In our discussion of Marc Lynch’s use of the word “illegal” to describe Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Shamus Brady ’04 had this to say:

When you or anyone else here becomes an expert on the Middle East (as he is) then you can debate him. Until then shut it…and have a nice day.

There are two things wrong with this, one small and one large. The small thing is that Lynch is not an “expert” on the Middle East. As his CV makes clear, his expertise — i.e., those areas in which he has published scholarly books and articles — is much more focussed on the Arab world, especially Jordan and Iraq, with an emphasis on the public sphere. Lynch knows, of course, much more about the Middle East in general (including Israel) than I or the vast majority of people at Williams. But more knowledge does not equal expertise.

Yet that is a mere quibble. Allow me to grant that Lynch is the world’s greatest expert on the Middle East. No one anywhere knows more than he does. Does it follow from this that he is always right? Does it follow that I should change all my opinions to agree with his? Does it follow that it would be a waste of time for him to debate me, or anyone that knows less than he does?


If it did, then Brady would certainly have an easy time of things. Instead of trying to form his own opinions about tax policy or the financing of higher education or military strategy, he could just go ask the experts. Since there is no point in debating the “experts,” he should just take dictation from Professors Bradburd, Schapiro and Wood — experts all — on what to think.

The fallacy here is too tedious to walk through [Thank goodness! — ed], but the point remains. Just because Lynch (or any Williams professor or any other expert) says that “X is true” does not mean that “X is true.” Of course, there are a spectrum of possible X’s to consider. I am much more likely to accept it as fact if Lynch were to say that “About 100,000 Israelis live in the West Bank” then if he claims that “Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal,” much less when he writes that “the administration needs to engage the new Arab public sphere that has emerged.”

All these X’s may be true. All may be false. Yet it is left to me to ask questions, follow references, consider arguments and come to my own conclusions. If Lynch declines to answer any questions — to even provide citations to the factual claims that he is making — then he not the sort of professor, much less the sort of expert, that Brady should be spending time with.

Brady seems to be leaving Williams with precisely the wrong attitude about how best to form your own opinions about important issues of the day. Listen to the experts, by all means; but make up your own mind.

Print  •  Email