Fish in a barrel

Really, taking down Thomas Friedman is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s so easy and so tempting. Mostly I like to leave well alone, but occasionally the fact he gets to spout on at thw NYT with such impunity just gets to me. He is an example of how someone pretending to be sympathetic to the Middle East and to have an affinity with Muslims can actually come out with the most odious neoconservative nonsense.

‘I love that line: “We have to surprise them.” I was watching the movie on an airplane and scribbled that line down on my napkin.’

Seizing on a fairly vapid line from a fairly vapid film, he files it away in his thought book. His writing tends to everyman metaphors that come off as vaguely meaningless – baseball, snack food, representing hugely complex Middle Eastern conflicts through the warped lens of American popular culture. The lure of an empty phrase is seemingly too strong to resist.

‘I tried to recall the last time a leader of importance surprised me on the upside by doing something positive, courageous and against the popular will of his country or party. I can think of a few: Yitzhak Rabin in signing onto the Oslo peace process. Anwar Sadat in going to Jerusalem.’

I find it hard to see how either of these acts were positive and courageous. Both of them had little impact other than nice photo opportunities and the approval of the West.

‘Look at Iraq today. Five months after its first truly open, broad-based election, in which all the major communities voted, the political elite there cannot rise above Shiite or Sunni identities and reach out to the other side so as to produce a national unity government that could carry Iraq into the future.’

Seven years after the West created a sectarian mess in Iraq, surprisingly enough, tensions remain between Iraq’s different factions and show little sign of improving. What a shame those ‘tribal’ Arab leaders can’t see past their ideological blinkers. I have little sympathy for Iraq’s political elite, but the situation is far more complex than he paints it.

‘True, democracy takes a long time to grow, especially in a soil bloodied by a murderous dictator for 30 years.’

And by foreign troops for the last 7.

‘Yes, because the roots of 9/11 are an intra-Muslim fight, which America, as an ally of one faction, got pulled into…Bin Laden attacked us because we prop up his Saudi rivals — which we do to get their oil.’

Perhaps this is one reason. But it goes without saying (one would hope…) that there were so many more.

‘In Iraq, you have the pure Sunni- versus-Shiite struggle.’

And what exactly is that, please? There is NO SUCH THING. This is Middle Eastern politics for idiots. Sunnis hate Shiites, Shiites hate Sunnis, when will they ever learn. Lazy.

‘The reason the Iraq war was, is and will remain important is that it created the first chance for Arab Sunnis and Shiites to do something they have never done in modern history: surprise us and freely write their own social contract for how to live together and share power and resources.’

Yes, just like before the colonialists came and carved up the Middle East with a ruler. Thank goodness we invaded to give them a chance to correct our mistakes.

‘But it will be impossible without Iraqi Shiite and Sunni Mandelas ready to let the future bury the past.’

It really is very boring when writers drone on about how the Middle East needs a Mandela, or a Gandhi, or whoever. South Africa had a Mandela. India had a Gandhi. Stop imposing your paradigms of leadership on the rest of the world.

‘Indeed, the big problem is not those Muslims building mosques in America, it is those Muslims blowing up mosques in the Middle East.’

No, of course the big problem is not the Muslims building mosques in America, it’s the bigots trying to stop them.

‘And the answer to them is not an interfaith dialogue in America. It is an intrafaith dialogue — so sorely missing — in the Muslim world.’

He is deliberately confusing this issue. Interfaith dialogue is sorely needed in America. It is also needed in the Muslim world. It is not sorely missing in the Muslim world, but perhaps Thomas Friedman is too busy lamenting all those Muslims blowing each other up to notice when they talk to each other.

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