Few professors in the controversial world of Middle East studies boast more about their own notoriety than Juan Cole, a man who believes the consistent criticism of his public positions to be a sign of distinction. Yale University's decision not to hire him for an endowed chair five years ago due to insufficient scholarship led him to publicly charge that George W. Bush and the CIA torpedoed his candidacy. When organizations such as Campus Watch publicize Cole's outlandish commentary, he cries "censorship" and labels them "McCarthyite."
His latest lecture at New York University—a collaboration with Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-American assistant professor of Arab culture and politics at NYU—dealt with Iran's response to the "Arab Spring." In a packed room of over 100 mostly Iranian and Arab-American students, Cole analyzed the Islamic Republic of Iran from a "classical realist" perspective. If one didn't know any better, one would have departed the lecture believing that Iran justifiably protects its own interests; that America is a malignant and aggressive force and Israel its trigger-happy satellite; that Turkey's Islamist Freedom and Development Party (AKP) is headed by a practical and liberal Prime Minister Erdogan who promotes "Middle Eastern multiculturalism"; and that a moderate Islamist party in Tunisia called Ennahda does the same.
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