[Marxism] Juan Cole on the perils of blogging
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 24 07:20:00 MDT 2006
(This article is in response to other articles on the topic. I am not sure
whether they are accessible to those without a sub to the Chronicle, but is
worth a try: http://chronicle.com/review/)
From the issue dated July 28, 2006
CAN BLOGGING DERAIL YOUR CAREER?
Juan R.I. Cole Responds
The question is whether Web-log commentary helps or damages an academic's
career. It is a shameful question. Intellectuals should not be worrying
about "careers," the tenured among us least of all. Despite the First
Amendment, which only really protects one from the government, most
Americans who speak out can face sanctions from other institutions in
society. Journalists are fired all the time for taking the wrong political
stance. That is why most bloggers employed in the private sector are
anonymous or started out trying to be so.
Academics cannot easily be handed a pink slip, but they can be punished in
other ways. The issues facing academics who dissent in public and in clear
prose are the same today as they have always been. Maintaining a Web log
now is no different in principle from writing a newsletter or publishing
sharp opinion in popular magazines in the 1950s.
The difference today is that, because of Internet neutrality (which may not
be long with us), an academic's voice is potentially as loud as or louder
than those of corporate-backed pundits. Occasionally, my Web log has
generated as many as 250,000 unique hits and over a million page views per
month. Entries have also been sent in e-mail messages in numbers that
cannot be traced. My Web log is, for the moment, certainly a mass medium.
The ability to speak directly and immediately to the public on matters of
one's expertise, and to bring to bear all one's skills to affect the public
debate, is new and breathtaking. I have had some success in explaining the
threat of Al Qaeda and suggesting how it should be combated, and have
addressed U.S. counter-terrorism officials on numerous occasions on those
matters. And then there is Iraq, about which I was one of the few U.S.
historians to have written professionally before the 2003 war. In the
summer of 2003, when the general mood of the administration, the news
media, and the public was unrelievedly celebratory, I warned that a
guerrilla war was building and that powerful sectarian forces such as the
movement of Moktada al-Sadr were a gathering threat. I gained a hearing not
only with broad segments of the public but also at the highest levels of
the U.S. government.
I am a Middle East expert. I lived in the area for nearly 10 years, speak
several of its languages, and have given my life to understanding its
history and culture. Since September 11, 2001, my country has been
profoundly involved with the region, both negatively and positively.
Powerful economic and political forces in American society would like to
monopolize the discourse on these matters for the sake of their own
interests, which may not be the same as the interests of those of us in the
general public. Obviously, such forces will attempt to smear and
marginalize those with whom they disagree. Before the Internet, they might
have had an easier time of it. Being in the middle of all this, trying to
help mutual understanding, is what I trained for. Should I have been
silent, published only years later in stolid academic prose in journals
locked up in a handful of research libraries? And this for the sake of a
"career"? The role of the public intellectual is my career. And it is a
hell of a career. I recommend it.
Juan R.I. Cole is a professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history
at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. His blog can be found at
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