Archive for the ‘THOMAS FRIEDMAN’ Tag



John Chuckman

Devoted to human freedom, you must embrace even the freedom to express stupidity. So I can happily report that a week ago at this writing Thomas Friedman struck a mighty blow for freedom with one of the dumbest columns he has ever written, “Giving the Hatemongers No Place to Hide” (July 22, NYT), although his regular readers may not forgive my distinguishing this column from his regular output.

The theme of the column is captured by one of the pithy bromides of which he is so fond, “Guess what: words matter.” To make sure that you understand, Friedman repeats this a number of times with slight variations, a favorite technique of propagandists and, for that matter, police interrogators. You can’t help smiling for here is a man who has spent his entire adult life twisting and torturing words to give imperial hubris a happy face.

As we will see, the words that really matter to Friedman are the ones that disagree with his view of the world and current events. Like an unpleasant, spoiled child Friedman uses a tantrum in print to get what he wants.

Friedman starts in his usual breezy, know-it-all style, “I wasn’t surprised…. And I won’t be surprised…” at discoveries by English police at a bookstore in Leeds. These include video games, Islamic video games. Friedman ominously explains, “The video games feature apocalyptic battles between defenders of Islam and opponents.” I couldn’t help thinking of General Ripper darkly telling a stunned Peter Sellers as Mandrake about fluoride, children, and water in Doctor Strangelove. Good God, Friedman lives in a country up to its armpits in violent video games, violent books and magazines, violent music, and a hell of a lot more genuine violence than the English can even imagine.

Friedman asks, “If the primary terrorism problem we face today can effectively be addressed only by a war of ideas within Islam – a war between life-affirming Muslims against those who want to turn one of the world’s great religions into a death cult – what can the rest of us do?”

Note the cheap trick here of identifying Islam in general with the world’s terrorism problem even while ostensibly distinguishing between life-affirming and death-cult Muslims. Islam in general bears the burden of correction for its minority of extremists. These are the words of someone with murky and undeclared motives.

Terrorism, like any other criminal behavior, is the sole responsibility of those committing the acts, not of the religion or the people with which they happen to be associated. The number of people involved in events in New York was about twenty. The number in London maybe a dozen. The world has about a billion Muslims. Friedman simply has no shame.

He glosses over, another favorite technique of Friedman’s, the death-cult wing of every religion, letting it apply only to Islam. What about lunatics in America who turn Christianity into death cults like those of Jim Jones (900 deaths) or Waco (about 100 deaths)? There are dozens of these, not to mention the weird Aryan-nation people who live in the woods and mountains armed to the teeth. American fundamentalists have gathered innumerable times on hillsides awaiting the end of the world. Many of them stocked their basements with guns, ammo, and freeze-dried provisions awaiting the calamity that was supposed to occur when the calendar turned to the year 2000. What about the pictures of Marines earnestly kneeling at some make-shift alter in Iraq before they head out to kill people? What about America’s Eric Rudolphs? its Timothy McVeighs?

And how can you apply the adjective life-affirming to thousands of ferociously angry settlers in Gaza determined to rip down every brick in place, cut down every tree, root up every vine, people who have been widely reported to be poisoning the land they will have to surrender? It seems to me that Israel itself represents the focus of just such a struggle going on in Judaism, the only difference between it and what we see in Islam being one of numbers.

One thing is certain, if you tried smearing Judaism in general with the bloody excesses of Israeli settlers or charming figures like the late bloodthirsty Rabbi Kahane and his followers, you’d call down a firestorm of anti-Semitism accusations on your head. Yet this is precisely what Friedman feels perfectly free to do with Islam.

Friedman answers his own question, as he always does, another technique familiar to propagandists the world over, “We need to shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears. The State Department produces an annual human rights report. Henceforth, it should also produce a quarterly War of Ideas Report, which would focus on those religious leaders and writers who are inciting violence against others.”

If he stopped at the first sentence, he’d have my support. There is a need to shine light on hatred, genuine hatred, something that is abundant in Friedman’s homeland. Radio, television, and newspaper columns pour out hatred in the United States around the clock. Dozens of columnists and commentators spew the stuff. Actually, it is this cacophony of hate pervading American media that allows people like Friedman to pass for reasonable, but he is not reasonable by comparison with what is heard and read in other Western countries.

