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Old Juan Cole: A Very Sad Soul By: Steven Plaut
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Since November 2004, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole has served as the "Rais" (the Palestinian term for head of state) of the Middle East Studies Association.  MESA is far less an academic organization for scholars than it is an anti-America and anti-Israel advocacy group, operating a nonstop jihad against Bush's war against terrorism.  A professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History, Cole has been named one of the eight most biased professors in America. 

Cole, who led the lobby to clear Saddam of any ties with terrorism, believes that a group of Jewish “neo-conservatives” largely runs U.S. policy toward the Middle East. His recurrent theory is that a nebulous ‘pro-Likud’ cabal controls the U.S. government from a small number of key positions in the Executive Branch.  Jonathan Calt Harris has declared: "He (Cole) is blindly anti-Israel to the point of being an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, an apologist for radical Islam, and someone who despises American public opinion."

Some of Cole's most outrageous statements include:

 

Much of the Arab world has a formal peace treaty with Israel.”  (Actually only Egypt and Jordan have, and the former is observed by Egypt mainly in its non-compliance.) 

 

Chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.”

 

Saddam Hussein never gave any real support to the Palestinian cause, and he did not pay suicide bombers to blow themselves up.”

 

Supporting orphans is, in any case, not the same as funding terrorism."  (Cole is referring to subsidies to the families of suicide bombers by Saddam, the Saudis, and others.  Of course there is nothing wrong with the PLO making Jewish children orphans in Old Juan Cole’s eyes.)

 

Cole has also pushed the Israel divestment campaign by campus anti-Semites, supposedly because Arabs are "mistreated" by Israel.  Never mind that Arabs in Israel are treated a thousand times better than are Arabs in Arab countries. 

 

Of course, Cole’s so-called passion for speaking out against human rights abuses in underdeveloped countries is rather one sided. Concerning the atrocities and massacres in Darfur, Cole has blamed it on the U.S. and the U.K., claiming the Iraq War took attention away from Sudan.  Imaginary mistreatment of Arabs by Israel upsets Cole, while mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Christians and Black Muslims by Sudanese Arabs is not worth a Michigan yawn. And Cole has been notably quiet about the 200,000 people massacred in Algeria. Maybe he could not figure a way to blame the Jews or the neocons for those. Needless to say, Cole has never called for divestment from Syria until it frees Lebanon, nor from Iran or any other anti-American regime for which tenured extremists feel enlightened affection.

 

A while back Cole crayoned a piece in which he complained that the media are ignoring America's "historians of Iraq" — people who "know about the country in its historical context.” He is referring, of course, to the academic members of MESA, who by and large hold the same opinions as Cole. Middle East Scholar Martin Kramer has shown that the dearth of real scholarship on Saddam's Iraq was due to pressure from the pro-Arab MESA professors to treat Saddam with kid gloves. Cole has endorsed conspiracy theories concerning the CIA about which one ordinarily has to go to neo-nazi web sites like RENSE to read. 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," a play on the title of his web page "Informed Comment."

 

The Bay2beirut weblog writes:

 

"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!)"

 

Another weblog operated by pro-democracy Iraqis, IraqtheModel, writes:

 

"I came across this article by Dr Juan Cole that made me feel ashamed of myself. This man who doesn’t live in Iraq seems to know more about the history of Iraq than I do. In his article he was criticizing the westerns, journalists in particular, for making judgments without knowing much about Iraq’s history, which I must admit is true..... What Dr. Cole was trying to tell us, as you can see in his article, is that Fallujah is celebrated in Iraq’s history as a symbol for the large rebellion/revolution against the British back in 1920."  

 

The blogger then notes that no such incident ever took place.  Fallujah was under the control of the British army the whole time. 

Cole was one of the people spreading around anti-Semitic blood libels about Israel before the invasion of Iraq, claiming that Israel was going to commit atrocities and mass murders against Palestinians as soon as the Allies landed in Iraq.  He once wrote that Larry Franklin had "a Brooklyn accent" even though "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." Cole also cast suspicions on Sephardic Jews for possibly being infiltrated by the Mossad.

