In another demonstration of his knack for captivating editorial ledes, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman begins his recent dispatch “www.jihad.com” as follows:
Let’s not fool ourselves. Whatever threat the real Afghanistan poses to U.S. national security, the ‘Virtual Afghanistan’ now poses just as big a threat. The Virtual Afghanistan is the network of hundreds of jihadist Web sites that inspire, train, educate and recruit young Muslims to engage in jihad against America and the West.”
It thus appears that Friedman has in the course of a mere 6 months curtailed his exuberance over the lucrative opportunities offered to Islam by the internet, which he outlined in a June 16, 2009 column entitled “The Virtual Mosque.” Writing in the aftermath of the Iranian presidential elections, Friedman gushed:
What is fascinating to me is the degree to which in Iran today — and in Lebanon — the more secular forces of moderation have used technologies like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogging and text-messaging as their virtual mosque, as the place they can now gather, mobilize, plan, inform and energize their supporters, outside the grip of the state.
For the first time, the moderates, who were always stranded between authoritarian regimes that had all the powers of the state and Islamists who had all the powers of the mosque, now have their own place to come together and project power: the network. The Times reported that [Iranian opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein] Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook alone has grown to more than 50,000 members. That’s surely more than any mosque could hold — which is why the government is now trying to block these sites.”
The tables have apparently turned, although Friedman does not explain whether his warning that we should not fool ourselves is a result of the fact that the Facebook group “Osama Bin Laden – World Champion of Hide and Seek since 2001” currently boasts over 237,000 members while the group “The Disciples of Thomas Friedman” boasts a little over 900. Friedman quotes a certain Evan Kohlmann of the Nine Eleven Finding Answers (NEFA) Foundation—which Friedman describes as “a private group that monitors extremist Web sites”—as explaining that “[i]ncreasingly, [jihadist] recruiters are taking less prominent roles in mosques and community centers because places like that are under scrutiny. So what these guys are doing is turning to the Internet.” As for potential extremist websites referenced by Friedman, aspiring jihadists will presumably become even angrier with the West when they discover that www.jihad.com features online dating advertisements.
Friedman goes on to suggest that the Obama administration is intent on continuing to fool itself despite his warnings:
The Obama team is fond of citing how many ‘allies’ we have in the Afghan coalition. Sorry, but we don’t need more NATO allies to kill more Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before.”
The New York Times columnist does not delve into whether or not the extermination of over 700 Pakistani civilians by U.S. drones in 2009 contributed to the killing of extremist ideas, although he does propose a historical model that Arab and Muslim allies might take into consideration while structuring their battle plans:
We had a civil war in America in the mid-19th century because we had a lot of people who believed bad things — namely that you could enslave people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North.”
It is not clear why Friedman does not find it chronologically incompatible to implicate himself in the Civil War victory—especially when he does not appear to have overcome the belief that certain human beings are inherently superior to others, despite his proclamation that “Arab and Muslims are not just objects. They are subjects. They aspire to, are able to and must be challenged to take responsibility for their world.” He additionally underlines Arab and Muslim roles in deciding what they themselves must and must not do by posing the rhetorical question:
So please tell me, how are we supposed to help build something decent and self-sustaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan when jihadists murder other Muslims by the dozens and no one really calls them out?”
Subjectivity is of course called into question when a supposed non-subject employed by a major U.S. newspaper decrees that “Islam needs the same civil war [as occurred in the U.S.]” because “[i]t has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims — ‘infidels,’ who do not submit to Muslim authority — but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.” The timeline for the rectification of faulty mindsets consists of Friedman’s hint that it sometimes takes more than a century and a half for civil war victors to be forgiven; as for the battle against potential Muslim caliphates in Europe, Friedman criticizes “the Muslim world” for “focus[ing] on resisting Switzerland’s ban on new mosque minarets” rather than on condemning suicide bombings in Iraq.
Friedman refrains from establishing whether the Islamic threat faced by the Swiss is greater in real or virtual mosques; also not established in the article is when the term “bad things” entered into the New York Times lexicon of suitable journalistic descriptions, or when calling for civil war became suitable journalistic practice.