It seems I've done something to someone at Frontpagemag.com because for the second time in a few months they've done a profile on me. I'm not sure if this is intended as a compliment or not, but it's worth looking at the piece as a case study in how the Right uses factual distortions and inaccuracies to attack those it deems to have gone over to the dark side.
The article, "Academic Marxist Rock Star," http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=17449 by frontpagemag.com intern Tvi Kahn, is in general a recycling of an earlier and better titled piece by Robert Spencer, also on this website, "Mark LeVine: Noam Chomsky as Rock Star." I wrote a detailed response to Spencer's largely inaccurate portrayal of my views that appeared on Juan Cole's blog, Informed Comment
which led to several exchanges between us. Mr. Kahn seems not to have taken note of it, for he makes the same accusations as Spencer without addressing my rebuttals. But there's enough new to make a new rebuttal worth the effort in order to provide an example of just how extensive the misinformation campaign of the Right is and how much effort is necessary just to keep a story somewhere approaching factually accurate.
To begin with, Kahn accuses me in the title of being a Marxist. But I'm not a Marxist—although now that I think of it, much the same accusation has been made against Stanford Professor Joel Beinin by Right wing accusers (as I've documented in earlier postings), also without foundation. I suppose this is still the best opening salvo they can come up with; even better than accusing someone of being "liberal." But I don't understand why someone would make such a ludicrous charge in the title. At least wait till the second paragraph before venturing that far away from reality.
He then quotes the Spencer article (without any attribution, which in my business is called plagiarism, although perhaps in the world of Right-wing web journalism the standards are lower) that I have a "penchant for ageing rock stars." What does this mean? That I prowl the clubs looking to pick them up? How many ageing rock stars do I even know? What does "penchant" even mean here, aside from the vague sexual innuendo of the word (so I'm a star-struck homosexual Marxist; even juicier!)
He further accuses me of "renouncing my Jewish faith" after my father died when I was a teenager. That's news to me; especially since he died in my twenties and I have never renounced my Jewish faith. Perhaps he means that I'm not a religious Jew? But if this is his standard for renouncing one's faith then more than half the Jews in the world are apostates. Anyway, does it really matter where and how one concocts these fantasies? All that matters is that I'm a self-hating Jew; and the intended effect was achieved, as I've already received one email from someone castigating me for abandoning my heritage, as if the very process of accusing me of doing so means that I must have done it (I though this logic went out of style with the Inquisition. I guess it's coming back.) One thing is clear, neither Mr. Kahn nor his colleagues on the Right, so many of whom are publicly religious, have read the Hebrew Prophets.
Then comes the main thesis of the piece:
"Meet Mark LeVine, an academic known not for his music but for his steady stream of anti-American and anti-Israel diatribes from a Marxist perspective that present Washington and Jerusalem as aggressors in a war against Islam."
So here's the point. I am "anti-American and anti-Israel." But where's the proof? In fact, a student of mine told me he was watching O'Reilly in late February when the Ward Churchill affair was all the rage and a guest listed me first as the most anti-American and anti-Israel professor in the country. Very nice, but as an old TV commercial once said, "Where's the beef?" Perhaps it's because after the elections I called American a "criminal nation" for reelecting a man who led the country into an illegal war that killed over 100,000 people? Well, as far as I know, that's one big war crime, and if Americans voted for Bush with this knowledge at hand—and the realities of Iraq were undeniable on November 2, 2004—then this would seem to make the country a criminal nation, however unpleasant such a reality might be.
The real issue is: How does one defend oneself against such an accusations as those leveled by Kahn? I could challenge Mr. Kahn to document such a view; but of course the proof is all in how one defines "anti-". For the Right, any criticism of the US or Israel automatically defines one as anti-America or Israel. A time-worn tactic to be sure and thoroughly at odds with the heart of both Jewish and American history (both of which are founded on strong dissent against the status quo of oppression and injustice). Apparently, however, they're still considered effective. And what's a "Marxist perspective"? Who cares, as long as I have it while also hating America and Israel. What a trifecta! Should I be making reservations for a long stay in Cuba in the near future?
"Most menacing" of all to Kahn is that I have a "long history of blending art, scholarship and activism." Ah-hah! Now we have it. If I blend together these three activities I can not be "objective," like all those great Right-wing scholars who are of course, by definition, objective (since their version of the truth is of course the only objectively valid one—Ayn Rand is surely smiling…). But please Mr. Kahn, tell me what's wrong with blending them together? If it's so bad, what are you doing working for frontpagemag.com? At least I can argue by the facts at hand that my activism is derived from what is accepted by the vest majority of the scholarly community to be the most accurate understanding of the history and contemporary dynamics of the region I study. Can we say the same thing about the contributors to your website? No. Ah, but we know the reason why we can't, don't we? Because the left-wing cabal who have taken over academia have largely succeeded in running honest and God-fearing scholars who happen to have a conservative view point out of town.
