January 31, 2006

The Official “Hatemonger’s Quarterly” January Academic of the Month

Wait no longer, dear reader: Today’s the day we announce our glorious January Academic of the Month. This fortuitous scholar will be in very good company—a company of pernicious tenured (and untenured) radicals who are helping destroy higher education in these here United States. We can’t think of a greater honor. And we’ve given it an awful lot of thought.

Without further ado, then, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” are pleased as piggies to announce the luminous winner of Academic of the Month accolades: Augustus Richard Norton. Mr. Norton, a professor of anthropology and international relations at Boston University, caught our collective attention with his fatuous review of Robert Fisk’s new piece of anti-American, anti-Israeli propaganda.

Mr. Norton, whose self-important nomenclature makes it seem as if he’s a minor character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, penned his piece of arrant nonsense for The Nation, a rag with a healthy disdain for the truth. Accordingly, it may not surprise you that this purported expert on Middle Eastern politics proves to be a real twit.

About the conspiracy-mongering ravings of Mr. Fisk, Mr. Norton has the following to say:

It is tempting to compare [Fisk] to Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh for the exclamations of fierce loyalty or disdain that his pugnacious columns inspire. But Fisk is more serious than either man and, as The Great War for Civilization exhaustively demonstrates, he has a command of his subject worthy of a historian.

We know what you are thinking: Wow, Robert Fisk is more serious than Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh? Gee, then he’s got to be really great. Perhaps he’s even more serious than Oprah and Carrot Top.

But what we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” found particularly interesting is the even loftier praise that follows these more-earnest-than-Howard-Stern kudos. To Mr. Norton, an expert in Middle Eastern politics, Mr. Fisk’s The Great War for Civilization shows that its author “has a command of his subject worthy of a historian.” Not faint praise, that.

So let’s see what another Middle East expert has to say about the selfsame tome. In the latest number of Commentary, professor Efraim Karsh has this to report:

First there is the problem of simple accuracy. It is difficult to turn a page of The Great War for Civilization without encountering some basic error. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not, as Fisk has it, in Jerusalem. The Caliph Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was murdered in the year 661, not in the 8th century. Emir Abdullah became king of Transjordan in 1946, not 1921, and both he and his younger brother, King Faisal I of Iraq, hailed not from a “Gulf tribe” but rather from the Hashemites on the other side of the Arabian peninsula. The Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in 1958, not 1962; Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, was appointed by the British authorities, not elected; Ayatollah Khomeini transferred his exile from Turkey to the holy Shiite city of Najaf not during Saddam Hussein’s rule but fourteen years before Saddam seized power. Security Council resolution 242 was passed in November 1967, not 1968; Anwar Sadat of Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, not 1977, and was assassinated in October 1981, not 1979. Yitzhak Rabin was minister of defense, not prime minister, during the first Palestinian intifada, and al Qaeda was established not in 1998 but a decade earlier. And so on and so forth.

Hmmm: It appears as if Mr. Karsh has offered ample reason to conclude that Mr. Fisk is not in particularly strong command of his subject. He may be like an historian—a lousy historian.

Admittedly, Mr. Karsh is no fan of Robert Fisk. But we’re not even talking about matters of interpretation; we’re talking about matters of fact. So why did Mr. Norton—who makes a few light criticisms of Mr. Fisk’s book—fail to mention all these screaming errors? Did he want to pull one over on his readers, or is he also as factually challenged when it comes to the Middle East?

Naturally, Mr. Norton’s review heralds Mr. Fisk as someone who does not offer a Manichean picture of the Middle East—as if the anti-Israeli, anti-American carping of Fisk demonstrates great nuance. And then, of course, Mr. Norton makes it clear that, whatever the problem, he thinks Israel and America are ineluctably to blame. Even Yasir Arafat’s failures in the Oslo peace process are seen as essentially Israeli and American failings.

Well, gee, Mr. Norton: Thanks for the extremely nuanced view. You chucklehead. For this, you most assuredly deserve our prestigious January Academic of the Month Award.

Do you know another professorial nitwit who well deserves a drubbing? If so, drop us a line by clicking the “Contact Us” “link” at the top right-hand corner of our humble “weblog.” There are so many academic panjandrums, and so little time.

Posted at January 31, 2006 12:01 AM | TrackBack