Across the Bay

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Feasting on Some Cole on the Cobban

In his typical witty yet devastatingly effective manner, Martin Kramer rightfully slaps the insufferable Don Juan de Michigan and that useless rambling twit Helena Cobban for their despicable and cowardly remarks on murdered journalist Steven Vincent. It's a must read.

Martin nailed why Cole decided to take a swipe at a dead man:

The thesis: his relationship with his (Iraqi female) translator offended local sensibilities. This provides Cole with an opportunity to dismiss Vincent as a cultural novice
In other words, Vincent got himself killed, out of ignorance. Implication: his journalism should be dismissed.

But maybe what's really at issue here is Cole's ego (on his website, it usually is). Beneath his haughty dismissal of Vincent ("did not know anything serious") lies the fact that Vincent had the audacity to challenge him. Vincent didn't think much of Cole's armchair expertise or his claim to be driven by concern for Iraqis, and told Cole just that on his weblog
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.

Kramer also noted the Raphael Patai material in Cole's post:

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.)

Back in 2004, at the height of the Abu Ghraib affair, Cole jumped all over Seymour Hersh's story and called Patai's book, The Arab Mind, "Orientalist," which in Edward Said/MESA talk means "anti-Arab/Muslim racist." Fellow MESAn As'ad "Angry Hair" AbuKhalil, reacting to Lee Smith's Slate piece on Patai's book, called Patai "racist and unscholarly."

So let's do a little comparison, shall we? It may be difficult to guess which is which, so I'll make it easier.


In Mediterranean culture, a man's honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas.


The most powerful deterrent devised by Arab cultural against illicit sex (which means any sexual relations between a man and a woman who are not married to each other) is the equation of family honor with the sexual conduct of its daughters, single or married. If a daughter becomes guilty of the slightest sexual indiscretion (which is defined in various terms in various places), her father and brothers become dishonored also. Family honor can be restored only by punishing the guilty woman; in conservative circles, this used to mean putting her to death. (p. 120)

The duties of blood revenge and mediation are features of the Bedouin ethos which have passed on almost unchanged into village life and which survive in Arab urban society as well. The persistence of blood revenge makes the work of the police and the judiciary difficult in capital cases or other offenses for which tribal law demands blood revenge: even if a murderer is sentenced to death and executed, the duty of the victim's khamsa to avenge their kinsman's death will not be fulfilled; it will be fulfilled only if they actually kill either the murderer or one of his relatives. (p. 80)

Hmmmm, tough call! Although, you'll note how Cole set himself an escape hatch by labeling this, "Mediterranean" culture, even though southern Iraq is as Mediterranean as Germany.

However, the Telegraph piece actually said Vincent's relationship with his translator offended "religious hardliners," while Johnny suggested it might be "her clan." The Telegraph linked it to the growing extremist climate in Basra, that Vincent reported on, but Cole is suggesting this is just default culture. Um, sorry, default "Mediterranean" culture. Had anyone else written this, Cole would be screaming "racist, Orientalist." In fact, as I noted above, he already did!

But such is Juanito's typical hypocrisy: what applies to mere ignorant mortals doesn't apply to "the expert." He hovers slightly above ground. Wait. That's just the hot air from the self-puffery.

Update: The best antidote to Cobban's and Cole's slimy bullshit is Lisa Ramaci's (Vincent's wife) testimony (Audio).