22 May 2009

Roger Cohen - an ominous fellow traveler?

I warmly recommend an excellent article An Ominous Turn in Elite Opinion by Jonathan S. Tobin in the Commentary magazine. Not because I agree with every conclusion about the article main protagonist - Roger Cohen, I have my doubts about some of them. Rather because it is the first attempt I have seen to understand the phenomenon that Cohen represents as one of the more odious examples.

Some of the ire Cohen causes definitely stems from his consistently anti-Israeli stance. He claims that he supports Israel and only protests occupation, "disproportional" military response etc., but it will take a professional nitpicker to distinguish Cohen's consistent bashing of Israel from that of, say, Juan Cole (the name mentioned on purpose). The only claim I haven't detected yet in Cohen's ever-growing anti-Israeli collection is the one where Israel is guilty in all strife in the world. But it's not that Israel can't do with some more creative bashing, is it?

There are many indignant articles and blog posts about Cohen and his "support" for Israel, my recommendation will be to focus on excellent series by Soccer Dad, more could be found by using this Google search (as a side remark: Soccer Dad says here that he is "tempted to say about Roger Cohen that the less said about him that better", but apparently Cohen is irresistible, and I absolutely understand and share SD's feelings). Still, Soccer Dad refers mostly to Cohen's outlandish opinions, and I am currently into anthropology.

The more interesting and revealing chunk of Cohen's recent body of work, however, relates to his Iranian experiences. This is where the budding fellow traveler eventually flowered to perfection. His lyrical descriptions of the golden days of Jewish community in Iran (periodical arrests on false charges of spying on behalf of Israel and hangings notwithstanding), his acceptance of anything told to him by a "random" selection of Iranian Jews via a government-appointed translator and handler, his praise to the "vibrant democracy" of Iran - all these so painfully reminiscent of similarly inexplicable support for Hitler and for Stalin wholeheartedly provided by Britons, some of whom could have been Cohen's grandparents.

And Cohen's Oxbridge pedigree is so reminiscent of a whole range of Britons - from supporters of Hitler to the opposite wing, where the Cambridge Five are immortalized in all their revolting glory, that it is not that easy to get rid of this parallel too. But of course, Oxbridge produced thousands of highly respected scientists, politicians, teachers and of course there is a widest spectrum of political beliefs between Lord Haw Haw and Kim Filby, and it will be a sure proof of a paranoid mind to suspect Cohen of being an agent of this or another foreign power.

A simpler explanation (that Occam's razor enforces) will be that, like many others before him, Cohen is being a blind slave to his wishful thinking. And, like hundreds of VIPs before him were successfully blinded and enthralled by (firmly guided) tours of hotels built for such occasions in Soviet Russia, of happy Russian farmers unable to say a word in English, of thriving factories, caviar-cum-vodka dinners and insidious "translators", of burgeoning Hitlerite economy, law and order, clean streets and clockwork precision of Mussolini trains; so was Cohen successfully led through a succession of Iranian Potemkin villages. Cohen has seen what his hosts wanted him to see and heard exactly what his hosts wanted him to hear.

On the other hand, Cohen could not be that stupid, could he? The man with his experience and journalistic background must have seen through this ploy, right? But no, the power and enchantment of wishful thinking could overcome any professional scruples. Even in a journalist of Cohen's calibre who describes himself as "smart, driven, liberal, Jewish". So much for smarts then...

Still... imagine that you are Mahmoud the Mad, or, even better, an anonymous clerk in the Iranian propaganda department. What could be more convenient than, on one hand, professor and Farsi expert Juan Cole (this is why that mention above) who adroitly interprets any genocidal declaration of your betters as a peace offering, and on the other hand, a leading journalist in such an august media outfit like NYT, singing praises for your regime? And not just any leading journalist, but smart, driven, liberal and Jewish? I mean, it's a godsend, isn't it? Nothing better than these two to turn the elite opinion, whatever "elite" means to you. Throw into the mix Mahmoud's kissing buddies of Jewish Ultra-Orthodox persuasion, "socialist" Hugo Chavez and a bunch of other hosanna - singing characters all over the world, and the Ayatollahs with their puppet Mahmoud the Mad look more kosher than a kugel.

Yes, it definitely seems that if Mr Cohen didn't exist, Iranian propaganda ministry must have invented him. Very convenient, almost made to order.

Whose order, I wonder? How does a poisoned fruit like Roger Cohen flourish?

Questions, questions...

Cross-posted on Yourish.com