The State Department’s annual human rights report is a document with ghastly shortcomings. Perhaps Friedman likes it because it reflects many of his own qualities – arrogant, insulting, inaccurate, and deliberately incomplete. Everyone outside the United States recognizes the report as biased and used mainly as a bludgeon against countries from which the United States seeks concessions of some kind, usually economic. Incomplete? Just ask Amnesty International, the United States itself very much belongs on any such list compiled without bias: police and prison brutality there are routine, daily events.

Having laid down a principle that seems plausible, Friedman goes on with another of his favorite techniques, casually stretching a principle beyond recognition, trying to make it fit a case it plainly does not fit. Friedman says, “We also need to spotlight the ‘excuse makers,’ the former State Department spokesman James Rubin said. After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed.”

Events in London and New York are not related to Iraq or Israel or imperialism? Then why is Bush’s mob intensely pressuring Sharon to quickly complete the evacuation of Gaza? And why are the Bush people suddenly talking about troop reductions in Iraq after all the “stay the course” blather? Of course, they’re related. “It’s the injustice, stupid!” should be on a plaque over Friedman’s desk.

Here is some of what Friedman is actually saying in this passage. He doesn’t care that lists themselves are chilling things, having such horrible associations as the NKVD’s lists for arrest, Senator McCarthy’s lists of Communists, and Nixon’s enemies’ list (disproportionately featuring Jews). We need a list of “despicable” excuse makers.

And never mind, he is saying, that such lists always are abused. America’s no-fly list contains thousands of names included in error or by deliberate abuse, and there is almost no way for individuals to remove their names from this job-threatening list. One of the earliest abuses discovered was Ted Kennedy’s name on the list, but most people do not have Senator Kennedy’s influence to have their names easily removed.

The most frightening thing Friedman is saying is that people who discuss terror and its causes in terms other than his own are “despicable.” Yes, words matter, and despicable is a very strong word, a hate-word if there ever was one.

So here is Friedman saying he hates people who disagree with his way of thinking on a subject, blithely managing to identify the people he hates with haters. This reminds me of the time Friedman, in true 1984 Inner Party fashion, tried to get suicide-bomber and all associated terms expunged from the English language, even advocating official penalties for heads of governments in the Middle East who dared use the word martyr.

Friedman is also saying, as he has so many times, that large numbers of people act irrationally. They blow themselves up for no good reason, just for hate. He says, “There is no political justification for 9/11, 7/7 or 7/21. As the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen put it: ‘These terrorists are what they do.’ And what they do is murder.” This is demonstrably false.

Most haters are averse to killing themselves. Haters are generally cowards. Hitler went on until the Russians were almost at the bunker door and only killed himself for fear of falling into their hands. Stalin was only stopped by Nature’s good timing or secret assassination from launching yet another wave of arrests. I don’t know of a single instance of those lynching thousands of black Americans who gave up their lives to get at their object of hate. America’s “Reverend” Jimmy Swaggart threatened to kill any homosexual making a pass at him and weekly spurs his flock to hatred, but he has never offered to lay his own life down for the cause of his seething hatred.

On the other hand, has anyone ever described the Russians who laid down their lives in waves to stop Hitler as haters? I’ve never seen the Japanese Kamikaze pilots who tried desperately to stop the U.S. from reaching their homeland described as haters.

Something is desperately wrong with Friedman’s way of looking at things, and if people like him win the struggle for hearts and minds, the ugly Patriot Act will be only the smallest reason for truth no longer having a place in America.

Maybe that Joe Stalin mustache Friedman sports represents more than a cosmetic effort to add some character to his face?



John Chuckman

If you ever had a pet hamster when you were young, you know what I mean about hearing its regular scrambling and spinning on the exercise wheel. The squeak-squeak sound becomes an amusing background noise of everyday life.

There is a powerful analogy in the life of a pet hamster to the work of mainline American columnists, but I think there are few it better suits than Thomas Friedman, and I am not referring to his pudgy, whiskered looks.

Apart from time on the wheel, pet hamsters’ lives are pretty well limited to nibbling food pellets and taking refreshment from a water bottle. Thomas receives his pellets and refreshment from the public-influence departments of the Pentagon, the White House, and the State Department. Between feedings and rests to digest, you can hear Thomas periodically scamper over to his wheel for a spin.

I know, I know, he’s a Pulitzer laureate, but people citing this qualification haven’t examined the distinction they make. A serious reader of history knows the Pulitzer has gone to mediocre books while wonderful ones were overlooked. In journalism, the Pulitzer is more doubtful, having been awarded for out-and-out fraud.

