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The Foibles of Thomas Friedman

The following is Max Ajl‘s review for Jadaliyya of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

A researcher once carried out an informal study to try to find out whether or not people actually read the books on bestseller lists. To find out, he put envelopes in the reputedly high-selling books. In each envelope was a note saying that if those who found the envelopes were to send them to a designated address, the researcher would send them five dollars. According to the story, the response rate was zero. After readingThe Imperial MessengerBelén Fernández’s treatment of the life’s work of Thomas Friedman, one can only hope for the sake of American intellectual culture that some of the books included in that experiment were Friedman’s.

Fernández’s book, part of Verso’s Counterblasts series, in which leftist writers take on the leading lay-preachers of the right, is organized around three themes: Friedman commenting on America and the economy; Friedman commenting on the Middle East; and Friedman commenting on the Special Relationship between America and Israel. Cataloging the stumbles of a man who can barely take a step before tripping over another fact was clearly a trying task. There is something altogether manic and dulling about reading the careful pairing of one Friedman statement with another that neatly negates it, again and again.

It cannot have been thankful labor, and it is clear that Fernández set to work with great diligence: reading all of his collected columns and books since 1995, crosscollating them for topicality, and juxtaposing them for their contradictions and inconsistencies.

The results, as befit the crown prince of American nincompoop commentators, are ridiculous. One week will see Friedman calling for US aggression against Iraq so as to “create a free, open, and progressive model in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world to promote the ideas of tolerance, pluralism, and democratization.” The previous week would have seen him announcing that “we can invade Iraq once a week and it’s not going to unleash democracy in the Arab world,” while a third reflection has him describing the invasion as “the most important task worth doing and worth debating,” even though it “would be a huge, long, costly task—if it is doable at all, and I am not embarrassed to say that I don’t know if it is.” This tangled skein and dozens like it that Fernández extracts from Friedman’s nearly endless production attest to a mind that displays total indifference to the consistency of the thoughts and words it commits to paper.

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Iraq was a Happy Accident

Happiness

Perhaps because I have been reading too much Thomas Friedman lately, I feel compelled to mention a recent experience I had on an airplane. I promise the experience did not involve deciding based on a word written on the back of a fellow passenger’s jacket that Pakistan is either the Titanic or the iceberg.

It did involve sitting next to a former U.S. tank commander in Iraq who is now an intercontinental employee of a private security firm and had just returned from Liberia. He amused himself by poking me during moments of turbulence and announcing that security was an illusion, whether in the context of private military contracting or aircraft journeys.

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Ethiopian Jews imperil Israel yet again by potentially resembling Al Qaeda operatives

Al Qaeda disguise selves as Ethiopians disguised as Israelis.

An April Haaretz article entitled ‘Al-Qaida terrorists may pose as Ethiopians to sneak into Israel’ bears the sub-headline: “In letter to Haaretz, Yemen Islamists say they may send terrorists to Israel disguised as Ethiopian Jews.” The question of whether Al Qaeda always notifies Israeli newspapers of its tactical options is answered in the second paragraph of the article, which specifies that the letter is not in fact from the organization itself but rather from “[Yemeni] Shi’ite rebels” who simply quote from another letter allegedly sent by Al Qaeda to a Salafist group in Gaza. The rebel missive highlighting Al Qaeda’s grasp of the general interchangeability of dark-skinned persons is meanwhile explained as having been submitted with the belief that the “publication in Haaretz [of the Al Qaeda scheme] could influence U.S. policy toward the Shi’ites in Yemen”; no speculation is made as to what sort of effect said publication might have on Israeli policy toward its own Ethiopian population, which until now has merely been subjected to things like housing discrimination and injection with controversial birth control drugs.

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International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to try Gaza flotilla passengers

Perusal of mass grave at Srebrenica reveals that victims were mainly Turkish jihadists employed by humanitarian NGO. (Photo: Amel Emric/AP)

A June 13 exclusive on Intelwire.com entitled “Gaza Flotilla Official Was Foreign Fighter in Bosnia War” purports to reveal the history of Osman Atalay, executive board member of İHH, the Turkish NGO instrumental in organizing the aid flotilla to Gaza intercepted on May 31 by Israeli commandos. Collateral damage from the interception included 9 Turkish humanitarian activists.

According to the Intelwire article, Atalay served in the Bosnian Army from 1992 until 1994. Lest readers fail to equate this act with terrorism, additional condemning evidence is thrown in for good measure:

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the September 11 mastermind, lived and worked in Sarajevo in late 1995, according to [a Bosnian intelligence] document, which says he was employed by a humanitarian organization called ‘Egipatska Pomoc’ or ‘Egyptian Help,’ believed to be a reference to the Egyptian Humanitarian Relief Organization (EHRA).”

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