Cole responds to criticism of his fanaticism and doubts about his scholarship by groups like Campus Watch or individuals like Martin Kramer, with ad hominem shrieks, threats, and insults. He routinely sends letters to people like Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer, threatening to sue them for criticizing his writings and statements. He sees Jewish cabals manipulating the Pentagon and other organs of power, including when Arabs whom he dislikes are involved. He has written: "The FBI should investigate how Phares, an undistinguished (Arab) academic with links to far rightwing Lebanese groups and the Likud clique, became the 'terrorism analyst' at MSNBC."

 

Andrew Sullivan, who is not Jewish, thinks Cole is an anti-American crackpot. He adds: "If you ask me, that's why the far-left Middle East academic elite has had so little influence over this debate. Their shrillness crowds out their expertise."

 

Cole himself was targeted by the Middle East Media Research Institute, which threatened to sue him for lies he published about MEMRI's finances—claims which, according to MEMRI's president Yigal Carmon, were factually untrue. Cole claimed that MEMRI was funded "to the tune of $60 million a year" (an absurd figure), that MEMRI is biased, and that it is somehow linked to the Likud party. MEMRI demanded a retraction on all three points, and threatened Cole with possible legal action if he fails to do so.  

 

Lately scholar Cole has turned to historic revisionism and simple misrepresentation to serve his political agenda when it comes to Lebanon. He tells his readers (yes, he has more than one reader) that, first, "The Israelis expelled 100,000 or so Palestinians north to Lebanon in 1948." In actual fact, they lost their war to annihilate Israel and fled at the orders of the Arab militia commanders. 

 

Cole went on to say, "The prospect of a PLO-dominated Lebanon scared the Syrians. Yasser Arafat would have been able to provoke battles with Israel at will, into which Syria might be drawn. Hafez al-Assad determined to intervene to stop it. First he sought a green light from the Israelis through Kissinger. He got it." The Syrians were hardly upset about the prospect of PLO power in Syria, which they had long promoted and built up. Some of the PLO's component organizations had their offices in Damascus. Kissinger did not invite the Syrians to annex Lebanon and the civil war was only the pretext for Assad to pursue his imperial ambitions regarding Lebanon.

 

Then Cole adds, "In 1982 the Israelis mounted an unprovoked invasion of Lebanon as Ariel Sharon sought to destroy the remnants of the weakened PLO in Beirut." Unprovoked apparently means that since terrorists operating against Israel freely in Lebanon, firing missiles and rockets and mortars, only killed Jewish Untermenschen, these murders and aggressions should not count.

 

Syria’s occupation Lebanon was part of Syria's official doctrine of establishing a "Greater Syria," which holds that all of Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon rightfully belong to Syria and are under temporary alien control. Syrian maps often portray all of Israel and Lebanon as southern Syria. Cole feins to be unaware of that doctrine, while he routinely refers to the "policies and decisions of Tel Aviv.” Seems he has never discovered that Israel’s capital city is Jerusalem. Tel Aviv is where you can go to the beach.

 

But Old Juan Cole's biggest fear these days is that President Bush might get some of the credit for Syria's sudden pusillanimous behavior. Cole writes, "I don't think Bush had anything much to do with the current Lebanese national movement except at the margins." Of course, we would not want anyone to credit Bush's removal of the Taliban and of the Ba'athists in Iraq with spurring calls for democracy in the Middle East.

 

It is very common among leftwing extremists to find that their entire world-view is based on reversing cause and effect. Hiroshima was the cause of Pearl Harbor, for example. Comrade Cole seems to have based much of his "academic" career on such inversions. Consider his diatribe on the History News network, "Want to End Terrorism? End Foreign Occupations." In it, he claims that Iraqi terrorism is a byproduct of Allied "occupation" of Iraq, and also that Palestinian terrorism is a byproduct of Israel's occupation of "Palestinian lands." 

 

Here is Cole at his most vociferous and least scholarly:

 

"You want to end terrorism? End unjust military occupations. By all means have Syria conduct an orderly withdrawal from Lebanon if that is what the Lebanese public wants. But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria, as well. The Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must be ended."

