To the Editor of “Commentary”
Michael A. Ledeen, in his review of Thomas L. Friedman’s collection of columns (March 2003) gets it right from the beginning: Friedman “is a lucky man.” Only by shear luck and, maybe, by his ability to please everybody by expressing views that frequently oppose to each other, can one explain that a journalist of rather ordinary abilities could become so “enormously influential,” even “the major foreign-policy pundit of the age.”
He travels extensively, yet the news and ideas that he delivers, many of us could figure out without leaving the armchair. On Oct. 19, 2001, he taught us that «Islam is… a religion with a long history of enriching, and being enriched by, different faiths, cultures and ideas.» At that day he failed to see that this all was in the far past. Then he traveled to Pakistan and less than in a month (Nov. 13) he reported us his discovery: «This is not a neighborhood where we should linger.» He saw first-hand that Islamic future spiritual leaders are educated according the 17th century curriculum with emphasis on the Koranic verse that «The faithful shall enter paradise and the unbelievers shall be condemned to eternal hellfire.»
Frightened, Mr. Friedman still continued to preach that we must quickly finish our military operation in the area, to withdraw and later return «armed with modern books and schools»! How far should he travel to understand that those fundamentalists would greet our books with even a larger rage and hatred than our bombs? He still lacks vision that this is a religious war declared by Islamic fundamentalists against Christianity and Judaism. He looks and sees nothing; he is still an unbeliever in these new facts of our life. If, as an unbeliever, he shall be condemned to “eternal hellfire,” why does he want to take his readers with him?
On March 26, 2003, the “Discovery” TV channel aired program entitled: “Thomas L. Friedman Reporting: Searching for the Roots of 9/11.” It is difficult to imagine a more toothless and superficial program. Mr. Friedman traveled to the Middle East, Indonesia, Belgium (where a large Arab community lives) and listened words of hatred and of shear stupidity: for example, a 18-years old female Indonesian student who (and not she alone) dared to say that Americans themselves, not the Arabs, destroyed the WTC and that the Jews had been warned not to come to work at that day. He listens sympathetically and never puts strong objections or shows his indignation (if he has had one). He is proud to be interviewed on Al Jazeera – again we don’t hear him presenting a strong case for us, and he is so delighted that he, “a Jewish boy from Minneapolis,” could be so well received by Arabs!
His interviews showed, without a shade of doubt, that the entire Arab world — all its students, intelligentsia, fluently English-speaking immigrants into the West — is speaking with the same tune of hatred to America and about the American eternal guilt before the Arabs. He interviewed Moslem immigrants in Belgium, where they do not respect the local culture but demand that the country adjusts to them and to their culture. (Orianna Fallaci is quite right when she speaks that the Moslems are trying to occupy the West and to convert it to Islam. This is a utopian idea, but this is what they really want. The Arab street has no slightest idea that they are really guilty in the miserable condition of their civilization.) But Friedman’s conclusion is ridiculous and insulting for the intelligence of his viewers: he considers Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 destroyers as a «cult» similar to that of David Koresh or Jim Jones in Guyana. Nonsense: David Koresh’s or Jim Jones’ were small cults that were not supported in the smallest degree by the mainstream Christians of all denominations, therefore they had no much significance and influence. But not Al Queda. It may be a minority numerically, but Friedman’s interviews have clearly showed that the vast majority if not 100% of the Arab world support it.
Is Friedman really so naïve? Difficult to say, because in his writings for every statement one can always find a counter-statement. As Mr. Ledeen writes, “alas, for every flash of clarity one must suffer pages upon pages of confusion, contradiction and utter conventionality.” On March 31, 2002, he justly wrote that the suicide bombing is the new strategy now tested in Israel by the radical Muslim world against the Western civilization. Yet on Dec. 5, 2002, he wrote in The NY Times something similar to what he said on “Discovery”: he described bin Ladenism as «the nihilistic pursuit of murderous violence against civilians, without any political program and outside of any political context» – a completely wrong statement, in my opinion. And on March 30, 2003, just four days after his TV program, Friedman described his another trip — to NATO headquarters in Brussels. There he “discovered” that “9/11 was the start of World War III, a la Pearl Harbor.” Such a great news for us – as we ourselves could not understand the significance of the event without his lesson!
In relation to Israel, Friedman shows the same contradictory trends. Leeden quotes his “sensible… passages on Israel and the Palestinians.” Correct, sometimes. On Dec. 5, 2002, he understood that «Israeli’s occupation is a matter of self-defense.» But on April 7, 2002, he still thought that Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza have given the Palestinians feeling that «their living space was shrinking while Israel’s was constantly expanding…» Had not he known that in Camp David Israel offered to dismantle the vast majority of the settlements in exchange for peace? Does not he know that at any time about 70% of polled Israelis has been ready to sacrifice the settlements for peace?
At the same April 7 column Friedman wrote that after the Palestinians turned to violence, «Israelis turned to Mr. Sharon as their revenge.» How wrong: the revenge is absolutely out of characters of the Israelis. No, they simply turned to him for their defense.
Bin Laden’s and the Palestinians’ goals are quite clear: the program-minimum is to eliminate Israel, then if successful, to eliminate Christianity and to spread Islam worldwide. Does it sound stupid? Not more so that the Soviet Union’s goal in the 20th century to spread the Communism worldwide. The liberal Western intelligentsia in Mr. Friedman’s mold refused to recognize the mortal danger of both Communism and Fascism. We — the West — won, but this error made the first half of the 20th century the bloodiest in the human history. Are we ready to repeat that error?
Once Mr. Friedman wrote (April 21, 2002) that his remedy against the media’s disgusting information about the Mideast conflict is to watch golf. Unfortunately, he is an intrinsic part of that trend to misinform. We probably would be better off if he more frequently indulged in his hobby instead of writing us about his thoughts.