The Cole Incident
No, not the Colbert incident--Cole, as in Juan Cole. In today's Slate magazine, the intellectually compromised Christopher Hitchens compromises himself further not just by leveling a broadside at Juan Cole, but doing so based on restricted emails he misquoted. Cole won't link to it, but I will. The issue is on the oft-repeated quote that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wishes that Israel were "removed from the map." Cole, a scholar, clarified the actual context and translation of the quote on a private email listserv he subscribes to:
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.Pretty clear, yes? So this is what Hitchens intercepted the emails so that he could try to smear Cole. Here's what he wrote:
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.
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.My central problem isn't with Hitchens, it's with Slate. He is a wholly discredited writer. He now functions as a kind of rage clown that cable news shows sometimes book. He's good TV, in that "you're hurting America" kind of way. He should, however, never be given a platform for launching his particular form of rage clown ad hominem attacks. They're almost always libelous, and--worse--they're always about burnishing Hitchens' own reputation as a "contrarian" (ie rat bastard). He spews because he's paid to spew and because spewing allows him to get more jobs spewing.
The problem isn't Hitchens, who is not a unique form of virus, but Slate. And this was pretty clearly just the opportunity for Hitchens to get a little payback for a Salon article Cole wrote last fall. The idea of Hitchens waiting to get some dirt on Cole, failing, then stealing some emails and misrepresenting them all as retribution strikes me as exactly par for Hitchens' course. Okay, but what the hell was Slate doing enabling him?