 

Palestinian anti-Jewish terrorism actually began in the 1920s, back when "Palestine" was governed by the British, under a League of Nations Mandate, after Britain freed it from its Turkish colonial rulers. Palestinian anti-civilian atrocities escalated in the 1950s, conducted by "fedayeen" terrorists sponsored by Egypt and other Arab fascist regimes. All of this was many years before the Six Day War of 1967. In other words, neither Gaza nor the West Bank were "occupied" by Israel when Palestinian terrorism developed and escalated. Instead, they were occupied by Egypt and Jordan (the latter illegally holding the West Bank). Egypt and Jordan could have set up a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip had they wished to, any time between 1949 and 1967, without the need even to ask Israel what it thought.

 

Cole likes to denounce Israel for its "land grab.” Let us note that this is the same Israel that is the size of Massachusetts and whose land in total is far less than 1 percent of the land controlled by the 22 Arab states which surround it. This is the same Cole who refers to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, while the suburbs around the actual capital, Jerusalem, were gained by "illicit land grabs.” As far as we know, Cole has never denounced Ann Arbor as an illicit grab of Indian lands nor offered to restore his own real property there to those Native tribes from whom he grabbed it.

 

Cole routinely refers to Middle East terrorists as "guerillas." He defends Hizbollah thusly:

 

"It (Hizbollah) cannot simply be ignored or dismissed as a terrorist organization. Hizbullah isn't that different from the Dawa Party or the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which the US just helped to power in Iraq."

 

In another post, Cole says:

 

"When Ariel Sharon sends American-made helicopter gunships and F-16s to fire missiles into civilian residences or crowds in steets, as he has done more than once, then he makes the United States complicit in his war crimes and makes the United States hated among friends of the Palestinians. And this aggression and disregard of Arab life on the part of the proto-fascist Israeli Right has gotten more than one American killed, including American soldiers." 

 

Once again, Cole is reversing cause and effect. He absolutely refuses to consider the possibility that Israel's gunships were operating because the PLO was sheltering, sponsoring and assisting suicide bombers to conduct mass murders of Israeli civilians, many of them children.

 

In Cole's view, these choppers were just shooting for absolutely no reason, just because the "proto fascists" in Israel, who were not elected the same way Cole's democratic Assads were, felt like it.   It never occurs to Cole that, had the PLO complied with its Oslo obligations and prevented terror attacks on Israel, no Israeli choppers would be targeting Palestinian terror leaders at all, and no Palestinian civilians would get hurt in the aftermath.

 

In the same article, Cole cites as his scholarly source Uri Avnery, who in fact is an Israeli cross between Larry Flint and Lord Haw Haw, an anti-Israel street protesters with no academic credentials, which is why Alexander Cockburn also uses him. Perhaps the University of Michigan's Department of Middle East Studies should be renamed the Department of Duh.

 

Now if we were to test the Cole Doctrine on history, it fails. US occupation of Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Diego Garcia, and Samoa have never produced terror. Soviet occupation of the Baltics and Siberia did not either. Romanian occupation of Transylvania has not. Italian occupation of Sardinia has not. Spain's occupation of enclaves on the North Moroccan coast has not. Nor has China's occupation of its Moslem colonies and Tibet. Nor Turkey's "occupation" of Syria's Alexandretta region.

 

On the other hand, there are lots of examples of terrorism arising where there is no occupation. The Moslem terror against Malaysia, Thailand, and Algeria, the Bader-Meinhof gang, the Weathermen, the Hizbollah terror against Israel AFTER it fully withdrew from Lebanese soil, the Michigan militia that bombed Oklahoma City, all these are examples of terror in the absence of occupation.

 

Cole is incapable of placing any "occupation" in historic context, nor of asking what produces occupation. In fact, Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza (which are more "Jewish Lands" than they ever were "Palestinian", in any case) was a consequence of Arab terror and aggression against Israel, not their cause. The Arabs attacked Israel in 1967 when it was not occupying anything except Israel. (Why will they be excused if we suspect that Cole regards Tel Aviv and Haifa as illicit occupations of Palestinian lands as well.) 

 

The West Bank and Gaza were "occupied" in Israel's counterattack against aggression. The Golan Heights had belonged to Syria before 1967, although its claims to the area were dubious even back then; the only use the Syrians made of the Golan Heights was to bombard Israeli civilians in Galilee. Israel's annexation of the Golan after the war is also one of those "occupations" that Abu Cole thinks must be ended.

