Juan Cole’s speech was shocking.

Angela Cesere
Juan Cole, professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian History, speaks about the fight against al-Qaida yesterday afternoon. (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily)

Just not in the sense political junkies have come to expect from Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian History and author of the controversial blog “Informed Comment.” Many expected to hear a fiery critique of U.S. foreign policy. Instead, Cole’s speech was factual, not inflammatory.

In front of a crowd of hundreds in Rackham Auditorium yesterday afternoon, Cole focused on America’s successes and failures in combating al-Qaida and other extremist groups over the past five years.

He said the United States has made a number of mistakes that have fanned the flames of insurgency in Iraq and elsewhere.

One, he said, was the American decision to fire all members of Iraq’s Baath Party from government posts. Many of them only became Baathists so they could obtain passports, which were only awarded to members of the party, Cole said.

He also said American insensitivity to Islam has caused problems. One notable example was the U.S. Soldiers’ violation of the gender segregation mandated by Muslim law.

“These were cultural affronts of a very severe sort,” Cole said, citing searches of Muslim households where male U.S. soldiers came into contact with Muslim women who were not wearing the proper covering.

The notorious photos of torture victims at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and the wreckage of Fallujah, the insurgent hotbed decimated by American forces, created images that extremists and terrorists could rally against, Cole said. It might be years before the damage to the United States’ image is undone, he added.

But although Cole was critical of many of the government’s strategic and tactical moves in the Muslim world, he seemed somewhat reluctant to be politically provocative. President Bush and the other officials behind U.S. anti-terrorism policy were hardly mentioned. And Israel, another frequent topic on Cole’s blog, was barely discussed until an audience member brought it up in a question.

When asked what steps the United States should take to continue preventing extremism in the Muslim world, Cole said the country must curb anti-American sentiment. The United States should pressure Israel and Palestine to restart the peace process, he added. With a conciliatory tone, Cole said both Israeli and Palestinian groups have recognized the needs of their counterparts and should reopen negotiations. Cole suggested that pledging a return to the 1967 borders could end the long standoff.

“It would be better for the Israelis, it would be better for us,” Cole said. “So why don’t they do it already?”

Cole finished his speech on a somewhat optimistic note, insisting that there have been several successes in stemming terrorism since Sept. 11.

With al-Qaida and similar groups largely broken up and decreasing in popularity, the United States has no reason to fear a large-scale attack on U.S. soil, either with conventional weapons or weapons of mass destruction, Cole said. He added that nearly every Muslim country has been cooperative in fighting terrorism.

Although Cole didn’t deal with the details and emotional impact of Sept. 11 on American culture, his lecture fulfilled a more relevant goal, said LSA senior James McKenzie.

“It’s important to remember what happened on 9/11, but I think it’s more important to look back at the facts and see what we’ve changed since then and what we still need to change.”

Cole’s speech was sponsored by the Ford School of Public Policy’s Josh Rosenthal Education Fund, named in honor of Josh Rosenthal, a University alum who died on Sept. 11 in the World Trade Center………………………………………………………………..5………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….6………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….7………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….8………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….9………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….10………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….11………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….12………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….13………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….14………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….15………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….16………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….17………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….18………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….19………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….20………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….21………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….22………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….23………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….24………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….25………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….26………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….27………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….28………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….29………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….30

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