Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cole-powered dissent

Juan Cole (2006) writes, "The role of the public intellectual is my career."

The University of Michigan professor is an expert on the Middle East and is a prolific blogger with as many as 250,000 readers daily, making him a public intellectual with some effect. The public and policy makers alike read his blog.

How is it that Juan Cole can manage this and so few other US intellectuals offer routine public comment read by many?

He is devoted, he is brilliant, he is determined to share his professional knowledge rather than lock it into lengthy scholarly journal articles read by few and never in a timely fashion, and he is tenured. Except for an unwillingness of other institutions to hire him, he does have job security and a measure of immunity from sanction from his institution.

Cole is modest about the effect he may have and he is modest about his certitude regarding people and events in the region of his expertise, but he is not falsely modest about being one of those experts. He notes the years he has spent in the region, his linguistic abilities, his recognized expertise, and his track record of being a lone voice or the first voice to warn about the dire consequences of poor US policy, such as his pioneering caveats about the inevitability of guerrilla insurgency against US invasion of Iraq.

We need more like Cole. There are more, but not enough. Indeed, it should be the policy of institutions of higher education to reward their intellectuals who speak, write and demonstrate publicly for peace and justice by peaceable means. Would this pit the universities against the political rulers? Sometimes. And that is exactly what a robust democracy should support. The history of yes-men regimes is not one of success. Yes, we have plenty of fighting in our polity, but we need more of that actually informed, rather than driven by Fox Factoids from the Sarah Palin-Michele Bachmann types who are only expert at self-aggrandizement and literally nothing else.


Cole, J. I. (2006). Juan R.I. Cole Responds. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(47), B9. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

No comments: