Across the Bay

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Canary in a Cole Mine

I am going to start a new feature on this blog that will deal from time to time with some of the hilarious excesses by Juan Cole. I'll call it, "Cole-on Cleansing"! Today's Cole-on Cleansing deals with this recent post by Cole on the reaction of Shiites worldwide to the fights in the holy cities in the south of Iraq.

I'm going to highlight some of the "interesting" things that Cole said:

"once Israelis steal your land, they don't usually give it back"
"it (Hizbullah) hasn't been involved in international terrorism for many years to my knowledge"
"There is some danger of joint US and Israeli policies re-radicalizing Lebanese Shiites, and making the more militant Hizbullah more popular than the sedate AMAL. All you have to do is fire helicopter gunship missiles into civilian crowds in Gaza and then bombard Karbala, and somehow it mysteriously angers a lot of Lebanese Shiites."
"I said the other day I thought Bush was pushing Europe to the left with his policies. I think he is at the same time pushing the Shiite world to the radical Right, and I fear my grandchildren will still be reaping the whirlwind that George W. Bush is sowing in the city of Imam Husain. I concluded in early April that Bush had lost Iraq. He has by now lost the entire Muslim world."

Hold your horses! I'm not even going to bother to respond to the first two statements! The other two however are funny enough to merit a comment. They are so typically over the top that they almost sound like someone on crack!

First of all, the usual Arab pathology that Cole swallows hook, line and sinker is this business of "joint US and Israeli policies." What the hell does the Israeli policies in Gaza have to do with Muqtada's insurgency in Iraq!? Secondly, it's "RE-radicalizing" Shiites in Lebanon!? When did they cease to be radicalized!? AMAL is sedate!? Perhaps relative to Hizbullah, but it was from AMAL that Hizbullah was born! It just paled in comparison to Hizbullah in recent years. But it was AMAL's founder, Musa As-Sadr, who coined the term "Israel is Absolute Evil"! Quite sedate!

The weaving together of Israeli policies in Gaza (Rafah) and the flattening of houses of bombers there with the American counter-insurgency fight in Karbala is simply nefarious, as the Americans didn't systematically flatten anybody's house and their use of heavy weaponry has been limited. This report in the NYT makes the differences quite clear:

"A large overnight raid met no resistance coming from a group of buildings where insurgents had been firing at American tanks with rocket-propelled grenades. Civilians were seen returning to homes in central Karbala that they had abandoned during fierce fighting. And in the afternoon on Saturday, tribal sheiks approached American commanders offering to persuade the militia, the Mahdi Army, to lay down its arms and leave the city.
American officials say they have no intention of sending soldiers into the heart of Najaf, which is centered around the Shrine of Ali, dedicated to the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. They say they fear such an attack could provoke a backlash from Shiite Muslims around the world, and would prefer that senior clerics persuade Mr. Sadr to surrender.

First, the Americans are quite careful about heavy fighting in the holy cities, and second, Iraqis themselves are trying to remove Sadr from the cities, which means his support is quite limited, and the Americans are trying to work with tribal chiefs to achieve that end.

But the final comment is the best! Bush, you see, is singlehandedly responsible for everybody else's radicalization!!! Wow! That tops Arab victimology and passive-agressiveness, and I didn't think that was possible! You see in the Arab pathological narrative, there is always a transfer of agency, and thus blame, to another external party. It's never their fault. Cole is regurgitating that in an even more hilarious way! The Shiite radicalization began more than three decades ago, when Bush was a nobody. Iran's revolution happened during Carter's era. Carter, the "peace maker", remember him!?

But Cole doesn't stop there, he makes an even more grandiose statement that Bush has lost the entire Muslim world! Apparently, Cole wasn't with us for the last, oh I don't know, 40 years! As Lee Smith pointed out, Arabs were already anti-US since the fifties (remember Nasser!?). And that's even when the US backed Egypt by stopping the French, British, and Israeli attack! (Yes, the French!)

So Cole should take a serious chill-pill and cool off on the Bush material. One Michael Moore is enough for indigestion. Better stick to history and scholarship.

Furthermore, in light of the turn of events in Karbala, this "mysterious" cease-fire might finally lead to Muqtada accepting a deal, like the many that were being attempted. If that indeed is the case, then Cole's analysis would have been totally wrong (with regards to the Americans, Muqtada, and other Iraqi Shiites. Other shiites around the world don't really matter. If Sistani and other non-Sadrist Shiites are ok, then that's all that really matters). Yet, i have a feeling that if that is the case, Cole will still slam the US! He sounds like Hizbullah! If they win they claim victory, and if they lose, they still claim victory! Taheri's much calmer and more coherent conclusion would be vindicated, and Muqtada would indeed eat humble pie (it almost seems inevitable, given the tribal and senior clerics' reaction). Cole reaction to that would be of course that Muqtada won! Like I said, he sounds like the worst Arab-Muslim pathologies. Anything is a victory!! It's what Friedman called a "one-night stand" type of satisfaction. Like jumping on burned US jeeps, or dancing in the streets after 9/11 or shooting anti-aircraft fire on sky-high Israeli planes in south Lebanon... it's masturbation. Those are the victories and sloganisms of the Arab world, and Cole swallows them whole. Otherwise, he would be an Orientalist!