Normally, Juan Cole likes to confine his blogging to just what it says up top: Informed Comment. And that’s what it is: loads of nice, fact-based analysis of what’s really going on in the Middle East and what it actually means for the rest of the world. If you’re sick of hearing goop and garbage, false assertions, baseless accusations and the usual spew of patriotripe that you get from the major media, JuanCole.com is the place for you. Because it’s there that Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern studies currently at the University of Michigan (but rumor has it he’s soon to move up–and east), holds forth on what’s NOT making the news but should. And he does so with calm and civility and a steady hand that a top-tier neurosurgeon might envy. (I know I do.)
That’s why it came as such a surprise to me last night when I read this.
Apparently Cole is the Clark Kent of Middle Eastern studies profs–meek and mild-mannered in his day job, but capable of turning Superman when the situation warrants. And this situation certainly does warrant it:
Christopher Hitchens owes me a big apology.
I belong to a private email discussion group called Gulf2000. It has academics, journalists and policy makers on it. It has a strict rule that messages appearing there will not be forwarded off the list. It is run, edited and moderated by former National Security Council staffer for Carter and Reagan, Gary Sick, now a political scientist at Columbia University. The “no-forwarding” rule is his, and is intended to allow the participants to converse about controversial matters without worrying about being in trouble. Also, in an informal email discussion, ideas evolve, you make mistakes and they get corrected, etc. It is a rough, rough draft.
Hitchens somehow hacked into the site, or joined and lurked, or had a crony pass him things. And he has now made my private email messages the subject of an attack on me in Slate. (I am not linking to the article because it is highly unethical and Slate does not deserve any direct traffic from my site for it.) Moreover, he did not even have the decency to quote the final outcome of the discussions.
And so it begins: Quietly, softly, but with a definite melodic thrust already apparent. Sort of like a certain well-known classical piece, which to me was always reminiscent of the Middle-Eastern deserts somehow; listening to it always gave me the sense that I was following a caravan, perhaps of Bedouins, on its slow and stately march over hot, golden sands to a distant oasis.
And now that the scene is set, let us proceed:
I’d like to take this opportunity to complain about the profoundly dishonest character of “attack journalism.” Journalists are supposed to interview the subjects about which they write. Mr. Hitchens never contacted me about this piece. He never sought clarification of anything. He never asked permission to quote my private mail. Major journalists have a privileged position. Not just anyone can be published in Slate. Most academics could not get a gig there (I’ve never been asked to write for it). Hitchens is paid to publish there because he is a prominent journalist. But then he should behave like a journalist, not like a hired gun for the far Right, smearing hapless targets of his ire. That isn’t journalism. For some reason it drives the Right absolutely crazy that I keep this little web log, and so they keep trotting out these clowns in amateurish sniping attacks. It is rather sad, that one person standing up to them puts them into such piranha-like frenzy.
Ah. Our caravan’s driver does not go unarmed; he has a sword at the ready. Let’s watch him draw it, shall we?
The precise reason for Hitchens’ theft and publication of my private mail is that 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.
Professor Cole goes on to share exactly what it is that he e-mailed. As it’s too long and technical to excerpt meaningfully here, I suggest you go to the link I posted up top later on, to read the entire e-mail at your leisure. Now, let’s move along so as not to lose the melodic flow:
Hitchens imagines a whole discourse of mine (which mostly never took place) that he now sets out to refute–from English translations! But I was saying that the wire service translations were the problem in the first place. Hitchens seems to think that he can over-rule my reading of a Persian text by reference to some hurried journalist’s untechnical rendering into English.
Hitchens alleges that I said that Khomeini never called for wiping Israel from the face of the map. Actually, I never said anything at all about Khomeini’s own speeches or intentions. I was solely discussing Ahmadinejad. Hitchens should please quote me on Khomeini and Israel. He cannot. He is making it up out of whole cloth. He should retract.
