Cole, despite self-proclaimed expertise, erred in labeling al-Qaida ‘irrelevant’

To the Daily:

Prof. Juan Cole is, of course, entitled to his views on the Middle East and anything else. If he chooses to use childish vulgarities in the Daily (Prof, ‘U’ targets on watchdog website, 10/04/02) to describe his critics (“a loud fart from a boor in Philadelphia”), that, too, is his privilege. But one may wonder about his expertise and understanding. The University’s website describes Cole, no doubt in his own words, as someone who has “studied the politics, culture and history of Shi’ite and Sunni Islam and is familiar with Islamic radicalism in both branches.” Yet, two weeks after the Sept. 11 atrocities, Prof. Cole opined at a public forum at the University, “I’ve spent 30 years now studying Islam and this scenario does not sound to me like Islamic fundamentalism. I mean maybe it sounds a little bit like the Applegate people (a group in California who believed they were ascending UFOs for outer space) but it doesn’t sound to me like it has anything to do with Islam.” He went on to tell several hundred people that, “In a very real sense, al-Qaida … is probably fairly irrelevant … It’s a fringe group, a small group … al- Qaida is a relatively minor organization and the real failure lies elsewhere … This is like David Koresh in Waco. It’s a small cult.”

We have learned that al-Qaida and groups cooperating with it have been operating in places as far flung as Hamburg, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Jakarta, Yemen, the Philippines, Italy and possibly Detroit, Portland, Lackawanna, N.Y. and other places. Letters from al-Qaida recruits found in Afghanistan mention men from Morocco, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, the Philippines, Sudan, Canada, the United States, the West Bank and the Caucasus. (New York Times, Nov. 24, 2001). After 30 years of studying Islam, Prof. Cole somehow missed the extent and significance of this “irrelevant” group. As an “expert,” he was invited by our International Institute to participate again in a symposium last month reflecting on the events of the previous year. One hopes that Prof. Cole devoted some time over the past year to studying the texts taught in Saudi schools, the sermons preached in mosques the world over and the activities of the “small cult” in places ranging from New York to Jakarta. “Loud farts” may be emanating from “boors in Philadelphia,” but some might feel hot air coming from “public intellectuals” – Cole’s description of himself on one of his web sites – in Ann Arbor.

Zvi Gitelman

Professor of Political Science

Comparison to Charlie Borwn not a racial slur

To the Daily:

I am writing in response to Friday’s article, Students speak out on the power of words. There are many things I like about the University, and the diverse campus filled with opportunity for everyone is one of them. Yet it seems sometimes that we do not always know where to draw the line.

Apparently now, commenting that someone looks like a “black Charlie Brown” is a racial slur. Do we live in such a distorted PC world that differences cannot be commented on, just ignored? Should tall people start reporting that University employees have compared them to (gasp) tall Charlie Browns? I say again, where do we draw the line between racial problems and ridiculous accusations?

Kyle Aron

Engineering junior

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