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Thomas Friedman Against the Arab World: How the New York Times Columnist Objectifies Muslim Women and Shills For War

The New York Times Op-Ed writer who pushed for the Iraq War should quit trying to "civilize" the Arab and Muslim world.

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One possibility, however, turns up in The World Is Flat, when Friedman invites readers to “talk to young Arabs and Muslims anywhere, and this cognitive dissonance and the word ‘humiliation’ always come up very quickly in conversation.” I, for one, cannot recall having the word “humiliation” come up in the past decade of conversations with young Arabs and Muslims, but perhaps I haven’t been in the right “anywhere.” It meanwhile appears from Friedman’s failure to provide any conversational examples that the “they” might actually consist of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, who Friedman reports used the term “humiliated” five times in reference to Islamic civilization during his farewell speech in 2003.

A perusal of Mahathir’s speech reveals that the word “humiliated” only occurs in tandem with the word “oppressed,” which indicates that he views humiliation as something inflicted rather than as an essentially intrinsic Muslim quality. Given that Friedman’s concern for the contents of the speech does not extend beyond the authentic confirmation of Muslim humiliation it provides, Mahathir’s remarks on the causes of humiliation are ignored, among them: “None of our countries are truly independent. We are under pressure to conform to our oppressors’ wishes about how we should behave, how we should govern our lands, how we should think even.” Instead, Friedman declares the American Civil War a relevant model for the region and concludes that only the following scenario will resolve Arab/Muslim feelings of disempowerment: “The best thing outsiders can do for the Arab-Muslim world today is try to collaborate with its progressive forces in every way possible ... so as to foster a similar war of ideas within their civilization.”

That this fairly blatant authorization of imperial warmongering in the name of dispelling humiliation occurs in a book first published two years into the Iraq war is somewhat difficult to reconcile with Friedman’s own assertion that “one of the first things I realized when visiting Iraq after the U.S. invasion was that the very fact that Iraqis did not liberate themselves, but had to be liberated by Americans, was a source of humiliation to them.” Even more confounding is that, in a 2004 series on the Slate website entitled “Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War,” Friedman claims, despite having already visited post-invasion Iraq, that “the right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignifiation.” The focus of the strategy, we are reminded, was to be the implementation of the Arab Human Development Report of 2002, which “said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women’s empowerment, and modern education.”

Published by the U.N. Development Program, the Arab Human Development Report has been enthusiastically promoted by Friedman based on his perception that its authentic Arab authors expose “the reasons for Arabs’ backwardness and humiliation” and the details of “the increasingly dysfunctional Arab-Muslim world—which produces way too many terrorists.” Again, if one glances at the report itself, one finds a more discerning use of vocabulary, as in the criticism of “deeply rooted shortcomings in Arab institutional structures”; in fact, the only time in 168 pages that the term “humiliation” appears is in Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi’s statement on how Israeli military checkpoints are “the most brutal expression of a discriminatory and pervasive system of willful humiliation and subjugation.”

That Friedman is quite forthcoming at times about the United States’ role in maintaining Middle Eastern dictators and monarchs—and thus in effectively sanctioning regional political inertia and popular disenfranchisement—is clear from his warning with regard to the report:

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