Of course, Americans have an obsession with prizes and lists, as though one could count on them as a way of identifying worth and integrity, but the main purpose most of them serve is juicing-up products.

The New York Times spends gobs of money bolstering Thomas the hamster’s aura of authority. He is sent regularly to distant points, but if you go somewhere to gather quotes and local color, absorbing little of its truths, the net effect resembles the blow-dried correspondents on network television who use foreign locations for background shots while droning out what might just as easily have said been said in the studio.

A recent spin of Thomas’s wheel, gave us this, “As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war…. Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons….in ending Saddam’s tyranny….”

This is an upgraded version of Ari Fleischer’s demented-person-on-a-subway-car muttering about the absence of any strategic weapons in Iraq meaning the invasion had been exactly what forced Hussein to destroy them. Hussein was a tyrant indeed, but the United States has no history of fighting tyranny. Even World War II was the culmination of America’s long, bitter rivalry with a rising Japan over who would dominate the Pacific. Hitler declared war on America, not the other way around. America’s power has been used dozens of times to put tyrants into power, just so long as they were “its” tyrants.

Squeak, squeak, “So why isn’t everyone celebrating this triumph? Why is there still an undertow out there, a holding back of jubilation? There are several explanations. For me, it has to do with the nature of Iraq and the Middle East. You always have this worry that in the Middle East, fighting evil is like holding back the desert. The minute you fight off one evil, three others blow in to take its place.”

You might think anyone writing for a major publication would be ashamed to see this printed: it very much resembles “Terry and the Pirates in Western Asia” or “The Hardy Boys Join the Foreign Legion.” The people of the desert are mysteriously, inexplicably evil; in fact, they are hydra-headed, and when you hack one head off, several more grow in its place.

Squeak, squeak goes the wheel, “I will whoop it up only when the Iraqi people are really free — not free just to loot or to protest against us, but free to praise us out loud, free to speak their minds in any direction, because they have built a government and rule of law that can accommodate pluralism and stand in the way of evil returning.”

Well, Thomas, that is a truly amazing jumble. Iraqis are supposed to praise the people who have defeated and humiliated them. Indeed, when they do, it will be evidence of their true freedom. This is the arrogance of power, raw and ugly, with no hint of shame. One senses O’Brien setting Winston Smith on the path towards a proper attitude about Big Brother in 1984.

In one jump, after being smashed, the Iraqis are expected to produce a modern pluralistic society, but history’s few examples of that happening are in states which were essentially modern but had temporarily slipped into tyranny under terrible and unusual circumstances; e.g. Nazi Germany. The road to modernism, democratic values, and pluralism through all of history is a long one for states that are underdeveloped. It displays immense arrogance and ignorance to believe you can smash an underdeveloped society and then see a modern one emerge from the ruins.

Squeak, squeak, “France and Russia refuse to acknowledge that any good was done in Iraq because if America’s war ends justify its unilateral means, their power will be further diminished.”

Sorry, Thomas, it wasn’t just a couple of uppity, jealous countries that opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq. It was virtually the entire planet. Only one ally, Tony Blair’s inexplicable Britain, did any real fighting. The other members of Bush’s pathetic “coalition of the willing” gave virtually no material support. They simply agreed to keep their mouths shut following months of Washington’s browbeating and bribing leaders all over the world.

Why is it when Americans like Thomas write about Russian or French or German objections to America’s blasting its way into Iraq that it is always put in terms of their seeing their own power diminished, of experiencing a kind of international penis envy? Does this tell us more about Thomas than the Russians or the French perhaps?

Here, again, is raw arrogance and lack of understanding. It isn’t possible the people of these countries are right to fear America’s four percent of the world’s population arbitrarily invading a place which has not threatened them, violently changing international arrangements affecting everyone, and ignoring the voices of unprecedented world opposition? Where’s the spirit of pluralism or democratic values in this? Thomas, isn’t this precisely what people fear from tyranny?

I won’t go into the immense shortcomings of democracy in America which can, for example, produce a President who was not elected, but even assuming it to be a generally democratic society, do democracies not often do stupid or terrible things? Look at what America did to its black citizens. Look at its bloody slaughter in Vietnam. Look at what Israel does to the Palestinians. Further, America’s voters, maybe two percent of the world’s population, can be viewed effectively as a kind of aristocracy vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Can you not appreciate that, Thomas?

