Experts? What do they know?
Thanks to Bubby in the last thread, Nick Cohen on PM (iPlayer, only available in the UK and for six days from 28/2/2011 etc; he starts just after 34:30, not, as bubby said, 24:30), striking many of the same notes as he did in the Observer.
I got back from London late on Sunday night, and I found Nick's piece because it was number 2 on the 'most viewed' list on Comment is Free. That says to me that CiF readers are drawn to the 'Middle East', which must mean something.
Right from the start, there's a lot in the CiF piece (I've listened to the PM comment, but I'm not prepared to transcribe it, so I can take it apart) which just confirms my dislike of Nick.
The Arab revolution is consigning skip-loads of articles, books and speeches about the Middle East to the dustbin of history. In a few months, readers will go through libraries or newspaper archives and wonder how so many who claimed expert knowledge could have turned their eyes from tyranny and its consequences.
Somehow this combines what I think must be direct steals from smarter writers (the first sentence is an echo of someone else, I'm sure), with a dig at expertise - hence implicit favouring of the generalist, or newspaper columnist. I suspect "wonder how so many who claimed expert knowledge could have turned their eyes from tyranny and its consequences" is also borrowed, probably from some commentary on Stalin, although the 'claimed expert knowledge' knowledge bit is Nick's own. "Those who should have known better averted their eyes" sort of thing always surprises in the "how could they?" way but, if we learn anything from history, not otherwise.
Who are those who "claimed expert knowledge"? Juan Cole and Marc Lynch (specifically attacked by Michael Ezra, though I've forgotten in which thread we argued about them) both wrote about the Middle East generally, and neither, IMO, fawningly toward dictators. Journalists? Do say, John Simpson, or Robert Fisk avert their eyes from tyranny? Who, exactly, is Nick talking about?
Here's a short list of things that Nick Cohen writes that make me hate him:
1. He's really not an expert on anything. He's got a very general degree and he writes very generally about politics. He really seems to dislike that who've dug deeper and have years of study behind them. Gosh, imagine being able to read Arabic or Farsi! That must be the biggest single mistake you could make, next they capture your mind.
2. He's infuriatingly vague. This is fine if you leaf through the Observer with a hangover and black coffee, snorting, "Politicians! What do they know? Bloody hell..." etc. But it doesn't bear any actual thought. Someone, somewhere is wrong. You know this, and reading it in a proper paper somehow confirms your superiority, and that's a good thing.
3. I think the internet changed journalism. I think it should have made journalism more like academia. If you refer to someone else's piece, you link to it, then readers can, in principle (most won't), make up their own minds. Nick really doesn't seem to like this idea.
Anyway, for the very little this is worth, here's the CIA Factbook on Libya (now out of date).
During the 1990s, QADHAFI began to rebuild his relationships with Europe. UN sanctions were suspended in April 1999 and finally lifted in September 2003 after Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. In December 2003, Libya announced that it had agreed to reveal and end its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and to renounce terrorism. QADHAFI has made significant strides in normalizing relations with Western nations since then. He has received various Western European leaders as well as many working-level and commercial delegations, and made his first trip to Western Europe in 15 years when he traveled to Brussels in April 2004. The US rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in June 2006. In January 2008, Libya assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2008-09 term. In August 2008, the US and Libya signed a bilateral comprehensive claims settlement agreement to compensate claimants in both countries who allege injury or death at the hands of the other country, including the Lockerbie bombing, the LaBelle disco bombing, and the UTA 772 bombing. In October 2008, the US Government received $1.5 billion pursuant to the agreement to distribute to US national claimants, and as a result effectively normalized its bilateral relationship with Libya. The two countries then exchanged ambassadors for the first time since 1973 in January 2009. Libya in May 2010 was elected to its first three-year seat on the UN Human Rights Council, prompting protests from international non-governmental organizations and human rights campaigners.
You can read into that. Who has promoted Gadaffi? Western Governments, including Blair and Bush. Who has been critical? Oh, those nobodies Amnesty International and those like them. Hold on, isn't AI left-wing? But haven't they criticised Middle Eastern despots for being despotic without regard to Palestine? Oh yes, they have.
CIA Factbook on Tunisia.
The country's first president, Habib BOURGUIBA, established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In November 1987, BOURGUIBA was removed from office and replaced by Zine el Abidine BEN ALI in a bloodless coup. BEN ALI is currently serving his fifth consecutive five-year term as president. Tunisia has long taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations. Domestically, it has sought to defuse rising pressure for a more open political society
Of course, Nick, it's only left-leaning do-gooders who have turned blind eyes to dictators. We're all bad, Nick. You're quite right. We defended Stalin, except we didn't. And Hitler, except we didn't. And so on. Just say to yourself, "I am a good person."
Written in an increasingly bad mood. Add your own commentary. I know I didn't get past the first paragraph. I didn't read much further either. I have a low tolerance for finger-jabbing in my direction. I can say that I saw something worse in the Sunday Times (read over someone's shoulder on a train). There was a pullquote in the business section which went something like, "If the contagion spreads to Saudi Arabia, all bets are off." I'm sure readers will agree that propping up capitalism by any means available, even Saudi oppression of just about the total populace, is worth stopping the "contagion" of democracy and people's rights. TS Eliot didn't read the papers on Sunday. That may have been a religious thing, but it may also have been the best decision he ever made.