Juan Cole and the Middle East

The reader of this blog can probably be as well informed as any about Iraq and its situation if he reads Juan Cole’s blog: http://www.juancole.com. The subtitle is “Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion”. In spite of its broad range, in recent years the emphasis has been on the Iraq war. Cole is a history professor at Michigan who has written several books, perhaps the best on the history of the Shiites in Iraq. He seems to have many contacts within Iraq and in the Iraq-aware community throughout the world. His approach to the war and the Middle East has been that of a liberal professor, but a much better informed and thoughtful person of this breed than most.

But Cole is also much more than an ordinary professor. He is an authority on the Bahais (and may be a Bahai, I’m not sure). He has written widely on Bahais, Sufis, and other spiritual movements. His web site also has quite a bit on the Unitarian-Universalist movement.

But for our purposes, the most exciting initiative that he is now involved with is something called the Global Americana Institute of which he is president. He has set it up to fill what he feels is a serious vacuum: the lack of available translations of American authors into Arabic. He is thinking particularly of Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, perhaps a history of Jews in America. He has toured widely in the Arab world and visits bookstores wherever he can. It is amazing how little literature he finds. He finds a fair number of American authors in English or French. But for those who only know Arabic, there is almost nothing. He thinks it would help greatly if the Arab public had greater access to our writings and one can only agree. (He hopes to extend the effort, probably to Persian on the one side and to Hebrew on the other.)

It is interesting that many of the programs that we thought were helping with this problem a generation or so ago have either disappeared or been greatly scaled back. There is apparently no longer a Franklin Book Program. There is a small U.S. Government translation program, but very few of its works are available to the general public. The United States Information Agency has been reduced in size and folded into the State Department. Their once well-known reading rooms have largely disappeared. The emphasis of Cole’s foudation will be on producing inexpensive paperbacks since connection to the internet is still rare and libraries are few and weak. American studies programs are almost entirely lacking in the area, and where they exist tend to be connected with the study of English. Some recent discussion of this initiative can be found at http://www.juancole.com/2006/04/americana-in-arabic-challenge-to.html.

Explore posts in the same categories: Iranian Region, Iraq War

2 Comments on “Juan Cole and the Middle East”

  1. Steve Says:

    Juan Cole was a Baha’i but he prefered different rules.

  2. tovorinok Says:


    Great book. I just want to say what a fantastic thing you are doing! Good luck!


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