Editor in Chief
Professor of English William A. Cook has published numerous books and articles on Middle Eastern issues and social justice around the world while remaining a devoted professor at the University of La Verne. While classical music played in the background, he sat down to talk about his writing process, what President Obama is not doing and why he will not buy a Kindle.
What makes you passionate about literature? And when did this passion develop?
When I was studying for the priesthood I moved through a lot of literature and when I left I had a combination of interests, one was in painting and the other was literature. I went all the way through my Ph.D. studies for five years and was on the cusp of completing my dissertation while I was still showing my art in galleries. I told myself if somebody pays attention then I will continue with my art and if they don’t then I’ll stop. So I ended up taking them to the town dump because nobody had paid attention. Then I completed my dissertation.
Literature is an all-inclusive subject. You can’t read literature and you certainly can’t teach it if you don’t know the contexts, such as historical, socioeconomic, or philosophical, something that is a foundation on what is written and which the writer is using as a mirror to create. It’s fascinating because it is universal and on top of that if you study it correctly, you have an enormous sensitivity to the language. You have to be able to organize your thoughts and it can then be beautifully used to convince or persuade people to do something. At the same time it can be abused. It can be manipulated and maneuvered to deceive people. When you are an English major and studying for that subject area you get sensitive to words and how they can be maneuvered so that the intent isn’t to give them truth but to do the exact opposite.
What makes the ULV English department stand out compared to other schools?
The personal intensive association with faculty is a real virtue. At some other schools there are 50 faculty members per department and they don’t even know each other. Here makes for an intimacy that is meaningful for students. On top of that, David Werner, the chair of our department, has been involved in prison education for over 30 years. This university is one of the few institutions in the country doing that and he is a dean in that field relative to the time invested in it. The results are demonstrable in recidivism rates, which are about 11 percent as opposed to 80 percent in the rest of the nation. That is a remarkable achievement. Dorena Wright is heavily invested in peace and justice so in her understanding of the British mind and literature they have an understanding of a homegrown person that can deal with that bold area of background. Ken Scambray is a principal professional in American literature. He has written books on it and continues to do so. Jeffrey Kahan is an internationally known Shakespeare scholar and he just keeps pouring it out.
Moving on to some of your work, can you describe the creative process for writing your book “Psalms for the 21st Century?”
I was living up in the San Bernardino Mountains then and I would come down the mountain 55 miles and then go back up 55 miles, sometimes at night and in the fog. But it was a complete hour or so of complete silence where nobody could get to me. I didn’t have a cell phone so I would keep notes. I had a (recording device) that I was able to talk into to keep my ideas going. This was written over that period of time.
I had always wanted to re-do the psalms because I have found that as much as people go to them for the wonders they express there is a repetitive cruelty that says ‘God help us and destroy our enemies” which I think is somehow offensive to God, if there is such. I found the content thread in each of the first 25 Psalms totally different in the outcome. My point was: the one thing we can count is this, and we know one thing that is present, and that is people. I hoped to draw on comprehensible and desirable moral values that would bring us together rather than go against each other. These psalms were written in the first year of the 21st century. I have spent my life always at war as a living member of this country. From the Depression right on through to the turn of the century and the destructive results of Vietnam, I thought maybe we have finally learned something. There are comments in there about putting together something that might give us a boost into this new century in a totally different mindset.
How did you get associated with counterpunch.com?
I wrote them an article and the first one they rejected right away. I re-wrote the introduction to it and they took it. Over seven years, every three weeks I was putting an article on Counterpunch. Then I was called by other Internet sites like ‘Media with a Conscience,’ ‘Pacific Free Press’ and ‘Dissident Voice.’
Some of your work for Counterpunch deals with current political realities, what are some things you focus on when writing for this publication.
