I stopped posting over at Juan Cole's because I hate moderated blogs, especially as administered by absent-minded professors who forget to put up posts on which people spend time and thought.
But he's one of the most important voices in the Net: someone who has actually lived in the Middle East, seen American diplomacy up close, is not subservient to the State Department but understands how it operates and yet, like any American, is sympathetic to US policy interests.
As it happens, today he confirmed a question that I had posed at AngryArab long ago (and mentioned in archives here): apparently Iranian President Amadinejab did not call for wiping out Israel, at least not in any active or immediate sense. So, that whole angle to whipping up war hysteria is baseless.
It was therefore really disgusting to learn (via Atrios
) of Christopher Hitchens's latest attack on Cole.
This has had the effect of radicalizing Cole-- and many readers-- in a manner of which college professors are normally incapable. An unprecedented 61 comments have already been logged on that thread in Informed Comment, overwhelmingly favorable. Count me for 62.
Anyway, Hitchens got ahold of some private e-mail and did some selective quotation in Slate. Cole's version:
I object to the characterization of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having "threatened to wipe Israel off the map." I object to this translation of what he said on two grounds. First, it gives the impression that he wants to play Hitler to Israel's Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.
But the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks....
He blames me for not referring to some other speech of Khomeini, when in fact I never instanced any speeches of Khomeini at all in this discussion except the snippet cited by Ahmadinejad-- I was arguing that there is no Persian idiom to wipe something off the map, and that Ahmadinejad has been misquoted.
Here's Hitchens, typically substituting ad hominem for argument:
However, words and details and nuances do matter in all this, so I was not surprised to see professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan denying that Ahmadinejad, or indeed Khomeini, had ever made this call for the removal of Israel from the map. Cole is a minor nuisance on the fringes of the academic Muslim apologist community. At one point, there was a danger that he would become a go-to person for quotes in New York Times articles (a sort of Shiite fellow-traveling version of Norman Ornstein, if such an alarming phenomenon can be imagined), but this crisis appears to have passed.
And then he admits that actually there was a defect in the translation that emerged in the western press as "wiped off the map:
Quite possibly, "wiped off the map" is slightly too free a translation of what he originally said...
In other words, he concedes that Cole is correct.
Hitchens, of course, knows jack about the Middle East (compare Cole's resume)
--and has gotten caught in this game before
I was quite displeased when Hitchens insulted Juan Cole and questioned his knowledge of languages when this Hitchens has never even bothered to study any Middle East language although he poses--and there are no limits on his posing--as a Middle East expert.
So, what we have is a political attack by Hitchens. It's not a smear, as Cole says. It's politics. Juan Cole may wish to be just an academic, but when you get in the way of the Republican machine, you can expect to get run down.
Cole's response to Hitchens is a little bit excessive, though not much. There is no privacy anymore, so Hitchens is just a slug, not a minion of the NSA for publishing a private e-mail. He has, however, forfeited any right to call himself a journalist for failing to contact Cole ahead of the Slate column. Of course, Slate has also forfeited the right to call itself a news magazine. This is the way publications get sued, so one can bet that their legal department wasn't told that Cole hadn't been contacted.
Hitchens exemplifies why the US is losing power and influence. You know his personal story (betrayal of a friend, alcoholism, Freepers, etc.). But the very worst thing is that he's well-to-do. He doesn't need to do this sort of thing to survive. He's willing to see hundreds of thousands of people maimed and incinerated for... why? I can't imagine. I also can't imagine why Cole called him a "great man of letters." Hitch has always been an intellectual marshmallow and a voice from the fringe.
Cole is right. We must stop an attack on Iran. I'm glad to see so many people radicalized by the heartlessness and amorality of people like Hitchens.