I've been reading up on what has been called the "wingnut shitstorm" about a post of Juan's a little over a week ago. Really, I'm astonished -- to see Juan, our Juan, called things like "fascist", "anti-democratic", and "an apologist for terrorism". (!) I've watched Juan post on email forums for five years, and delved into his postings that go back nearly ten, and there are few people who take freedom and democratic values more seriously than Juan Cole. When he was posting on Baha'i forums, the conservatives there thought he was rather too committed to things like freedom of expression and individual rights. In fact, when I saw him called "fascist", I laughed out loud. In our circles, one of his critics tried to tag him as a "libertarian".
I mean, shoot, I pretty much expect that conservatives are going to trot out old cliches about ivory tower liberal professors and the like, just like the liberals trot out cliches about redneck dittohead idiots with straw in their hair. That's just politics; one can tune it out like white noise. And it's certainly not the first time I've seen Juan criticized, but whoa, this stuff is something else!
And, what sparked all this? Juan commented on Martini Republic's article concerning blog trolling and "astroturfing" (i.e. pretending to be a grassroots blog when you are really well-funded by an interest group) and, still referring to that article, which voices some suspicion about IraqtheModel, which is well-thought-of in right-wing circles. So, almost the whole post was basically recapping somebody else's posting, and all Juan basically said was that deliberate disinformation was likely to be a problem in the blogging world. What's so far-fetched about that? There are people who manipulate, or try to manipulate, cyberspace forums -- and I don't think all of them are just random jerks with too much time on their hands. "Trolling" is an old phenomenon; no reason why blogs would be immune.
Basically, what these critics have done is take Juan's recap of this other article as an outright accusation that the Iraqi blog is being funded by right-wingers in some fashion. If Juan had wanted to make an accusation, he'd have made it outright; he's not exactly shy about stuff like that. Even the references he made to this Martini Republic weblog, only speak of "suspicions".
The Iraqi brothers that write the ITM blog certainly seem to be popular on the right; they are painted as being heros, so the MR article was certainly not wrong about them being "celebrated". By contrast, Riverbend, written by an Iraqi woman who reports a rather bleaker picture of what is going on over there is accused of being a fake and worse. You know, I don't know a whole lot about Iraqis, but I'd bet that folks in that country have different views of what is happening there -- and those differences can actually be honest ones.
Anyway, I found all this flurry of condemnation to really be overkill, considering what Juan was actually saying.
I suppose I should put up all the links to these things, but there's quite a bit, and it's late, and I'm not sure if anybody's reading anyway. If you want to follow the cybertrail, just put "Juan Cole" into a search, and you can't miss it. Do the same with the weblogs you find that way.