Juan Cole's recent lecture at Auburn University in Alabama was a jarring reminder of the importance of pursuing accountability from our academics. Speaking in the Haley Center's primary auditorium to a room overflowing with students and a smattering of aging hippies, Cole provided an hour-long lecture on America's relationship with the Middle East. While the seating arrangement was not uncomfortable, the lighting and the acoustics left something to be desired.
The overarching theme of the lecture was that the United States, specifically the Bush administration, was to blame for our problems with the Muslim World. Speaking in the "deep south," Cole's message was apparently tailored to an audience that undoubtedly was more conservative than those he normally faces. He couched his more extreme views in a nuanced, casual vocabulary that nevertheless failed to obfuscate them.
Calling his new book, Engaging the Muslim World, a "critique of the approach to the Middle East and Muslim World more broadly adopted in the first eight years of the twenty-first Century," Cole unveiled from the very first moments his anti-American biases and lack of interest in historical context. He would have us all believe that our problems began with the Bush administration and that only a "small fringe terrorist group" posed a threat to the United States. Never mind the record of Islamic terrorist attacks that had plagued the West for the preceding three decades or the pernicious actions of rogue states like Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya: American bullying is the problem and Juan Cole's way of thinking is the solution.