Across the Bay

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Kommissar Cole

It's very rare for a day to pass without Cole making a complete idiot of himself, again. Read this cheap, vindictive, and conspiratorial post he put up today:

"The MR posting brings up questions about the Iraqi brothers who run the IraqTheModel site. It points out that the views of the brothers are celebrated in the right-leaning weblogging world of the US, even though opinion polling shows that their views are far out of the mainstream of Iraqi opinion. It notes that their choice of internet service provider, in Abilene, Texas, is rather suspicious, and wonders whether they are getting some extra support from certain quarters."

This might just be the cheapest, sleaziest, most vindictive thing Cole has ever said (and that's saying a lot). And here's why he did it. Iraq the Model and IraqPundit are two bloggers who have critiqued, refuted, and made fun of Cole's excesses, conspiracy theories, romanticism and misinformation (and those of his likes, like Rashid Khalidi). For instance, Iraq the Model has written about him and his "expertise" in the same breath as Michael Moore and al-Jazeera: "I guess if instead I shifted to parroting Al Jazeerah or people like Michael Moore or Juan Cole, I’d be having an independent voice?"" IraqPundit called Cole "dependably misinformed" and poked fun at him and his insane conspiracy theories, mentioning how some Iraqis refer to Cole's site as "Misinformed Comment." Needless to say, I've taken great pleasure deflating Pope Juan Cole myself.

So what does Cole do? What he does best. Weave conspiracy theories that of course involve the Neocons (see that second link to IraqPundit for another one of those) on how Iraq The Model is "suspicious" and how "far out of the mainstream of Iraqi opinion" the posters are. Yes you heard right. An Iraqi site, whose authors have formed a pro-democracy liberal Iraqi party, based in Iraq, living through the war and its dangers (esp. when Cole's favorite, Sadr, was bullying other Iraqis and when Jihadists are killing anyone pro-American, while Cole is sitting pontificating from his Michigan office) is not reflective of Iraqi opinion, which Juan Cole is supposedly an expert on! The pretentious self-importance is nauseating. But there's more. This amounts to the worst "Orientalism" (in the Saidian sense) there is. It presumes that Iraqi opinion must not only be monolithic, but it must also conform to an anti-US, pro-Arabist party line (because Arabism is the "authentic" voice of the East)! Or, it must be what Juan Cole says it is! If not, it's an attempt "to spread disinformation ... It is a technique made for the well-funded Neoconservatives." I.e., not only must "Arabs" have one opinion, but if they are dissenters then they are passive agents of manipulation by outside (Jewish) forces! (Iraq the Model was quoted by Wolfowitz a while ago in a WSJ op-ed. Well that "proves" they're Neocons!)

But wait, the InterCole warns us that he has "suspicions about one or two sites out there already." Gee I wonder if that includes IraqPundit as he's an "Arab" who dared to critique and make fun of Pope Cole! That seals it, he must be a Likudnik or Neocon!

I've said before that Cole's site often mirrors the worst of the Arabist propaganda found in some papers in the ME. Now Cole has taken this a step further. He's now mirroring the worst of the totalitarian regimes of the region and their secret services. If you dissent from their line, you must be working for outside (Jewish) agents.

This is not the first time that Cole has made stereotypical or reductionist comments about Arabs (see Martin Kramer's recent Sandbox entry on Cole and Hassoun. Scroll to bottom.) or Jews for that matter (he once wrote how Larry Franklin had "a Brooklyn accent" even though -- imagine that -- "he himself was not Jewish." Nevertheless he was close to Wolfowitz and "the predominantly Jewish Neoconservatives" and thus he was part of "a clever scheme." He also cast suspicions on Sephardic Jews for possibly being infiltrated by the Mossad.)

Cole owes an apology to a lot of people, but considering that he postures as a defender of Iraqi rights, he owes the guys at Iraq the Model and any other sites he's "suspicious about" a rather big one, given that these people put their lives on the line every day, while Cole is gaining status here as the oracle on Iraq (and busying himself smearing his Iraqi competition which contests his views). After that, it'll do him good to 1- avoid this Baathi-style Stalinism, and 2- keep his conspiracy theories to himself, that is, if he wants these sites to stop making fun of him and his insane views which he tries to sell as "expertise." Oh, and grow thicker skin and stop whining like a prima donna.

Update: Ali of Iraq the Model responds.

