apology which suppresses relevant facts is more appropriate for an institution whose mascot is a weasel rather than the LSE whose heraldic animal is the beaver. An institution whose current interim Director was the head of its Geography Department, Professor Judith Rees, should be able to correct errors on a map by producing an accurate one (not just removing the faulty one altogether). The gaping holes that once had incomplete maps of the Middle East should swiftly be replaced with maps showing all the countries of the Middle East correctly.

My LSE coffee mug is still in Amsterdam; but I suspect even a mug would find it difficult to take certain explanations proffered by the LSE at face value.

Motto of the London School of Economics

1 comment:

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