In another recent piece, Thomas, cleverly pretending he is Hussein addressing the President, gives us, “Mr. Bush, I know you’re wondering why I did not do more to avoid this war, which ended my political life. What in the world was I thinking? Who was I listening to? The answer is: I was listening only to myself. Don’t make my mistake.”

But, Thomas, has Bush ever listened to anyone other than himself and his narrow crew of advisors? What else does the invasion of Iraq represent? What else do the lies about terrible weapons represent? What else does sabotaging the UN’s weapons inspectors represent? So, now, this lethal-injection loner from Texas is supposed to act like a gracious world statesman?

You really can’t have it both ways, Thomas. When you embrace this kind of leadership, you take all that comes with it. And that, as it turns out, is a pretty nasty bundle of goods, including the clearest lack of respect and understanding for the rights of Americans themselves and the dignity and worth of everyone else.

Squeak, squeak, Thomas further advises Bush, “Always remember: This [Iraq] is an Arab country. Iraqis want to be first-class Arabs, not second-class Americans.”

I feel fairly confident claiming that few writers can beat Thomas for being crudely patronizing. What in God’s name is a “first-class Arab”? Is it anything like an American black with “a pure-white heart”? And I do think, Thomas, that before you invade a country, kill thousands of people, dismember children, destroy water, sanitation, and communications, thrust everyone into unemployment and anarchy, and manage to have some of the world’s greatest cultural treasures plundered is the time to remember the people belong to a different society.

Squeak, squeak.



John Chuckman

There are scores of candidates for the distinction of trashiest war propaganda in a mainstream publication, and readers outside Canada may not recognize my nominee’s name, but I am confident readers will recognize the merit of Margaret Wente’s column in the Toronto Globe and Mail, April 10). I’ve excluded CNN and Thomas Friedman from consideration since trash propaganda on the Middle East is virtually all they do.

Ms. Wente, who normally writes earnestly on such matters as the angst of parents whose child has stubbed a toe on faulty play ground equipment in the city of Toronto, occasionally lends her deep understanding of human nature to Middle Eastern affairs. Some regard these forays as akin to having the late Irma Bombeck write on world affairs, but they are wrong, because Ms. Wente is not funny, not even slightly amusing, just earnest and overflowing with peculiarly-selective concerns.

Her prize column came with a large photograph of a happy-faced Iraqi boy walking with a small group of heavily-armed American soldiers, one of them near the boy smiling generously. The striking impression was of a photograph taken in Italy near the end of World War Two, although the glossy technical quality better resembled modern advertising than war footage. Many ragged children at that time were photographed smiling at American “GIs” or “Joes.” Some of them had just received a stick of gum or a bit of chocolate, some were orphans identifying with the new god-like men in town, and all of them were undoubtedly glad to see an end to the dreadful sights and sounds of killing.

At first, I thought the editor should, instead, have featured one of hundreds of searing photographs from the Internet documenting children who will never smile or walk again, children whose faces resemble clotted candle wax or with limbs like smashed twigs, the work of American bombing. But as I read Ms. Wente’s cheery, glossy take on horror, I knew the editor had indeed used the perfect picture.

Ms. Wente brushed aside concerns the beaming photo might raise by assuring us that less people had been killed in twenty-one days of war than Hussein killed every year. Statements of this nature do serve a purpose: they immediately signal a writer’s true intent. There is no way Ms. Wente could know accurately how many Iraqis died when she wrote those words (she addresses herself only to civilians – the poor conscript soldiers killed while opposing an invasion of their home apparently counting for nothing), nor could she know how many will yet die in an unfinished war that has induced chaos in the cities, and there is certainly no way she could know how many people Hussein killed each year.

Ms. Wente celebrates the joys of Hussein’s “prison for children” being liberated. We have no way of knowing what she is talking about since the obscure institution seems to have appeared out of nowhere, but we must accept that some children were imprisoned for refusing to join Ba’ath party organizations. This of course is not improbable in a dictatorship, but for all we know the children she refers to were delinquents and the so-called prison a boot camp, something very popular with their American liberators.

Ms. Wente doesn’t let the image of a prison for children go unembellished. She adds that children were “tortured and killed” while the men who “kept the whips and keys” were lavishly rewarded. Wow, in just a few words, she has the children rendered as youthful resisters and freedom-fighters and their keepers as whip-totting Gestapo agents.

