It appears that Mr Thomas Friedman has a Muslim problem. He has
a great deal of trouble thinking straight when writing about Muslims;
and, as the New York Times' resident expert on Islam, he displays
this malaise frequently, often twice a week.
In the wake
of the recent bombings in London - as atrocious as bombings get
anywhere - Mr Friedman sums up his thoughts on this terrible tragedy
in the title of his column of July 8, 2005, "If it's a Muslim
Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution." The conditional 'If' is
merely a distraction. I could say that it is a deceptive ploy,
but I will be more charitable. It is perhaps the last gasp of
Mr Friedman's conscience, mortified by his own mendacity.
the faithful acolyte of Bernard Lewis, Mr. Friedman interprets
every Muslim act of violence against the West (and that includes
Israel) as the herald of a clash of civilizations. In his own
words, when "Al-Qaeda-like bombings come to the London underground,
that becomes a civilizational problem. Every Muslim living in
a Western society suddenly becomes a suspect, a potential walking
the faithful acolyte of
Bernard Lewis, Mr. Friedman interprets
every Muslim act of violence against
the West... as the herald of a
clash of civilizations.
the inflammatory assertion about every Muslim in the West suddenly
becoming "a potential walking bomb." If this were true, imagine
the horror of Westerners at the thought of some 60 million potential
walking bombs threatening their neighborhoods. Thankfully, the
overwhelming majority of Westerners did not start looking upon
their Muslim neighbors as "walking bombs" after the terrorist
attacks in New York, Madrid or London. Despite the high-pitched
alarms raised in very high places, the overwhelming majority of
Europeans and Americans knew better than Mr Friedman.
that Mr Friedman is propounding a new thesis on civilizational
wars. 'The Muslim extremists,' he charges, 'are starting a civilizational
war. It all begins when they bomb our cities, forcing us to treat
all Muslims here as potential terrorists. This is going to pit
us against them. And that is a civilizational problem.'
terrorist acts of a few Muslims are terrible tragedies: but do
they have a history behind them? Is there a history of Western
provocations in the Muslim world? Does the Western world at any
point enter the historical chain of causation that now drives
a few sane Muslims to acts of terrorism? The only history that
Friedman will acknowledge is one of Western innocence. There is
no blowback: hence, no Western responsibility, no Western guilt.
speaks on this authoritatively and with clarity. The Muslims world
has produced a "jihadist death cult in its midst." "If it does
not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic,
it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere." His
two-fold verdict is clear. Inexplicably, the Muslims have produced
a death cult, a religious frenzy, that is driving those infected
by it to kill innocent Westerners without provocation. Equally
bad, the Muslims have done nothing to condemn, to root out this
death cult they have spawned.
part of the history of the
Muslim world should I recall for the
benefit of Mr Friedman?
I could begin with the creation of
a Jewish state in 1948 in lands
inhabited by Palestinians...
the meticulously planned destruction
of Palestinian society in the West Bank
and Gaza since 1967;
the Israeli occupation of Lebanon,
stretching from 1982 to 2000;
the massacre of 200,000 Bosnian
Muslims in the 1990s; the devastation
of Chechnya in 1996 and since 1999...
the deadly sanctions against Iraq
from 1990 to 1993 which killed
one and a half million Iraqis... the US
invasion of Iraq in April 2003 which
has already killed more than 200,000
Iraqis. Clearly, there is a lot that
Mr Friedman has to forget,
to erase from his history books.
not even a hint of history in these words. The historical amnesia
is truly astounding. Does Mr Friedman know any history? Of course,
he does; but the history he knows is better forgotten if he is
to succeed in demonizing the Muslim world. The oppressors choose
to forget the history of their depredations, or substitute a civilizing
mission for their history of brutalities, bombings, massacres,
ethnic cleansings and expropriations. It is the oppressed peoples
who know the history of their oppression: they know it because
they have endured it. Its history is seared into their memory,
their individual and collective memory. Indeed, they can liberate
themselves only by memorializing this history.