 

Cole says, "People need a sense of autonomy and dignity, and occupation produces helplessness and humiliation. Humiliation is what causes terrorism." Actually, occupation is a consequence of fascist aggression, not its cause. The American occupation of Germany and Japan was just like the Israeli "occupation" of "Palestine.” The difference is that the Germans and Japanese underwent denazification. So terror is in fact the consequence of an absence of denazification.

 

Cole has consistently opposed any form of anti-terrorist campaign by the US, other than capitulation to terrorist demands. He denied Saddam had any terror connections at all, saying: "The idea that Iraq is deliberately harboring Islamist terrorists is absurd, since the Baathists would be afraid of them themselves." 

 

Here is the Cole take on bin Laden and 9-11, taken from the pro-al-Qaeda "antiwar.com" web site:

"The attack on the World Trade Center was exactly analogous to Pearl Harbor. The Japanese generals had to neutralize the U.S. fleet so that they could sweep into Southeast Asia and appropriate Indonesian petroleum.... Likewise, al-Qaeda was attempting to push the United States out of the Middle East so that Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia would become more vulnerable to overthrow, lacking a superpower patron. Secondarily, the attack was conceived as revenge on the United States and American Jews for supporting Israel and the severe oppression of the Palestinians.... Ironically, however, the Bush administration then went on to invade Iraq for no good reason."

He then adds:

"Al-Qaeda has succeeded in several of its main goals. It had been trying to convince Muslims that the United States wanted to invade Muslim lands, humiliate Muslim men, and rape Muslim women. Most Muslims found this charge hard to accept. The Bush administration's Iraq invasion, along with the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, was perceived by many Muslims to validate bin Laden's wisdom and foresight.... The U.S. is not winning the war on terror. Al-Qaeda also has by no means won. But across a whole range of objectives, al-Qaeda has accomplished more of its goals than the U.S. has of its."

Cole's atrociously written rants are not simply the proliferation of shallow and wacky ideas about the Middle East. Cole is a horrendous writer in general, who can barely construct a proper sentence, and sometimes spouts juvenile nonsense about other things besides the Middle East.  Consider the following:

 

"Before the rise of the neocons in the 1970s, it was well understood by minority communities in the United States that they had to work against bigotry in general. Because if an atmosphere was created or allowed to persist that allowed one minority group to be targeted, it had the potential to boomerang on the others, as well. Racialist hatred is no respecter (sic) of persons. Now I perceive a cockiness among some minorities in the U.S., such that they--former victims of discrimination—advocate racial profiling and discrimination, even demonization, for some. I solemnly predict that if they continue on this path, they will eventually come deeply to regret it, as shall we all."

 

Cole recently went ballistic in response to comments by Fred Ikle in the Wall Street Journal, who wrote:

"Those who out of cowardice use their wealth to pay danegeld to the preachers of hate and destruction must be taught that this aggression will boomerang. A nuclear war stirred up against the 'infidels' might end up displacing Mecca and Medina with two large radioactive craters."

Cole denounced Ikle as "racist, ignorant and monstrous. Why aren't Paul Gigot and James Taranto forced to resign over this monstrosity?" My guess is that Ikle can correctly name the capital of Israel, unlike Cole.

 

Moslem atrocities are not racist and monstrous, in Cole's opinion. He writes, "What is the difference between talking about nuking Mecca for political purposes and Mulla Omar's destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, which was rightly denounced as barbaric? The difference is that no human beings were vaporized at Bamiyan." In other words, non-nuclear atrocities just do not count. Why hasn’t Cole been fired by U-M because of his anti-Semitism?

To sum things up, the entire thesis concerning "occupation" and terror by the learned Cole is a lie. Cole is incapable of going beyond his bumper-stick-depth methodology of analysis by slogan. After all, if the Russian occupation of Afghanistan triggered terror, as did Indian "occupation" of Kashmir, this must mean that Middle East terror is a desperate act of protest against US and Israeli occupiers and helicopters. Cole's claims to being an expert on the Middle East are about as persuasive as Ward Churchill's claims to being an Indian chief.


Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.


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