“Write your own Thomas Friedman column!”

May 27, 2004

[Note by Tom Gross]

Thomas Friedman of The New York Times is one of the most influential foreign affairs columnists of our era. His twice-weekly columns are syndicated all over the world, appearing in many newspapers globally, including some Arab ones. State department diplomats and others responsible for many of the failed policies in the Middle East have long sought Friedman’s advice.

Friedman, who is 50, spent five years in Beirut for the Times and five more in Jerusalem (winning a Pulitzer prize in each city). Although he would not characterize himself as anti-Israel, many of his columns have been scathing about the Israeli government, Jews living in Jewish holy cities such as Hebron, and so on. At the same time, he has often defended Yasser Arafat and failed to draw attention to Arafat’s strong connections to terrorism. Friedman has demonized Ariel Sharon, while praising Arab dictators such as Crown Prince Abdullah. (Abdullah is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, responsible for horrendous human rights abuses against women, homosexuals and others, and for allowing his kingdom to export terror and extremism all over the world. See: Time to face up to Mecca: Why wasn’t Saudi Arabia on Bush’s Axis of Evil?)

Friedman has often drawn unfounded and highly insulting comparisons between nonviolent Israeli settlers and Palestinian terrorists. And earlier this month he wrote that Israelis living in communities in the West Bank are the equivalent of the Iraqi Shi’ite extremist leader Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

(Israelis living in the West Bank – often in places inhabited by Jews for centuries, and whom include women, children, cancer doctors, and many secular Jews – have, with only very few exceptions, never used violence as a stated aim, whereas al-Sadr and his followers are responsible for killing scores of Americans, Iraqis and others, including moderate Shi’ites, as a matter of policy.)

In his Times column last Sunday (May 23, 2004), Friedman went beyond demonizing settlers, to offend Israelis as a whole. He contrasted suicide bombers in Iraq whom he called “utter nihilists” with suicide bombers in Israel who Friedman seems to “understand” because they have a clear aim of killing random Jews.

He wrote: “[The suicide bombers in Iraq] are utter nihilists. At least Hamas has a stated political goal of ridding Palestine of all Jews and setting up an Islamic state there. It even offers social services. The people running the suicide operations in Iraq, whether they are working independently or are just one organization, don’t even claim credit, let alone make any demands. They just want to ensure that America fails to produce anything decent in Iraq and they are ready to sacrifice all Iraqis for that end.”

Friedman neglected to say, of course, that the suicide bombers in Iraq have very carefully targeted military and political personnel – U.S. troops, Iraqi politicians, and those working with the Americans – whereas suicide bombers in Israel have blown up anyone they can find at random in discos, pizzerias, shopping malls, buses, and so on, in a truly nihilistic way.

Friedman has become a hated figure among many in Israel for the way he misrepresents the Jewish state to a global audience, and there have been several articles written about him in Israel, which are too unpleasant to reproduce here.

Instead I attach (below) a light-hearted, satirical column from this week’s edition of the liberal weekly The New York Observer.

-- Tom Gross



Write your own Thomas Friedman column!
New York Observer
May 25, 2004


1. Choose your title to intrigue the reader through its internal conflict:

a. War and Peas
b. Osama, Boulevardier
c. Big Problems, Little Women

2. Include a dateline from a remote location, preferably dangerous, unmistakably Muslim:

a. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
b. Islamabad, Pakistan
c. Mohammedville, Trinidad

3. Begin your first paragraph with a grandiose sentence and end with a terse, startlingly unexpected contradiction:

The future of civilization depends upon open communication between Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. If the two don’t speak to each other, the world edges closer to the precipice of total war. If, on the other hand, they manage to engage in open conversation and resolve their differences, Israelis could soon be celebrating Seders in Saudi Arabia. But for now, the two men can’t speak. Why? You can’t make a collect call from Bethlehem.

4. Use the next few paragraphs to further define the contradiction stated above, peppered with little questions making it look like you’re having a conversation with the reader. Feel free to use the first person:

My first thought was to ask: Why no collect calls from Bethlehem? It’s easy to call collect from Bosnia, Kosovo, even Uzbekistan. Am I sure? Of course I’m sure. I was in each of those places just a few weeks ago, making collect calls all over the world. No problem. So why can’t Arafat call collect from Bethlehem?

5. Remember: Thomas Friedman is the Carrie Bradshaw of current events. Think Sex and the City, write “Sects and Tikriti”:

a. How can Islam get to its future, if its past is its present?

b. Later that day I got to thinking about global civilizational warfare. There are wars that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that take you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant clash of all is the one you have with your own civilization. And if you can find a civilization to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.

c. Maybe Arabs and Israelis aren’t from different planets, as pop culture would have us believe. Maybe we live a lot closer to each other. Perhaps, dare I even say it, in the same ZIP code.

6. Name-drop heavily, particularly describing intimate situations involving hard-to-reach people:

a. The Jacuzzi was nearly full when Ayman al-Zawahiri, former surgeon and now Al Qaeda’s head of operations, slid in.

b. It was Thomas Pynchon on the phone. “Tommy,” he said, probably aware we share that name ..

c. Despite the bumpy flight, I felt comfortable in the hands of a pilot as experienced as Amelia Earhart.

7. Include unknowns from hostile places who have come to espouse rational Western thought and culture:

a. I visited Mohammed bin Faisal Al-Hijazi, former top aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, now a reformer and graduate of the Wharton Business School.

b. Last year Nura bin Saleh Al-Fulani worked in Gaza sewing C4 plastic explosives into suicide bombers’ vests. I caught up with Nura last week in Paw Paw, Mich., where she sews activity patches on the uniforms of Cub Scout Pack 34.

8. Make use of homey anecdotes about your daughters, Natalie and Orly, enrolled in Eastern Middle School, Silver Spring, Md.:

My daughter Natalie, a student at Eastern Middle School, a public school in Silver Spring, Md., asked me at breakfast: “Daddy, if my school has students who are Muslims and Jews and Christians and Buddhists all working together, why can’t the rest of the world be that way?” There was something in the innocence of her question that made me stop and think: Maybe she has a point.

9. Quote a little-known Middle East authority at least once in every column:

a. Stephen P. Cohen
b. Stephen P. Cohen
c. Stephen P. Cohen

10. Conclude your column with a suggestion referring back to the opening contradiction, but with an ironic twist. Make sure the suggestion you proffer sounds plausible, but in fact has no chance of happening:

Driving into Bethlehem in the back of a pickup, I wonder: What if Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon sit down and play a game of poker? And what if the stakes are these: If Sharon wins, the Intifada is over. If Arafat wins, Palestine gains statehood. One game of no-limit Texas hold ‘em, and the Middle East crisis is resolved. Just like that. Yasser and Ariel, deal ‘em out.

-- Michael Kubin

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.