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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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“There is a message in this bottle for America: For too many years we’ve treated the Arab world as just a big dumb gas station, and as long as the top leader kept the oil flowing, or was nice to Israel, we didn’t really care what was happening to the women and children out back.”

Given Friedman’s institutionalized habit of self-contradiction, however, the United States is spared permanent and irreversible culpability, and Friedman issues the following decree in 2005 in honor of the Asian tsunami: “It is not an exaggeration to say that, if you throw in the Oslo peace process, U.S. foreign policy for the last 15 years has been dominated by an effort to save Muslims—not from tsunamis, but from tyrannies, mostly their own theocratic or autocratic regimes.” Obviously, the new theme of a decade and a half of Muslim-saving—accompanied by Friedman’s indignant assertions that Americans should not “hold your breath waiting for a thank-you card” in response to tsunami aid and that “the tensions between us and the Muslim world stem primarily from the conditions under which many Muslims live, not what we do”—fails to jibe with Friedman’s assessment in 2002 that the anger of Arabs and Muslims is partly due to “U.S. support for anything Israel does” and partly to the fact that “most of them live under antidemocratic regimes backed by America.”

For additional evidence of the occasionally self-righteous attitude of the U.S. savior, meanwhile, see Friedman’s recounting in Longitudes of his experience at the Islamabad Marriott in 2001, when a female Lebanese TV journalist criticizes him for “unfair” treatment of Arabs and Muslims and asks if he knows “how much the world hates you”—i.e., America: “At that point I nearly lost it. I snapped back: ‘Do you know how much we hate your lack of democracy, do you know how much we hate your lack of transparency, your lack of economic development, the way you treat your women?” This may be a good time to juxtapose Friedman’s reliance on the lack of Arab/Muslim female freedom and empowerment as an indication of backwardness with the findings of a 2011 global survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, according to which the incidence of female infanticide and sex trafficking in India have propelled Friedman’s vaunted democracy into the top five most dangerous countries for women, alongside Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, and Somalia

[1] The bombardier is the source of a five-hundred-pound bomb dropped onto a Taliban truck caravan, after which the male F-15 pilot gloatingly shouts down: “You have just been killed by a girl” (Thomas Friedman, “The New Club NATO,” New York Times, November 17, 2002). The “woman with blond locks spilling out from under her helmet and an M16 hanging from her side” is the source of a “mind-bending experience” for Al Qaeda POWs at Bagram who are accustomed to a male-dominated society (Longitudes and Attitudes, p. 349).

This excerpt is from The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work

Copyright © Belén Fernández 2011

Published by Verso Books

Reprinted here with permission.



Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine and Ricochet and a blogger for teleSUR English.

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