An Open Letter to Professor Juan Cole

Dear Professor Cole:

I was offended and upset by MEMRI’s threat to sue you for libel. Free speech matters, and the notion that anyone would use the courts to try and intimidate someone for speaking – simply because their views differ – threatens the liberty that I deeply believe in.

I posted my position on my blog.

We’re on opposite sides of many current issues. I disagree – strongly – with many of your views on the Middle East, but on my blog I publicly challenged MEMRI and personally wrote Yigal Carmon, telling him that what he was doing was wrong.
My support was essentially a political act – a statement that while we differed in almost every way, I supported your right to speak – as a political act – without the threat and expense of lawyers vetting every word.

Then I was informed of your similar threat against Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes.

You dismiss it, cavalierly.

“P.S. The Boris and Natasha of Arab-Israeli politics, are saying that I brandished a lawsuit against them for putting up a dossier on me and encouraging people to spy on me for them, in 2002. Damn straight I did. And nor are these two incidents comparable. I did not threaten to sue them for libel, but for personal harassment. I didn’t cyberstalk Yigal Carmon. In fact, I don’t think I ever even mentioned his name until he threatened me. As a private person, he should be left alone. The rhetorical strategy of alleging that if you ever threatened to sue someone on solid grounds, you may not complain about someone else frivolously threatening you with a SLAPP, is typical of these polemicists. Move on. Nothing of interest to see here.”

And I’ll call bullshit.

I’m not deeply familiar with Campus Watch, but your claim is on its face absurd. Like it or not, when we step into the political sphere, we become public actors. Your record (and mine, and Martin Kramer’s) are fair game for those who would use them either on our behalf or against us.

For you to claim that this simple act of assembling a record of your statements and writings is ‘harassment’ cheapens the word into meaninglessness.

You spoke politically; your opponents acted politically in assembling your words and deeds – and in encouraging others to look at them; and you reacted by threatening to use the law to quash their legitimate political actions.

You won’t agree; fine. I doubt that my opinion means more to you than your does to me. But you ought to know that you would have had my support – and the support of others who believe as I do – in this issue, and now you don’t.

I’ll close with a favorite quotation from one of my professors, political theorist John Schaar.

“Finally, if political education is to effective it must grow from a spirit of humility on the part of the teachers, and they must overcome the tendencies toward self-righteousness and self-pity which set the tone of youth and student politics in the 1960’s. The teachers must acknowledge common origins and common burdens with the taught, stressing connection and membership, rather than distance and superiority. Only from these roots can trust and hopeful common action grow.”

Marc Danziger

6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Professor Juan Cole”

  1. “I didn’t cyberstalk Yigal Carmon ..”

    Which is Cole’s unsubtle way of saying that Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer were cyberstalking Cole. Cyberstalking is a crime in some states now, and furthermore is associated with pedophiles and psychotics. Not to encourage any more ambulance-chasing, but accusing someone of being a cyberstalker is much, much closer to libel than anything Pipes and Kramer said about Cole.

    Campus Watch posted a so-called “dossier” on Cole that contained a small portion of the “Personal Information/Cirriculum Vitae” that Cole posts on his own website. It contained no information that Cole hasn’t posted himself, and much less personal information. They did not, for example, post Cole’s credit report, or photos of him mowing his lawn.

    The definition of “harrassment” from the Michigan Cyberstalking law (750.411h):

    “(c) “Harassment” means conduct directed toward a victim that includes, but is not limited to, repeated or continuing unconsented contact that would cause a reasonable individual to suffer emotional distress and that actually causes the victim to suffer emotional distress. Harassment does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.

    If Cole suffers emotional distress when somebody contradicts him, or if he thinks that no one has a constitutional right to criticize his public rants, then he’s curled up so tight in the Womb of Academia that he doesn’t even know what public discourse is.

  2. You better watch your mouth, AL! I’ve got a huge dossier of everything you’ve ever written at my fingertips, and at the touch of a button I can scan it and see if you’ve had the temerity to change your opinions or support Communist notions like Free Speech. Ph34R |\/|y l33t g00gl3 5k1llz!

  3. I’ve been following this dispute peripherally since it erupted into the blogosphere. I’ve been a longtime reader of WoC and CampusWatch. I do think that Pipes cherry-picks his facts, but he does at least stick to facts, and that’s he’s fighting for public recognition of a general phenomena (bias in how academia perceives and teaches the realities the Middle East) that does need to be recognized. Of Cole I’m less complimentary, since his politics not only get in the way of coherence and logic but of basic human civility.

    A.L., I’ll be blunt and say that I think you’re wasting your time. However, it’s your time to waste and I think that, as wastes of time go, you’ve chosen a commendable one. Showing a principled respect for political speech (and a healthy concern about making such speech overly litigious) is a noble gesture. So maybe it wasn’t wasted in that regard. If your goal was to earn respect from Cole, however, every minute spent in that pursuit is one you won’t get back.

  4. To add to Wishard’s point, cyberstalking requires “unconsented contact” under Michigan law. The statute gives as examples: public confrontations, telephone calls and emails. I’ve seen nothing posted by Cole or by Kramer that would suggest that Campus Watch actually CONTACTED Cole.

    Cole argues in his SLAPP letter, however, that Campus Watch posted and solicited information on Cole such that he became “the victim of repetitive spam attacks, which a reasonable person could have foreseen.” He was contacted by SPAM, which any reasonble person would conclude is the direct result of having an email account. Silliness.

    Patrick

  5. Armed Liberal,

    The difference between you and Cole is that nobody cares what you think. While Cole has thousands of dauky readers and regularly appears on tv and testifies before congress, you post on a site that nobody knows about.

  6. I care what A.L. thinks!

    I’ve thought about this a bit. It should be known that I come from an academic family so that no doubt affects my thinking on this matter. Likewise, I have no particular attachment to Israel; while I sympathize with its plight and abhor terrorism, I don’t see certain types of commentary about Israel as inherently out of bounds the way many here do. I don’t agree with everything Cole writes, and I’ve found him to make charges without evidence on occassion, but nevertheless I’m coming at this debate from a different perspective. I’m not interested in waging ideological war. But I view Campus Watch with a very suspicious eye, as I do the likes of Horowitz, Pipes, and Kramer, whoe I’ve also found to make unsupported allegations. I’ve also expressed my concern about certain aspects of HR3077, but we don’t need to get into that again.

    That said, I think that Cole handled the situation poorly. I don’t if any communication took place before Cole sent his “cease and desist” letter, but there ought to have been some. Digital brownshirts do exist, on both sides of the ideological divide, and they can be intimidating. However, Cole is a public figure and there doesn’t seem to be a legal means to deal with the issue of “digital incitement,” so Cole should have tried to (a) find a way to talk to CampusWatch and work together to solve the problem, and (b) looked into technological solutions. While the MEMRI and CampusWatch situations aren’t directly comparable, they’re similar enough to undercut Cole’s moral standing. There must have been another way.

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