I hope I'm not boring the reader, but this isn't a matter about defending one's honor. It's about how people can write things that are factually inaccurate in every single paragraph and then circulate to the entire world via the internet, morally, politically and otherwise cost-free. So Mr. Kahn continues his argument by claiming that I believe that "There is only one cause [of the world's problems], capitalism, that produces every effect. This is a simplification worthy of a rock musician." Let's put aside the slander of rock musicians (as the good and especially great ones produce music that is far from simplistic). It would indeed be a simplification if I argued this; but in the previous sentences he quotes me as arguing that in fact there is a four-fold matrix of forces—modernity, colonialism, capitalism and nationalism—that can only be understood together if we want to get a grasp of the causes of the problems of the Middle East and larger global south.
So which is it? Well, in order for Kahn to accuse me of being a Marxist, of course, he must say that I argue that capitalism is the "only" cause. This despite the fact that in my writings I have said specifically that in the Middle East it is colonialism that is the most important "coefficient" of what I call the "modernity matrix" while arguing, based on the research of Israeli geographer Juval Portugali, that at the same time in a place like Palestine/Israel nationalism can be the "generative order" of historical dynamics of the conflict from a spatial perspective, capitalism can be determinative (as argued by Israeli scholar Gershon Shafir in his seminal Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict) in the country-side, and modernity as an ideology and colonialism as a process can be most important in the cities and larger political arena. All of this I have argued in numerous published articles and book chapters, but I guess Mr. Kahn didn't think it necessary to read most of what I've written before making definitive pronouncements about the essence of my "ouvre."
Moving to the present, Kahn attacks a critique I wrote of the first Arab Human Development Report in which I accused the authors of uncritically buying into the Orientalist stereotype of Middle Eastern societies as being uniquely backward, undemocratic and undeveloped largely because of their own cultural and historical failings, not because of the power and policies of the West. He thinks that my "patronizing attitude absolves Arab societies of the responsibility that the AHDR wishes to restore" for their problems.
That's a nice argument, except it's once again totally wrong. First, because I don't absolve Arabs for their problems. Rather, as the article in question clearly reflects, I try to show how all groups interact and feed off each other; that's quite different than his accusation. And indeed, that kind of nuanced position led to my being invited to meet with the senior UNDP personnel who wrote the Report, who in fact agreed with my critiques and distributed it widely amongst themselves. What's more, they explained that they hoped to rectify the problem in later reports. What Mr. Kahn doesn't mention, however, is that when the authors did just that with the 3rd Report—that is, focused attention on the role of the US and the history of colonialism in producing the region's problem—the US refused to allow it to be published, much to the chagrin even of the series' biggest booster, the Times' Thomas Friedman.
To be honest, I'm getting tired. Every single sentence is rife with inaccuracies. How much time am I supposed to spend to setting the record straight? And when I do, will the website print it and challenge the author to respond? And who will read such a piece, especially without a sexy title and lead-in featuring a mix of accusation of rock-starphelia, Marxism and menacing of our children's undeveloped minds? (No wonder one conservative student group at my university put a sign outside my office building asking "Who's more dangerous to America, Osam bin Laden or your professor?")
Yet I think it's important to point out a few of the outright distortions in the rest of the hatchet job because they are a common theme in attacks by the Right that I've encountered lately. First is the accusation of "exaggerated reports" of civilian casualties in Iraq. I wish this were true, but of course it isn't. The study that argues for 100,000 civilian deaths (which doesn't even include the number of dead from Falluja and ended the body count before the bloody second half of 2004) was conducted by several of the leading medical schools in the US, peer-reviewed, and published in one of the top three medical journals in the world, The Lancet. It was attacked fiercely by the Right but its methodology was judged solid and the numbers agree with accounts by all the Iraqi medical personnel I met with in the country and have been in touch with since then. But like the attacks on John Kerry's Swift Boat tour of duty, it matters little whether the accusation has a shred of truth; as long as you repeat it enough it will plant enough of a seed of doubt in the public's mind about the event to convince millions of people to suspend judgment of their government and move on to more important issues like the Jackson trial or the latest cast-a-way from "Survivor" or "American Idol."
Finally, Kahn accuses the International Solidarity Movement of "overtly endorsing terrorism" in criticizing my description of the ISM as true soldiers of peace. Again, this is utter rubbish; but who cares? And anyway, what's terrorism? However he defines it so that whatever the ISM says, it endorses it? Please Mr. Kahn, can you provide some clarity and/or proof of your accusation? Or do accusations need no supporting evidence at frontpagemag.com?
If I can find some free time not spent rebutting the kinds of attacks featured in this article I will devote my next post to discussing some interesting articles in the Arab press on the topic of "The End of Arab History" in the wake of events in Iraq and Lebanon.