I write so much with which the Far Right disagrees so vehemently. I publish it here. Why is it that they keep having to invent quotations and put them in my mouth. Now, Cole is alleged to deny that Khomeini’s rhetoric was hostile to Israel. Is that even a plausible allegation?
Now the tune is steadily picking up volume. We see clearly what this song is about: lies, fabrication, the deliberate deceitfulness and mendacity of one Christopher Hitchens, right-wing drunkard and hack extraordinaire. Hitchens, it seems, is a Don Quixote without any nobility whatsoever; he feels the cowardly need to invent the windmills (or strawmen!) he tilts at. (The real thing, one rather imagines, would sweep him up and dash him back to Earth in a hellish hurry. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit here, so back we go to the music…)
Well, I don’t think it is any secret that Hitchens has for some time had a very serious and debilitating drinking problem. He once showed up drunk to a talk I gave and heckled me. I can only imagine that he was deep in his cups when he wrote, or had some far Rightwing think tank write, his current piece of yellow journalism. I am sorry to witness the ruin of a once-fine journalistic mind.
But the other reason for Hitchens’s piece may be that he has become a warmonger, and it is possible that he wants a US war against Iran.
I don’t think it’s any secret that Hitchens is not only a drunk, but indeed a warmonger. You can witness particular evidence of that latter here, where George Galloway, the anything but meek Scots politician who makes a perfect foil to the mild-mannered Professor Cole, wipes the floor with Hitchens in a debate billed as “The Grapple in the Big Apple”. (You can also read Hitchens’ own preliminary trash-talk, here.) At first, it looks like a Battle of the British Accents, which the plummier one seems sure to win. Hitchens comes off very gifted at bobbing and weaving (I’m told drunks do that rather well anyway). But Galloway, who’s not one for fancy footwork, doesn’t let the Hitchensian fiddlefaddle distract him. He goes straight in with the old one-two, delivering a merciless and highly satisfying verbal pummeling that leaves every last one of Hitchens’ arguments sprawled on the ropes with a bloody nose and wobbly eyes. In other words: Galloway delivers a TKO worthy of Muhammad Ali.
Unlike Professor Cole, I’m not going to waste time or energy mourning the “once-fine journalistic mind” of the booze-addled Mr. Hitchens. Apparently that was before my time, because all I can ever remember him writing is absolute garbage, albeit of an apparently quite erudite and superficially entertaining kind. Apparently Monicagate gave him way too much material (and money to buy booze) while the Clinton impeachment hearings were underway. The results of this months-long bender are archived for posterity at Salon.com, alas and alack. (An interview on “how the Left became irrelevant”, in which Hitchens laughably pretends not to put words in other mouths–George Orwell’s in particular–can also be read at the site. Seems that Professor Cole is not the only one of Hitchens’ betters whom Hitchens has seen fit to twist out of recognition.)
By the way, Hitchens’ warmongering bent isn’t the only reason he’s gone so far to assassinate the character of Juan Cole. Cole has skewered Hitchens before. So maybe there’s something personal at work here, among all the putridly political rest. It’s well known that Hitchens can dish it out a lot better than he can take it. He’s also remarkably capable of turning on a dime, alienating old friends at an instant’s notice. (Just look at what happened with Sidney Blumenthal.)
All of this, I’m sure, nothing good betokeneth. There is no doubt in my mind that for all Hitchens likes to dwell on the specks in other people’s eyes, be they friend or foe, the plank in his own is his true worst enemy.
But soft! The music builds:
What is really going on here is an old trick of the warmongers. Which is that you equate hurtful statements of your enemy with an actual military threat, and make a weak and vulnerable enemy look like a strong, menacing foe. Then no one can complain when you pounce on the enemy and reduce his country to flames and rubble.
It is obvious that powerful political forces in Washington are fishing for a pretext to launch a war on Iran, and that they are just delighted to have Ahmadinejad as cartoon villain and pretext. But they had a moderate, reforming president in Mohammad Khatami for 8 years, and just blew off all his overtures to the West. Iranians organized big candle-light vigils for America after September 11, in sympathy!
