The Language Gap
Why Middle Eastern linguists are hard to find, even though the government has been funding the field.
In any case, if the demise of the bill promotes discussion of other ways to capitalize on, and sustain, the spike in interest in Middle East languages, that will be all to the good. The bill's author, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., who was recently appointed chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, thinks the solution might be to cut out the middleman altogether. "Maybe we'll focus more on driving dollars to students rather than academic programs," he says. "If we provide incentives to students, colleges will see there's a market for creating these programs that emphasize language proficiency." Certainly students won't have to worry about jobs: Those 120,000 hours of terrorism-related recordings only cover pre-Sept. 11 chatter, and there's a lot more where that came from.
Correction, Oct. 4, 2004:The original version of this piece mistakenly stated that $90 million in Title VI funding goes to 17 Middle East institutes. In fact, only about 10 percent of that amount is directed to those institutes. Return to the corrected sentence.
Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.
Photograph of Arabic writing on the Slate home page by Wolfgang Kaehler/Corbis.