Juan Cole: The Ted Williams of Middle East Studies?
by Winfield Myers
March 25, 2010
University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole is desperate for you to know that he is eminently qualified to speak publicly on the Middle East. He is, we are told in the opening paragraph of his recent response to the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg,
[a] Middle East expert who lived in the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, travels widely there, speaks the languages, writes history from archives and manuscripts and follows current affairs ...
But from this triumphalist beginning, the story takes a tragic turn: In spite of these qualifications (which you, dear reader, almost certainly do not share), Cole "found that none of [his] experience counted for much when [he] entered the public arena in the United States."
It's not that he's thin-skinned or the like; no, it's that his experience in the real world "is like being a professional baseball player ready for the World Series" who is "kidnapped" and taken not to Yankee Stadium, but to a "secret fight club," where he must take on a "giant James Bond villain." Even when he protests to his kidnappers, "I bat .400," he's made to fight "for insulting our great aunt."
However bizarre the images of Cole's imagination, he is not lacking in self-regard. Baseball fans know that batting .400 is a difficult feat: The last man to accomplish it was Ted Williams back in 1941. Among the game's best hitters who have fallen short of this mark: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, and Albert Pujols.
But if Cole's self-image is accurate, then why does he strike out so often when he attacks his critics?
In his response to Goldberg, Cole attempts to smear Middle East scholar Martin Kramer (who has penned devastating critiques of Cole):
He has a relationship with the so-called "Middle East Forum," which runs the McCarthyite "Campus Watch," and which was part of a scheme to have me cyber-stalked and massively spammed.
At no time has any project of the Middle East Forum taken part in anything remotely resembling the actions described in these baseless assertions. I challenge Juan Cole to produce evidence that Campus Watch or the Middle East Forum have, at any time, been part of a "scheme" to have him or anyone else "cyber-stalked and massively spammed." Such charges are self-serving conspiracy-mongering with no basis in truth.
As for Cole's other charges: How is the Middle East Forum, an IRS-approved 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization, the "so-called Middle East Forum"? This is the organization's legal name. If this is an attempt at sarcasm, it's lame.
In labeling Campus Watch "McCarthyite," Cole resorts to the most hackneyed cliché in the left's repertoire. (In fact, he made the same charge against us just last month -- we corrected it here.) As we have written countless times, we critique professors of Middle East studies; we do not silence them. How could we? We do not possess, and do not seek, governmental powers to issue subpoenas or silence critics.
Cole's accusations against Campus Watch fit his pattern of responding to criticism by engaging in conspiracy-theory-mongering and ad hominem attacks. To explain his failure in 2006 to land a chair at Yale University, he blamed a "concerted press campaign by neoconservatives," who used Cole's frequently intemperate writings on his blog, Informed Comment, to paint him as a radical. Cole dredges up this episode again in his response to Goldberg when he attacks Michael Oren, a Middle East studies scholar who is now Israel's ambassador to the U.S., who, Cole says, "weighed in against my receiving an appointment" to Yale.
Yet as CW contributor David White documented in his article "Juan Cole and Yale," Yale's decision was "based on an assessment of Cole's scholarly work," which several senior scholars "deemed insufficient." As a Yale political scientist told White, "At the end of the day, it wasn't his blog; it was his scholarly work. And that's why he was denied the position."
We challenge Cole to prove his latest charges against Campus Watch.
Surely the self-declared Ted Williams of his discipline can hit this ball out of the park.
Winfield Myers is director of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
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