My stepdaughter graduated from here (ULV) a year ago suddenly became interested in politics. Her walls were covered with Barack Obama. I went with her to a meeting and she was making phone calls with people in Nevada to try and get their support. This blunted my concerns going on about what I didn’t think he (Obama) was doing, as we were moving up toward January 20 when he would be inaugurated. I have a number of articles dealing with that, one of which was titled “Dear Michelle” and it says that you have to do something because Israel is mutilating the Palestine people in a horrendous and vicious way. Much of the world seems to know about it but our Congress doesn’t and he (Obama) isn’t saying a word. I understand that he is moving into a situation that I hope he didn’t understand was in place before he ran because it is a controlled government. He is moving into ‘can I get anything done.’ Health care for example, what he was running on and what he ended up with was a piss poor understanding of what he thought he would be able to get done. But very little change is what he ended up with. When you are dealing with congressmen who are paid for by corporations, you can check this, there are 76 Senators that wrote to Hillary (Clinton) to have her get rid of this little dispute between Netanyahu and Obama. Why? Because (they say) Israel is a good friend of ours, and they are a democracy of the world. No they are not! Just check what the hell they do and you realize they are not what a democracy does. Nonetheless we buy it because all of our papers say it and they are getting $30,000-60,000 for going along with the line. Look at (Joe) Lieberman for God’s sakes and even McCain. They are calling for us to bomb Iran. Why? Because Israel can’t do it alone, therefore we have to do it. This is untenable. Now I am sitting here watching my daughter begin to lose faith in the system and I don’t want that to happen, but it is difficult to sit and watch. I have a feeling I know why he is taking the route he is taking, is that by creating some disharmony and making it uncomfortable, particularly to get rid of Netanyahu, because he can’t solve anything. I think he is going to have to purpose something because he can’t get Netanyahu talking with Abbas. They say they are ready to sit down for peace and will sit down with no conditions. They already laid out conditions, they are on the ground and they are occupied. He needs to bring in outside voices. He can do it in part with the quartet but he will have to go beyond them. He has to bring in the Arab countries. That means he has to tell them what he wants them to work out. He has the Green Line to work with or the Resolution 242 or he can go to the Saudi prince’s plan which goes back to 1967 but it guarantees recognition by all other countries. People don’t’ pay attention to it because they don’t want to. My newest book that comes out in the next couple months went all the way through production with the title, “As the World Watches: Genocide in Palestine.” But when I got the contract it said the title would be “Plight of the Palestinians.” What I have done is collected 10 years of articles dealing with genocide in Palestine and when it gets out there, worldwide, there may be a chance that more people in America will understand something. We are an ignorant people. We do not know what is going on. And that comes from intentional omission from the media.
When were going into Baghdad with shock and awe at the end of March, I was in Prague delivering a paper. Fourteen days after we started the bombing I wrote an article asking if you would send your son or daughter to war. And I wrote about two and half pages of why those lies were getting us into war. This is long before 2005-06 when we finally had the press mention the Downing Street Memos. It was known stuff, but the American people never got it. They haven’t gotten it to this day.
Well my next question was going to be how critical it was for Obama to outline a peace treaty with Israel and Palestine, but you have somewhat answered that question already.
It is essential. I was in Cairo the year after Hamas won the election. I was at the 4th international conference against the occupation and I had been asked to come over and I gave them a peace plan: The Palestinian People’s Plan for Peace. My point was, now that you won, everybody is going to expect you to become invasive. But I said go the other way. First thing you do is invite all the countries of the world to visit Palestine and show them around. One of two things would happen, either Israel wouldn’t let them in or they would get to come in and show the world in fact what is on the other side of that wall. Then you say lets draw up a peace plan and get the United Nations around that wall so we don’t have the antagonism of the checkpoints. Within two months, and I am not responsible for this, Hamas had come out with and the acceptance of the Saudi Prince’s peace plan. Abbas then called for an international conference on peace and neither Israel nor the United States were there. You can’t have peace when they don’t want it, no matter what they say.
What genre do you enjoy writing the most?
Satire. Anything that has a flavor of a moral castigation against actions that are taking place in your veins. Which is why I got into this in the first place, like when Bush was taking America in a direction that is the complete antithesis to what it should be. You can let him do it, or you can say something about it.
Who are some of your favorite satirists?
Twain, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift and Hawthorne in a very strange way. Hawthorne’s moral approach is such that he forces that same kind of illumination only to expose the reality of the nature of us as beasts. He gets in your face and yet he still is a little ambiguous.
What is the writing process like for you?
