Summary of Hitchens vs. Cole
Posted by Dorkafork
Christopher Hitchens wrote this piece, in which his argument was that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did, in fact, argue that Israel should be destroyed, and that Juan Cole, a so-called "Middle East Expert", was wrong to argue otherwise. Then Juan Cole responded with not one, but two posts full of lousy arguments.
First Cole complains that the e-mail was private and it was unethical for Hitchens to discuss it. I'm inclined to disagree, but that is neither here nor there considering it does not change whether Ahmedinejad talked about destroying Israel or not.
Cole then claims:
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.
Gee, thanks Mr. Expert. It "probably" comes from some poem. That was helpful. (Personally, I would avoid using the phrase "in fact" and "probably" in the same sentence.)
Cole goes on to say:
Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that "Israel must be wiped off the map" with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.
That's the extent of Cole's rebuttal to the significant points made by Hitchens. And if you look at Hitchens' piece again, Cole's defense looks incredibly lame. Cole basically makes no attempt to make a serious rebuttal to Hitchens' points:
I don't have any intention of making a point by point reply to Hitchens's completely inaccurate screed.
Followed immediately by his "Khomeini, who said anything about Khomeini?" act.
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.
Yes, who cares about silly little things like context. Cole says Khomeini didn't really mean "wipe Israel off the map". Hitchens shows how foolish that is, Cole fails to rebut him, and acts surprised that Hitchens even brought the subject of Khomeini up. Cole later says:
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.
Hmm. Let me try: "[T]he 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." Boy that was tough. I had to scroll up nearly halfway up the same damn post.
Cole also makes this argument:
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. (-ed. emphasis in original)
It's Cole's expertise versus the rest of the world's. Besides the New York Times translation of the original Persian, certainly the UN Security Council took Ahmadinejad at his word. "Egypt said Mr Ahmadinejad's outburst 'showed the weakness of the Iranian government' while Turkey urged the president 'to display political moderation'."
Al Jazeera also translated it as "wiped off the map". It provides Ahmadinejad quotes such as:
"...the annihilation of the Zionist regime will come".
"The Islamic umma (community) will not allow its historic enemy to live in its heartland," he said in the fiery speech that centred on a "historic war between the oppressor and the world of Islam".
"We should not settle for a piece of land," he said of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip.
"Anyone who signs a treaty which recognises the entity of Israel means he has signed the surrender of the Muslim world," Ahmadinejad said.
"Any leaders in the Islamic umma who recognise Israel face the wrath of their own people."
Der Spiegel got it wrong, too:
His audience of 4,000, at a conference in Tehran titled "A World without Zionism," broke out into the rhythmic chanting of what amounted to a call to arms: "Marg bar Israel!" (death for Israel).
Maybe Cole should go over to Iran and inform those 4,000 people that they misunderstood what Ahmadinejad said.
Cole goes on to chant "One, two, three, four. We don't want your stinking war!" (that's not a joke, that's a direct quote) and calls Hitchens a drunk. (Juan Cole tends to have a problem with ad hominems.) He makes a lame excuse for this in his second post: "...the point about his drinking problem is not ad hominem. It is germane to his failing faculties and increasingly immoral behavior." You could just as easily say "Juan Cole is an idiot, which is germane to his faculties and moronic behavior."
(The second post also mentions comments by Andrew Sullivan on the contretemps. Cole very wisely avoids linking to Sullivan's post on the subject. Also, quotes of Juan Cole are accurate at the time of this posting. Cole's posts have been known to change without warning.)
UPDATE: I just wanted to add some more; Cole's post provides plenty of grist for the mill. Before calling Hitch a drunk, he mentions weapons sales to Iran by Israel and the US, and links to a description of the Iran-Contra scandal. Presumably he's trying to show that it's possible for Israel & the US to have peaceful dealings with Iran, or maybe that Khomeini disliked us but was willing to have dealings with us. First of all, Israel's arm deals with Iran pre-Iran-Contra were intended to help Iran weaken Iraq, because they took place during the Iran-Iraq war. David Kimche, director general of the Israeli foreign ministry at the time, called it "playing at both ends". This is no more evidence that Israel and Iran can coexist than the fact that Israel helped create Hamas means that they can be friendly. And then we get to Iran-Contra. Arms sales as ransom for hostages mean we can all get along? This amateur hour operation that was done without the knowledge of the CIA or Mossad, that resulted in a huge scandal? Here's Kenneth Pollack's description of Iran-Contra from The Persian Puzzle:
In every case, as far as the Americans were concerned, the deal was supposed to have been that the Iranians would have the seven Americans held hostage in Lebanon released in return for the latest shipment of arms. In every case, the Iranians failed to do so, although that never stopped the Americans from agreeing to yet another arms shipment in return for yet another promise of the hostages. On three occasions, the Iranians did see to the release of a single hostage -- just enough to keep the Americans coming back for more. However, in September and October 1986, just before the clandestine effort was exposed and shut down, three more Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon, suggesting that the Iranians and their terrorist proxies planned to keep the unequal process of trading the occasional hostage for regular shipments of weapons and intelligence going for a long time.
The Iranians played the Little Satan and the Great Satan for fools, while Western leaders mistakenly believed they were dealing with "moderate" elements of the Iranian government. "I wouldn't bring up Iran-Contra if I was you, it's poor salesmanship."
(And Yale's considering hiring this guy? Yeesh.)
Another Update: Dave Price at Dean's World touches on some of Cole's statements that I didn't, and also links to someone claiming to be Iranian and criticizing Cole's translation skills in the Winds of Change comments section. Oh, and Iowahawk has Cole's first draft. Includes a translation of Ahmadinejad's IM conversation.