University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole spoke at CSU Long Beach on Thursday, October 16. I attended and videotaped the event which was organized by the Middle Eastern Studies Program with assistance from the Department of History and History Students' Association, and is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and College of Liberal Arts. The auditorium was standing room only, so I am guessing there was around 300 students and professors in attendance. The topic was ISIS. Cole spoke on the historical events mostly in Iraq from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the present and spoke very briefly on Syria. He spoke for about an hour before taking questions. As expected, he spoke very derisively of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq in 2003. Much of his talk focused on the displacement of the Sunnis/Baath party with the fall of Saddam Hussein and how they became fighters against the Shi'ite regime eventually morphing into ISIS.
One of the more noteworthy things Cole said, however, came during the q and a (Tape 119 at 4:15 mark) when a young man asked him about the Westerners who have joined ISIS, particularly the Brit known as Jihadi John who carried out the notorious beheadings. This led Cole into a denunciation of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who Cole said was using the issue to cause fear among the British public. Cameron, said Cole, was playing to his Conservative Party constituency, which he calls racist. He called the release of the news Islamophobic, a way to beat up on British Muslims, and said that Cameron should be ashamed. Cole added that there are almost 4 million Muslims in Britain and that the quoted number of 400 who have reportedly gone to join ISIS is an infinitesimal number. He briefly referred to the FBI claiming that some 100 Americans have joined up but said nothing about all the other Western nations whose passport-holders have joined. In responding to another young female questioner, Cole condemned Islamophobia and stereotyping of Muslims.
I had to leave just as the last two audience members were lined up at the microphone so I missed their questions and Cole's answers.
Comment: While Cole has probably forgotten more about the Middle East than I will ever know, I do take exception with his comments about the release of news that some 400 British Muslims have gone off to join ISIS. While it may be an infinitesimal number compared to the overall Muslim population of the UK, and may not represent majority Muslim thought, it is a cause for concern. Four hundred ISIS fighters returning to Britain can do a lot of damage to a country that has already experienced the slaughter of a British soldier on a London street and the recent beheading of a woman by a Muslim convert. In addition, the killer who attacked the Brussels Jewish center was a French citizen who had returned from fighting in Syria-to say nothing about the pernicious influence of Anjem Choudary and his followers in the UK. Finally, such Western fighters have originated in other European countries as well as Canada, Australia and the US. This is nothing for Cole to pooh-pooh. But, let's face it: Cole has his agenda.