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When asked by a student why both Muslims and Christians have voted for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Cole—in typically apologetic form—answered that “Hezbollah has done a good job of rebuilding the infrastructure and protecting the Lebanese from Israel.”
Several questions revolved around Syria and the failure of its revolution thus far, to which Cole responded:
The U.S. and Israel are not interested in changing the regime in Syria. Syria is good for the U.S. and it’s good for Israel.
He never explained how the Assad regime in Syria—despite all evidence to the contrary—is good for either the U.S. or Israel, when in fact it’s an ideal candidate for regime change. In Cole’s conspiratorial mindset, the U.S. and Israel are behind everything, even when it’s not in their interests.
When a member of the audience described recent protests in the Palestinian territories, Gelvin noted that, “these uprisings in many ways are the most interesting to observe.” Referring to a group that calls itself “Gaza Youth Breaks Out,” Gelvin proudly put forth the opening line of its manifesto: “F— Israel. F— Hamas. F— Fatah. F— UN. F— UNWRA. F— USA!” Given that the group’s manifesto also promises to “start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves,” it’s little wonder that Gelvin was so taken with them.
Continually deflecting attention towards the U.S. and Israel, the two speakers evinced a troubling state of affairs in the field of Middle East studies. Instead of asking the difficult and, at times, uncomfortable questions regarding the rise of radical Islam in the Middle East, both Gelvin and Cole whitewashed the revolutions by downplaying the role of religion and framing the discussion around economic grievances. The Arab uprisings are still unfolding, but what may be needed is an uprising in academia.
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