Defending Juan Cole

Some commenters have gathered on my Juan Cole post to slag Cole. I need to defend him.

One thing they’re angry about is that Cole is being considered for a top job at Yale. They say that he doesn’t have the publications to merit such an appointment. Wrong on 2 counts. Cole has a number of books to his name. And isn’t it rather silly that people who use the internet to exchange ideas seem to regard the internet as chopped liver when it comes to serious scholarship? Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, is itself an act of considerable scholarship. He is constantly reading, synthesizing, and supplying research to others. This is what scholars do. And why are these critics so worked up about Yale? It is the prestige issue. They don’t want Cole to gain any more legitimacy for his ideas than he has. Michigan is already Arab-American-occupied territory. Well, guess what&#151if he goes to Yale, he’ll probably have less time to do his very influential blog.

Something else that upsets them, Cole is trying to throw the brakes on Iran war-mongering by questioning the intelligence. Maybe we should listen, inasmuch as the last time we got war-drum intelligence about a foreign country in the Middle East we ended up occupying it disastrously. Specifically, Cole questions the translation of the statement in Persian by Iran’s president Ahmadinejad that he aims to “wipe Israel off the map.” He says Ahmadinejad actually quoted Khomeini: “This occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.”

Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope– that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government.

Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that “Israel must be wiped off the map” with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.

Ahmadinejad”s comments about Israel are frightening; I agree. How should we react? For me, the larger issue is, To what extent will our foreign policy respond to Israel’s interests? From hatred of the U.N., to the invasion of Iraq, to the demonization of European opinion, to the portrayal of Arabs as uncivilized, to the refusal to engage Syria as a possible partner in helping us out of the Iraq mess—again and again the neocons and fellow travelers have identified our interests and Israel’s as congruent. The fellow travelers are often liberals. Like Paul Berman, who in his book Terror and Liberalism, endorsed the Iraq war in large measure because of suicide attacks in Israel. Or Tom Friedman, saying on Slate: that the only way to counter suicide bombers, at the WTC and in Israel, “was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something.”

That kind of hysterical thinking has helped produce great suffering, and waves of further hysteria. At least Cole is trying to figure out what the other side is saying.