Washington never gave the reform movement the slightest encouragement, perhaps in hopes that the Iranians would be forced to turn right again and form a proper object of US hatred. If so, they got their wish last summer, when Ahmadinejad used the same dirty techniques to get elected as had George W. Bush.
All the warmongers in Washington, including Hitchens, if he falls into that camp, should get this through their heads. Americans are not fighting any more wars in the Middle East against toothless third rate powers. So sit down and shut up.
One, two, three, four! We don’t want your stinking war!
And it only gets more powerful from there. The volume is rising, and with it, the momentum and force of the melody.
By now it’s obvious that this is not some personal vendetta of Cole against Hitchens; it’s Cole against what Hitchens is shamelessly beating the drums for. Cole has by this point begun putting pictures in between his words, so that even Hitchens at his most mendacious and distortive cannot miss what is being said. We see young Iranians at a post-9/11 vigil holding up candles and flashing the peace sign; flag-draped caskets inside a cargo plane, with a lone soldier saluting; a war vet in a wheelchair, his legs both amputated just below the knees; a medic holding up the gruesomely mangled feet of a casualty; an Abu Ghraib prisoner, his head covered by the now infamous black hood, cradling a little boy behind thickets of razor wire; pictures of prisoners at Abu Ghraib being tortured; a stately building beside a reflecting pool on a serene blue night, contrasted with the lividly yellow smoking wreckage of an aerial bombing; a child’s terrified face, blood-splattered beneath a bandaged scalp. All of this is interspersed with a fine rant in which Cole asserts, in no uncertain terms, that a war against Iran will not be tolerated under ANY pretext:
We are not going to see any more US troops come home in body bags at Dover for the sake of some Cheney affiliate grabbing the petroleum in Iran’s Ahvaz fields.
We are not going to have another 15,000 wounded vets flood onto our streets with spine damange and brain damage.
We are not going to put Yazd behind barbed wire to liberate it, as a millenarian Christian general did to Habbaniyah in Iraq.
We are not going to imprison and torture thousands of Iranians at Evin Penitentiary in Tehran, as worthy successors to the bloodthirsty Shah and Khomeini.
We are not going to kill 200,000 Iranians with aerial bombardments of Tabriz, Isfahan, Qom, Kerman, Shiraz and Mashahd.
We are not going to let dozens of US corporations loot the American people and the Iranian people alike with no-bid “contracts”, embezzlement, corruption, and graft.
We are not going to let you have a war against Iran.
So sit down and shut up, American Enterprise Institute, and Hudson Institute, and Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and American Heritage Institute, and this institute and that institute, and cable “news”, and government “spokesmen”, and all the pundit-ferrets you pay millions to make business for the American military-industrial complex and Big Oil.
We don’t give a rat’s ass what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what pissant speech the little shit gives.
I call on university students across America to begin holding antiwar rallies. The only way you can have a war on Iran is to draft the young people. It is you who are on the line. Demonstrate! Demonstrate against the very hint of war! Demonstrate in front of the warmongering “institutes” in Washington, DC! Demonstrate to end the one we’ve already got!
And just to hammer it home, he includes a petition featuring the opinion of the real Iran experts on the prospect of the war. I doubt if the presumably dry drunk in the White House will read it with any clearer eye than the very sodden one whose bullshit prompted Cole’s unusual outburst, but it too is a thing of beauty.
But the final nail gets hammered with a precipitous crescendo:
Because Hitchens’s dirty tricks and lies against me are only the beginning. Whoever stands against the Perpetual War machine will be attacked, slimed, marginalized, and destroyed if the warmongers get their way. I don’t care. Thus far and no farther.
One, two, three, four. We don’t want your stinking war!
I heartily applaud Professor Cole. He’s not one to confine himself to the high, dry safety of the Ivory Tower. When need be, he’s part pugilist and part artist–and he has just delivered what has got to be the Ravel’s Bolero of ass-kickings.