The Daily Bork

August 16, 2005

Cole-ture shock

Our old friend Juan Cole gets a tongue lashing for getting the final word in on a debate... after the opponent has died. That'd Steven Vincent, who was killed in Iraq.

Cole presented his piece here.

Martin Kramer takes exception.
In other words, Vincent got himself killed, out of ignorance. Implication: his journalism should be dismissed.

It's certainly refreshing to see Cole slip into the style of Raphael Patai, going on about honor and shame and all that. Pentagon, take note: it's all true. (But you knew that.)

What reeks of bad taste is Cole's superior dismissal of Vincent, as if his death somehow proves his ignorance. Point of fact: you can know everything "serious" about Middle Eastern culture and never criticize it even in the mildest way, and still get yourself killed by fanatics.

Examples? Take Malcolm Kerr, a former president of MESA who left UCLA to run the American University of Beirut at the worst possible time, and got himself killed by gunmen on campus. Take Michel Seurat, French sociologist of Islam, who stayed in Beirut at the worst possible time, got himself kidnapped by Islamic Jihad (Hezbollah's kind), got himself mistreated by his captors, and got himself dead by falling seriously ill in his dungeon. (His body still hasn't been recovered.) These two Western scholars were born in the Arab world (Kerr in Lebanon, Seurat in Tunisia), spoke fluent Arabic, spent decades in the region, knew all about the dangers--and still they died. Should we conclude they were "acting in an extremely dangerous manner"? Or does sole responsibility for their deaths lie with their killers and torturers? And if it does, why should Vincent be an exception?
Here is the bit where Vincent takes Cole to task, prior to his death,
You might want to review your own site and how well it reflects love and concern for the Iraqi people. After all, on "Informed Comment," pro-liberation Iraqi bloggers are accused of being CIA agents, the elections are practically dismissed as window-dressing and every terrorist--no, I mean guerrilla, as Cole would have it--attack is given marquis billing, as if their psychopathic bloodlust discredits the liberation of 26 million people. Whoops, I mean 23.5 million--because according to Cole's Wednesday post, 2.5 million Iraqis support the "resistance."

Well, I thank Cole for revealing his gut-level concern for the Iraqi people... My question to the Professor is, which Iraqi people--the fascist thugs he calls the "resistance," or the police, National Guardsmen, politicians, everyday people and eight million voters who comprise the true Iraqi "resistance"? We await his Informed Comment.
It is also an entirely different view of him than some selected quotes from him given elsewhere, particularly amusing from those fond of also quoting Cole. Course it helps to read a bit further afield than the Guardian and Scoop "Guardian-lite" News. Anyway, back to Kramer:
Cole didn't respond then. But now that Vincent is dead, Cole has seized the last word in the argument. Vincent shamed him, but now he has his honor back. He's taken his revenge. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown among full professors.

I will give Cole this: he does have cultural knowledge--enough to keep away from Iraq, which he's never visited. Nothing he's written has endeared him to any Iraqi faction outside the insurgency--quite the opposite. He'd have no protectors. And as someone who spent years in the Middle East as a Bahai missionary, his life wouldn't be worth a plugged nickel if he fell into the wrong hands in Shiite country. Were Cole to surface in Iraq, he'd be "acting in an extremely dangerous manner." So far, he hasn't.

But as it happens, Cole will be headed for Beirut in December, on the tab of Saudi billionnaire Prince Alwaleed, to whip up support for his Americana Translation Project. (Is it a coincidence that Cole has just written a fawning puff piece at, praising the new King Abdullah--who "has the smile and goatee of a genial beatnik"--and defending the kingdom against all comers, from Michael Moore to the neocons? Who knows? The Saudis have a long history of suborning the Middle East studies establishment.) And once in Beirut, Cole could pop over to Baghdad...
Winning an argument with a dead man, really difficult.

So is Cole a Saudi pawn in the pay of the bigboys there? Maybe he shares a room with the Bush family when they are all over there plotting to hike the price of oil.


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