Somehow, during a quick stopover in Baghdad, Ms. Wente learned the complete history of this mysterious institution and apparently managed to locate and scrutinize its books for expenditures on payroll and leather accessories. I dislike being pushed into such cynicism, but one has to ask what child ever born would accept whipping, torture, and death rather than simply joining a party’s politicized equivalent of boy scouts?

Of course, her effort at Nancy Drew and the Nazi Dungeon of Evil is intended to minimize the impact of the hundreds of dead and mutilated Iraqi children many of us are all too familiar with. The American authorities did their very best to keep us from seeing these images of what war is really about, but thanks to the Internet and heroic reporters for organizations like al-Jazeerah, the truth is branded into memory.

Well, children’s dungeons or not, there are few thoughtful people who aren’t glad that Saddam Hussein is gone, but that is not the same thing as saying they are glad with the way it was done: in defiance of the concerns of most of the world’s people; in defiance of a majority of the UN Security Council; and in contempt for the heroic work of UN weapons inspectors – all while setting an example in international affairs that we will certainly live to regret. The satisfaction at his departure also is not the same thing as the immense, long-term problems created by the government of a people whose attention span to problems not filling their television screens with smoke and fireballs is measured in nanoseconds.

Ms. Wente is one of those who see the United States as the brave and noble loner – Kirk Douglas in “Lonely Are the Brave,” Sylvester Styllone in “Rambo,” or Gary Cooper in “High Noon” – standing away from the ugly mob’s opinion (in this case, consisting of virtually the entire planet) to do what he has somehow mystically been given to know, deep-down, is the right thing to do. She shares this view with the President of the United States, a man who appears never to have read a serious book.

So, why should we be surprised when Ms. Wente includes such a B-movie line as “Freedom does not come cheap, I know that,” placed in the mouth of an Iraqi? Now, I suppose it is possible that an Iraqi, exposed to the antics of CNN and glib hacks from outfits like the Heritage Foundation, actually repeated this pathetic bromide, but why would a journalist quote it?

Ms. Wente sprinkles her description of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue with suggestive words like, “For all the jubilation in the streets…The people cheered and danced…On the fringes of the ecstatic crowd….” Photographs of the statue-toppling, just the day before Ms. Wente’s glowing column, had been broadcast all over the world and clearly signified Hussein’s loss of power.

Now, it turns out, from an aerial or high-rise photograph of the square at the time, published on several Internet sites, that almost the entire square was empty. There was a tiny group of people and a far greater density of military vehicles than people. This panoramic view offers a remarkably different perspective to the published close-ups of people around the statue and a remarkably different perspective to Ms. Wente’s jubilation in the streets, cheering and dancing, and ecstatic crowds. The numbers of people in the square appear to have been so small as to make the words almost silly.

The pictures broadcast of the statue being toppled were not technically untrue, they simply lacked perspective. The old adage from statistics that, with one hand in ice water and the other in boiling water, you are on average warm, applies to news coverage. In fact, here it appears the distortion was far greater than talking about the meaningless average of two extremes because there appears to have been no balance in the extremes to which the people of Iraq were exposed. These were photographs of a few happy moments by a small number of people in a vast trail of tears.

It is ridiculous to focus on one aspect of a huge and complex situation and declare yourself satisfied with the result. This is a good deal like celebrating the fact that some dollar bills are fluttering around for the taking after a deadly, massive highway crash involving an armored car.

My judgment of the overall tone in Iraq is supported by reports of Iraqis telling American troops “Thanks, but now go home.” Many Iraqis, fearfully miserable before the bombing even began, have been pleading unsuccessfully with the American troops for help. Other reports tell of many Iraqis simply miserable, not gleeful, sitting and weeping. After all, their country has been ravaged by bombs, the hospitals overflow with piteous cases, thousands have been killed, anarchy in the cities has meant the looting of museums and hospitals, they swallow the indignity of defeat and occupation, and they face a terribly uncertain future with possible civil wars and the break-up of their country. When you throw in the fact that genuine, stable democracy is a very remote possibility for a country with no history of it and a devastated economy, there just isn’t a whole lot to celebrate, even though a genuine tyrant has been overthrown.

Well, after a good lot of her bubbly-earnest touch, Ms. Wente gets around to quoting an expert on the Middle East, and who else should that be but Mr. Bernard Lewis, the man regularly trotted out by everyone who wants to make an informed-sounding negative point about the region? Anyone who has read Mr. Lewis or listened to one of his lectures will know that he is just the kind of expert lawyers look for to support a weak case in an appalling murder trial.