part of the history of the Muslim world should I recall for the
benefit of Mr Friedman? I will not begin with the Crusades or
the forced conversion of the Spanish Muslims and their eventual
expulsion from Spain. That is not the history behind the "jihadist
death cult." I could begin with the creation of a Jewish state
in 1948 in lands inhabited by Palestinians; the 1956 invasion
of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel; Israel's pre-emptive war
of 1967 against three Arab states; the meticulously planned destruction
of Palestinian society in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967; the
Israeli occupation of Lebanon, stretching from 1982 to 2000; the
massacre of 200,000 Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s; the devastation
of Chechnya in 1996 and since 1999; the brutalities against Kashmiris
since the 1990s; the deadly sanctions against Iraq from 1990 to
1993 which killed one and a half million Iraqis; the pogrom against
Gujarati Muslims in 2002; the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003
which has already killed more than 200,000 Iraqis. Clearly, there
is a lot that Mr Friedman has to forget, to erase from his history
memory only goes back to the latest terrorist attacks of Muslims
against Western targets. That is not say by any stretch that these
terrorist attacks are defensible. Clearly, they are not. But they
will not be stopped by willfully and perversely erasing the layered
history behind these acts. They will not be stopped by more wars
and more occupations. If Mr Friedman would unplug his ears, that
is the clear message flowing everyday from
the American or American-supported occupations of Palestine, Iraq
by what he sees
as the unwillingness of the
Muslim world to smash the "jihadist
(read: Islamic) death cult,"
Mr Friedman issues a dire warning:
'Smash your cultists or
we will do it for you.
by what he sees as the unwillingness of the Muslim world to smash
the "jihadist (read: Islamic) death cult," Mr Friedman issues
a dire warning: 'Smash your cultists or we will do it for you.
We will do it in a "rough and crude way," by denying visas to
Muslims and making every Muslim in our midst "guilty until proven
innocent."' This clinches
my point that Mr Friedman cannot think straight when he talks
about Muslims. Apparently, he does not realize that his proposal
to deny visas to nearly a quarter of the world's population would
seriously jeopardize globalization - his own pet project. Incidentally,
this also raises another question. Why wasn't Mr Friedman pushing
his visa proposal after 9-11? But, in those heady days he was
too busy peddling the war against Iraq as the panacea for the
troubles of America and Israel.
is Mr Friedman's agenda in all this? No doubt, he will claim he
is a man of peace: no less than George Bush or Ariel Sharon. We
know that Mr Friedman is no naïf; neither are we gullible
fools. Mr Friedman can sense that the history he tries so hard
to camouflage - the history of Western domination over the Muslim
world - may change before his eyes. He has been hoping that the
United States can forestall this by wars, by occupying and re-making
the Arab world, a second, deeper Balkanization of the Middle East
that his neoconservative allies have been pushing under the rubric
is Mr Friedman's agenda in all this?
Mr Friedman can sense that the history
he tries so hard to camouflage -
the history of Western domination
over the Muslim world -
may change before his eyes.
project is in tatters. Despite all their inane rhetoric about
fighting the terrorists in Baghdad, the policy makers in Washington
know that their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are spawning more
terrorists than they can handle, and not just in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The terrorists have struck Western targets in Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul,
Karachi, Madrid, and now London. The United States could have
leveraged these terrorist acts to strike Iran or Syria or both.
But these plans are now on hold. Even Mr Friedman admits that
"there is no obvious target to retaliate against." One has to
add, the targets are obvious enough, but they look much harder
Mr Friedman has now issued two new threats. He is warning Muslims
living in the West, 'If your coreligionists do not stop their
terrorist attacks against us, we will hold you hostages here.'
To the Muslims living outside the Western world his message is
equally sanguine, "Smash the terrorists or forget about ever setting
foot in the United States."
judging from the endless rush of visa applicants at US consulates
in Muslim countries, Mr Friedman thinks this will bring the Muslim
masses to their senses. In every street, every neighborhood, Arabs,
Pakistanis and Indonesians will form anti-terrorist vigilante
groups, and hunt down the terrorists. If this works out, it could
be the cleverest coup since the marketing of Coke and Pepsi to
the hungry masses in the Third World.
this enterprise, it is the United States
that has failed. It has been producing
terrorists much faster than the
'good Muslims' can catch them.
the visa proposal will not work. The United States has already
mobilized nearly every Muslim government - with their armies,
police and secret services - to catch the
Muslim terrorists. Not that the Musharrafs and Mubaraks have failed.
Indeed, they have caught 'terrorists' by the truck loads, and
dispatched many of them ex post haste to Washington.
this enterprise, it is the United States that has failed. It has
been producing terrorists much faster than the 'good Muslims'
can catch them. Perhaps, after Madrid and London the rhetoric
about fighting the terrorists in Baghdad is beginning to strain
even the ears of the faithful in the red states. Perhaps, the
faithful are now ready for a new tune. Perhaps, in time
the Muslim world will take Mr Friedman's advice, suppress terrorism,
and deny business visas to Americans unless the United States
pulls out its troops from every Muslim country.
Mr Friedman might wish he had thought a little harder about the
law of unintended consequences!
Shahid Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University,
is a regular contributor to CounterPunch.org. Some of his
CounterPunch essays are now available in the book, Is There
An Islamic Problem? (Kuala Lumpur: The Other Press, 2004).
He may be reached at [email protected]
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