Juan Cole and the Diminished Pachyderm

by Stephen Sniegoski

Juan Cole, the respected scholar and university professor, performs an extremely valuable and courageous service in opposing US war policy in the Middle East. He dares to do what few of his peers are willing to do: present his views (most frequently on  his weblog, “Informed Comment”)  on current Middle East issues which necessarily touch the taboo topic of Israel and contradict the position of the Israel lobby.  As a Middle East specialist, Cole is capable of writing very informative pieces on that region, which go into far greater depth than I have the expertise to do.  It is certainly not in his view of the Middle East per se where I find flaws in his interpretation, but in his assessment of the United States policy, especially the role of the neoconservatives and the broader Israel Lobby, an area in which I  have done considerable research (e.g. my book, “The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel”),  and where my Ph.D. background in US diplomatic history would be of some relevance.

Although mentioning the role of some American Jews in regard to shaping American Middle East policy, Cole still tends to downplay it.  The flawed elements in his thinking on this crucial area are especially encapsulated in his recent article, “The Decline of the Israeli Right and the Increasing Desperation of the ‘Anti-Semitism’ Charge.” An erroneous assessment of the problem militates against the achievement of a just resolution.  Professor Cole’s views on the U.S. Middle East policy, if taken at face value,  illustrate these problems. Cole is obviously a sincere  opponent of US/Israel wars in the Middle East and of  the American-supported Israeli oppression of the Palestinians,  but since he is operating  from within the constraints of present discourse — which assumes Jewish powerlessness and  universalistic Jewish beneficence — his analysis, despite his expertise and honesty on the Middle East developments, has significant flaws.

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Juan Cole’s “Engaging the Muslim World”

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, The Electronic Intifada, 19 October 2009

Stereotypes, ignorance and misrepresentation have long pervaded US media coverage of Islam. In his 1981 book Covering Islam, the late Edward Said analyzed these distortions in the light of the relationship between knowledge and power and found that hostile representations are often informed by the particular circumstances of the engagement between the US and the Muslim world and the asymmetry of power between them. Little has improved in the years since, even as the focus on the region has intensified. Many of the misrepresentations that Said observed still abound, but the increased attention since the end of the Cold War, and especially since 11 September 2001, has inflamed suspicions and reinforced resentments making it easier for demagogic politicians to exploit. In his timely and insightful new book, Engaging the Muslim World, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole debunks prevailing myths and presents a set of compelling policy prescriptions that aim to encourage dialogue and defuse hostilities. However, while he convincingly addresses the questions of knowledge, unlike Said, he leaves issues of power largely unexamined.

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Al-Fakhoura School Bombed, 42 Killed, Including Children

From Juan Cole who later asks, why, if militants were firing from the school, would refugees be taking shelter there?  It is such an obvious, propaganda based, lie, a lie that has become a knee-jerk reaction from Israel.

In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs made children into blood. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. He immediately wrote out a martyrdom will, pledging to die avenging the innocent victims, killed with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660. The Israelis say they took fire from one of the schools. Was it tank fire?

You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.  Continue…