I usually do it early in the morning. Then after I have taught and go back home, have a glass a wine and doze for a minute or two to re-stimulate then I can go back to writing.
My approach is more that I keep up on the field, which is the Middle East, pretty much. And as a result of that I need to know what is taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. I do interviews with Press TV until my schedule changed and their programming times conflict now. There are always angles that come out that trigger a way of looking at it, I am not a reporter. I don’t sit in to look at a particular event that took place. For example at the World Economic Summit and Shimon Peres is up on stage along with other speakers. This was a world event so it was newsworthy and Peres gets his turn to speak and goes on and on and on about the peaceful loving Israelis. Finally, Erdagon (Prime Minister of Turkey) asked why he got so much time and Peres got flustered. Then Erdagon got up and said “Shimon you know how to kill” and walked off the stage. Here is this man who talked about how nice and peaceful everybody is and he slaughtered 1,400 people and the world called him on it. Most reporters would comment on how he improbably walked off the stage. To me that wasn’t the real issue. To me it was the recognition that here is someone deceiving the crowd as he talked. He was talking about an Israel that didn’t exist. The language is the thing that is going to tell you not just that they are telling you the truth or are they not, but are they trying to deceive and force people into a mindset that will corrupt them, and make judgments they shouldn’t make. What does it tell you about people? How they use language exposes people, it tears the clothes right off of them, you see them naked. If I were in journalism or political science I wouldn’t be writing from the angle that I write because if you want to communicate and make the world a better place, then you better communicate so that all people understand that you are there for their benefit.
Who are the new voices out there that people should be reading?
Gilad Atzmon. He is a jazz musician in London and is a voice that is brutally honest from the Jewish perspective on what the Zionists have done to Judaism. He falls therefore in the multitude of Jews that have switched to a recognition that their faith is not just being tarnished but disintegrated from the Zionist approach. And it is sad because when I was growing up that religion had a beautiful understanding of humanity and a compassion that seated most faiths. Most of our Christian faiths duck under the corner and hide; they (Jews) were out there during the civil rights era and things like that. There are a number of people that confront the issues that I am concerned with in different angles. Paul de Rooij is a mathematician and he uses it from different perspectives. For example, he does statistics that show you the change in civilian death rate that is perpetrated by the idea of the Palestinian population over a span of time. Ilan Pappe wrote “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.” He had been a professor in Israel until that book came out and now he is a professor in England. That is a horrible read because of what he talks about. What he is doing is showing the realities of what took place during the years of 1940-1948 and the establishment of Israel. And for all of the propaganda that goes on out there about the Arab populations telling the Palestinians to get out because they fear for their lives, it just wasn’t so. That a rag-tag group of Jews from a Jewish agency fought off the north, no, no, no. You are talking about anywhere between 20,000-80,000 trained troops. Robert Fisk, the British journalist, is just outstanding. More in line with current journalism, Chris Cook is the editor of the Pacific Free Press and is radio host of Guerrilla Radio. He gets people from all over to interview about things that are taking place in Canada and the Middle East. Because Canada has the same fascination of what is happening here, they are being controlled. I am alleged to be a hate speechwriter in Canada. Harry Abrams, a representative of Canada’s BC B’nai B’rith went to the Canadian Human Rights Council and alleged that I, and others, about 17 of us, were hate speech writers. So then they contact the editors from different publications and they remove them from the archives. So they achieved their goal but you never get charged. And I always say wait a minute, it’s not my anti-Semitism that is the issue, it is their hatred of the Palestinians and the Arabs. There are very few voices on the other side.
Have you or will you switch over to the Kindle or any e-reader?
I would have a difficult time. There is something about having it in your hand. I have the same problem when they want me to go online and find out a student number for school and I can’t just pull out a file or grab a piece of paper to look at it. Because somehow that (computer files) is going to disappear. Hackers are after our system and once they black that out think about what is going to happen to us. How do you win a war these days? You take the U.S. out of the skies. I guess I don’t have that faith in it yet. For traveling it’s great. I do a lot of marking in the book and I tend to put stickers all over it. That is a part of what reading is.
To read more of Cook’s work, visit drwilliamacook.com.
Kevin Garrity can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.