Update 2: IraqPundit also has his say on Cole's "appalling web of innuendo." I think this passage by IraqPundit, which is similar to what I've said above, makes the most important point:

"What disgusts me most is Cole's implication that Iraqis are unable to think and reason for themselves. If Iraqi blogs are supportive of liberalization (and most are), then Cole apparently believes that we must suspect a hidden hand somewhere. Enlightenment and independence of mind are to be defined by whether or not you agree with Juan Cole. If you don't, you lack integrity and honesty, and you may even be a hoax, a fraud, or an agent provocateur."

Update 3: In yet another stupid post (trying to whitewash a previous stupid post that was caught by Andrew Sullivan who called it "a new low") Juan Cole writes the following self-important passage:

"These are the Orientalist premises of the Zionist Right and its American fellow travelers. The reason my comment was so challenging is that it didn't partake of these premises. The premise is that there is an "eternal Arab" or "eternal Muslim" that is defined as essentially fanatical and intolerant and full of hatred toward Jews. These are universal characteristics of this race, and unvarying over time."

Professor Cole, that's precisely what you did in the attack against ITM. IraqPundit and I called you on it. The essence of what Cole wrote (which both I and IraqPundit saw very clearly) is that if the "Arab" doesn't hold a specific opinion (which follows a Third-Worldist, Arab nationalist or anti-Western line, then that "Arab" is 1- either not "Arab" or 2- a passive tool in the hands of malevolent (Jewish) agents. I.e., the "Arab" is not capable of independent creative thinking that might be liberal or pro-American etc. (or, God help us, disagree with US Arabists like Cole!). This, by the way, is a double stereotype, against Arabs and Jews! Well done Professor! Two birds with one stone! And you've earned, by your definition, the title of "Orientalist" in the negative, racist sense!

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the neo-Left and their abohrrent attitude in addressing the problem of Islamic fundamentalism today. This is what Berman and Hitchens have been pointing out over and over again.

Update 4: Liberal blogger Jeff Jarvis calls Cole "pond scum" and accuses him of libel.

Update 5: The always articulate and sober Michael Young (who once called Cole's blog "overrated") puts the professor's saga in perspective:

"Cole did well to turn his Informed Comment blog into a "must read" platform during the Iraq war, but somehow one gets a sense that somewhere in there it all went to his head, and that he feels, like many of us hacks, that a sharp and shallow opinion can substitute for a deep and considered one. That's not always the case, but Cole's blog appears to have manufactured a public edition of Cole, that of the harassed but defiant activist, that Cole the academic often feels he has to live up to.

It would be shame to see Cole shrivel up entirely into self-parody. But worse, here was someone who made the Iraqi situation more understandable to many Americans at one time. He preferred to become shrill, though, losing an opportunity to bridge the knowledge gap. Such is the power, and curse, of being transposed from the classroom to the studio.

Update 6: Cole tries to weasel out of what he said about Iraq the Model with a classic snotty "I'm the expert, you're the illiterate dittoheads" routine. He writes:

"My allegation that the IraqTheModel website is far outside the norm of Iraqi public opinion as measured by polling has caused a stir in the weblogging world among, apparently, dittoheads who can't read polls."

No, sweet pea, that's not your only allegation. This is the smart ass allegation that can divert the conversation to a debate about polls. Meanwhile, that's not the main problem and never was. It's as cute a trick as this statement:

"I drew attention to Martini Republic's questions about the independence of IraqTheModel without actually expressing any opinion myself one way or another, except to say that they are out of the Iraqi mainstream."

Nice try, tinkerbell, but your sleaziness was so obvious that virtually every "dittohead" on the planet got it. Michael Young (no dittohead there) got it, IraqPundit got it, and dittohead-central yours truly got it. You tried to hide behind MR's post, but as usual, your shrillness got the best of you and you did express your opinion, which had nothing to do with polls or Iraqi opinion. Michael Young nailed it:

"Cole doesn't actually come out and say that he thinks the blog is a sham; he merely hides behind what Martini Republic says. But he does add, revealingly, in a clear endorsement of the accusation:

'The phenomenon of blog trolling, and frankly of blog agents provocateurs secretly working for a particular group or goal and deliberately attempting to spread disinformation, is likely to grow in importance. It is a technique made for the well-funded Neoconservatives, for instance, and I have my suspicions about one or two sites out there already.'

And there you have it. Another attempt at weaseling out of a statement with snotty condescension. Maybe next time Colito. Oh, your pants are still on fire.