In defense of Juan Cole

Juan Cole, professor of history at University of Michigan and blogger of Informed Comment, has come in for quite a bit of criticism from both the left and the right blogospheres this week or, as Glenn Reynolds put it “Everybody seems to be dogpiling on Juan Cole again”. Being a contrarian I’d like to rise (somewhat) to his defense.

I read Professor Cole’s blog every day and I consider it to be a useful resource. He reads Arabic and Farsi (as he frequently tells us), has been to the region, has substantial knowledge of the history of the area—particularly in connection with the various religious movements there, and, undoubtedly has personal contacts there who are themselves knowledgeable. He has legitimate and relevant expertise and does, frequently, provide informed comment particularly when he concentrates on his actual areas of expertise. We’re fortunate that he shares that expertise with us.

Through reading Professor Cole’s blog I’m frequently exposed to facts, sources, information, and ideas that I probably wouldn’t get elsewhere.

Like all of us, Professor Cole has his foibles and weaknesses. Like all of us, I suspect, he inflates his resume a trifle and strays from areas in which his expertise is undoubted and genuine into areas where it is less so. Like many of us he has strong convictions and makes little attempt to hide them. At least you know where he stands.

I could do without the daily casualty reports which appear to be a central feature of his blog. I know that people are dying in Iraq. It’s heartless of me to say it but the levels of casualties have no tactical or strategic significance. The daily casualty reports are defeatist and, what’s possibly worse, counter-productive since they can be used to justify opposing positions with equal validity.

Here’s what I suggest.

To Professor Cole: please keep on blogging. I would certainly like to see more translations of articles and editorials from Arab-language media, government statements, statements from religious leaders, conversations, anything. I would love to see translations from Arab-language blogs. And I would like you to post more within your specific area of expertise. Drop the daily casualty reports. And avoiding calling for opposition intelligence reports would be nice.

To those who disagree with or detest Professor Cole: keep reading Informed Comment. If you have expertise of your own, keep him honest by critiquing his posts—gently—as required. Read his blog the way you would eat an apple: work around the inedible parts.

7 comments… add one
  • Perhaps ceasing calls for Bush to be tried as a war criminal would be nice as well? Or abandoning a dictator-friendly strict Westphalian outlook?

  • Brian H Link

    Maybe he could make his views as a Muslim more explicit. I don’t think he’s a Salafist like Kahlil, but he’s in one of those splinter sects.

  • collounsbury Link

    First, Cole is not to my knowledge a Muslim. Regardless, it is not relevant and he’s clearly not a Salafist, merely raising that is utter idiocy.

    Leaving this aside, as someone who knows the region, I state clearly he’s clearly knowledgable about what he directly claims to be knowledgable about. Like it or not.

    His analysis of non-religio-political issues leaves much to be desired, but to understand the cultural-political nexus, you’re better served reading him than most commentators (I point to the ignorant blather written about the Lebanese sectarian conflict miscast as “Ceder Revolution” or Beruit Spring by wishful thinkers – as well as the misplaced sour commentary on him at the time).

    In the end his analyses on Iraq and regional developments have trended to having been right more often than his Bolshevik Right critics.

  • Thanks for that, collounsbury, that’s my point precisely.

  • collounsbury Link

    My pleasure. There is far too much “political correctness” in these online worlds, right and left. I hate Cole’s economic politics and am none-too-fond of his general politics. However, the man knows his core subject matter cold and while not always right, bloody well more often than most. Glad to have you sticking up, principle over blind ideological lashing out needs to be supported if we’re not to see “The Right” descend into Bolshevik like group-think. Bloody pisses me off.

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