Ms. Wente uses Mr. Lewis the way a ventriloquist uses a dummy, to say things without seeming to move her own lips. One of the gems we are offered from “the great scholar of Islamic history” (This kind of introduction always effectively tells the reader, “Go ahead, just try disagreeing with someone like that!”) is that nothing about “Ba’athism” (an awkward neologism referring to the principles of Hussein’s Ba’ath party) is native to Islam, that Ba’athism is in fact an imported fascist ideology from Europe.

Well, after first wondering why Mr. Lewis, just introduced as peerless scholar of the Middle East is used to comment on fascism from Europe – you have to wonder why you’d even need to call upon any scholar to support so utterly obvious and banal a statement.

The fact is that almost nothing about the politics and organization of the Middle East today is native to the Middle East, and that applies even more completely to Israel and its institutions than it does to the Arab states. It all consists of uniforms, flags, posters, slogans, brand names, ideas, and institutions imported from Europe or America.

This is what you find anywhere in the world after a long period of colonialism. It was certainly true of the early United States after it separated from England, with the President typically being addressed then as “Excellency,” carrying a sword as a symbol of office, and the country adopting, wholesale, concepts and phrases from English law and government tradition. In fact, Americans, for many decades, used to burn the Pope in effigy on the anniversary of Guy Fawkes day.

Ms. Wente’s other profound insight from Mr. Lewis is the observation that there are two fears in the Middle East about Iraq’s future: one is that democracy won’t work; and the other is that it will. That sounds terribly clever for a few seconds, international affairs delivered by the late Oscar Levant. The truth is that it is just about as helpful as a quip from Oscar Levant to our genuine understanding. So why would you quote it? Only if you either do not understand what you are saying or if you are making a cheap propaganda point.

Mr. Lewis is intensely biased in favor of Israel, and he is very much in demand these days as a speaker against the world backlash created by Israel’s bloody excesses. You’d be hard put finding a critical statement from Mr. Lewis on Israel, its policies, or its institutions, but you will find a huge amount of unflattering observations about Arab societies. Ironically, many of the observations he makes have relatively little to do with Arabic studies per se, and more to do with areas of scholarship such as economic development or the history political institutions, but perhaps Mr. Lewis is a much greater and wide-ranging scholar than I am aware.

Societies that are poor and underdeveloped are just that, poor and underdeveloped. Their particular cultural history may arguably have had a role or not in their arriving at that state, but it is the state of poverty and underdevelopment that retards democracy and the flowering of human rights in every culture on the planet. It is not a people’s history, otherwise the Renaissance would never have happened, and there would be millions of Europeans eating gruel and flagellating themselves in monasteries.

People adapt to change, often surprisingly readily, especially when it is clear there is a positive future, but the magic of economic growth has not come to many portions of the Middle East yet. I truly wish I could see America bringing billions of dollars in investment, aid, and technical assistance rather than cluster bombs, but I don’t. And the same for Israel, which always seems to have billions for armaments but does almost nothing to raise the level of its impoverished neighbors.

Democracy and concern for human rights, as I’ve written before, flow naturally out of healthy economic growth and a rapidly expanding middle class who do not see their interests served by a single leader or small aristocratic group. This is the story of Western civilization since the Renaissance. No bombs or revolutions are required, just the remarkable power of economic growth to dissolve away ancient traditions and organizations and bring new ways of looking at things. The experience has been universally demonstrated from the death of scholasticism in Europe to the receding backwaters of the American South.

The other time I recall noting Ms. Wente had departed from her fluffy subject matter in Toronto, she had joined the chorus of morally-obtuse columnists at the height of the suicide bombings in Israel to suggest that Palestinian parents must be deficient. Now, in her anxiety over a Baghdad institution for 150 children, she has overlooked Israel’s gulag of more than three million Palestinians, an overwhelmingly youthful population. I reflect on the hopelessness that causes such children to kill themselves and others instead of enjoying the sunshine of youth, but I doubt Ms. Wente, so selective in her earnest concerns, will examine that any time soon.

Ms. Wente’s piece is at:

Posted May 28, 2009 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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John Chuckman

Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, is my favorite phony American liberal. Why phony? Over the years Mr. Friedman has written a number of remarkably parochial, jingoistic columns. Topics have included his protectionist views on competition with Japan, his militant views on Cuba, and his rambling, imperialist-stained notion of globalization.

But recently, on the matter of suicide-bombings in Israel, Mr. Friedman has set a new standard for American liberalism by offering views that for all the world cannot be distinguished from those of violent, right-wing extremists.

Mr. Friedman, on March 31, told readers, “Israel needs to deliver a blow that clearly shows that terror will not pay.”

“Pay?” Just what does Mr. Friedman mean by that? Would payment mean Israel’s occupation ends? That assassinations end? Improper arrests? Torture? Well, if any of these were the goals of the suicide-bombers, they hardly deserve to be called terrorists as Mr. Friedman does. In that light, they might well be regarded as some of Mr. Reagan’s freedom-fighters or as members of World War II’s resistance.

Mr. Friedman begs an important question by assuming suicide-bombers have any goal other than expressing hopelessness. Coming, as he does, from a country where children regularly bring loaded guns to school and shoot their classmates, you might think he’d be aware of the possibility. In that case, what Mr. Friedman advocates reduces to running tanks over the family homes of the disturbed boys responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre.

Of course, that word “disturbed” raises yet another possibility. The suicide-bombers may be sick or mentally unbalanced. In which case, Mr. Friedman’s proposal amounts to running tanks over the homes of Ted Kaczynski’s brother and parents.

But what I think Mr. Friedman clearly means is that Israel will exact four or five eyes for every one. He is talking about vengeance, plain and simple.

Whatever it is that Mr. Friedman means, his proposal is a very old one, one Israel has practiced for decades, and, to date, there is not a jot of evidence that it works. And Mr. Friedman seems unaware that it has been Mr. Sharon’s ruthless, bloody response to an Intifada that began with stone-throwing that, like the sowing of dragon’s teeth, has produced a terrible crop of young people sacrificing their lives.

Mr. Friedman glibly says that desperation is not a reason for suicide-bombing, that “a lot of people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around strapping dynamite to themselves.” Then what is the reason? You cannot order people, you cannot pay people, much less young people who normally are filled with God’s gift of a desire for life, to go and blow themselves up.

But Mr. Friedman brushes off all moral issues and other complexities by asserting that the suicide-bombing is “a strategic choice.” Cold, clinical, calculating – these are the connotations of his expression. And ,of course, therefore deserving of ruthless reprisal.

Mr. Friedman parrots American defenders of Israel’s worst excesses, people who, stunned and desperate themselves to explain horrific events, advocate a theory of child zombie-killers, the idea that the Palestinians have somehow perfected a process of brain-washing that eluded the CIA and KBG through the Cold War, to produce an army of murderous human automatons. If you believe this, you believe in the Manchurian Candidate.

Mr. Friedman sweeps on in magisterial, arm-chair outrage to demand that his government should not permit any Arab leader who even calls suicide-bombers “martyrs” enter the United States. These are frightening words. They surpass the soul-deadening depths of Mr. Ashcroft.

First, Mr. Friedman here attempts to bind the United States more intimately to Israel in the dispute, knowing full well the Palestinians need to retain some shred of hope in the United States as an intermediary that at least sometimes acts fairly.

Tell Arab leaders what words they must use? I do think we find here the measure of how carefully Mr. Friedman has thought about what he says. This suggestion is about as astute as building a fire in a dry-tinder forest.

Mr. Friedman appears influenced by the recent arrogant tendency of the United States to set laws that effectively govern the actions of people in other nations. This is contrary to of all accepted principles of international law, and recent efforts along these lines with the Helms-Burton Act or the Trading with the Enemy Act with regard to Cuba have earned the United States serious, entirely-avoidable resentment in Europe, Canada, and other places.

Well, Mr. Friedman would undoubtedly say that the survival of Israel justifies almost anything. And there might be some argument here were Israel’s survival at risk. But it is not. How on earth do a limited number of suicide-bombings, shocking as they may be, endanger the existence of Israel? London withstood The Blitz, Vietnam withstood some of the most horrific bombing in all of human history. Yet London and Vietnam are very much with us.

And this brings us back to the actual cause of the bombings, desperation, for they cannot under any imaginable circumstances achieve what Israeli extremists insist is their aim, the destruction of Israel. If it is isn’t desperation to be doing something that cannot possibly succeed, I don’t know what is. So, even assuming the extremists’ own definition of the bombers’ purpose, we come to the only question that means much here: When will Israel begin working to solve desperation instead of trying to crush it?