Putting the Spotlight on Friedman

In today’s New York Times article "Giving the Hatemongers No Place to Hide" (July 22, 2005), Thomas L Friedman simply continues on his long path of doing what he does best, i.e. acting as self-declared and passionate mouthpiece of the U.S. government. It is nothing new in the recent history of mainstream news reporting, with journalists and reporters competing with each other to score bonus points with the powers-that-be. It seems to be the great journalistic fad of our times that has journalists in bed with politicians and military authorities and academics all in one. In this arena, Friedman simply leads the way by leaps and bounds.

Take for example his recent article on the aftermath of the second wave of London bombings. His concern is that in addition to fighting the "war on terror" on the military, political, and economic playing fields, a thorough effort has to be made to deal with them on ideological grounds as well. The same line of thinking occupied the Cold War debate, where the argument was made that communism had to be discredited ideologically and the benefits of capitalism demonstrated intellectually in order to win over the hearts and minds of poor peoples throughout the Third World. Thus Friedman argues that a "war of ideas" must be vigilantly fought against the type of radical Islamist thought that promotes and feeds off hate and ignorance. His suggestion reads as follows: "We need to shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears. The State Department produces an annual human rights report. Henceforth, it should also produce a quarterly War of Ideas Report, which would focus on those religious leaders and writers who are inciting violence against others."[1]

As an example of this problem of hatemongering, Friedman uses the bookstore (called "Iqra Learning Center") frequented by some of the London bombers. To be more specific, Friedman quotes the Wall Street Journal to reveal how this bookstore happened to be "the sole distributor of Islamgames, a U.S.-based company that makes video games. The video games feature apocalyptic battles between defenders of Islam and opponents. One game, Ummah Defense I, has the world ‘finally united under the Banner of Islam’ in 2114, until a revolt by disbelievers. The player’s goal is to seek out and destroy the disbelievers."[2] Now this is where most mainstream academics and journalists in the West get all tangled up and a bit hazy. This is precisely where they began to lose their consistency and fall into that shady world of hypocrisy and double standards. For unless Friedman himself is childless and therefore hasn’t ventured much into the world of video games, one cannot understand exactly how he overlooks the virulent video game culture in the West that promotes and incites hatred against Arabs and/or Muslims.

"For years, American combat video games have featured Arabs as enemies, encouraging gamers to kill anonymous Middle Easterners with barely a second thought. China is the enemy in a rash of recent games, prompting the Chinese government to ban some of them. Even the United States military is getting into the act, using games to recruit soldiers."[3]

This, too, is nothing particularly new. Any twelve-year old with an X-Box or PS2 or computer with a competent video card and a fast processor must have been exposed to the likes of these games at some point or other. The shooting and killing of rag-headed Afghans or Iraqis (especially after the first Gulf War) in video games ideally should fall under the umbrella of "inciting violence against others". According to David Leonard of Washington State University, who critically analyzes video games as part of "an important pedagogical project of U.S. war practices"; "Virtual war games elicit support for the War on Terror and United States imperialism, providing space where Americans are able to play through their anxiety, anger, and racialized hatred."[4] By pointing this out, we do not contend that two wrongs make a right, nor is this a diversionary tactic used to deflect attention away from the very real and serious problems in the Muslim world. Yet it is worth noting that Friedman chooses to simply ignore the flip side of the coin, as all well-trained hypocrites are apt to do. Inciting hatred only bears value when it is "them" inciting hatred against "us". Their video games and literature must thus be analyzed thoroughly, "exposed" and "spotlighted", according to Friedman, so that they know that the world is listening to and watching them vigilantly. In doing so, we may conveniently ignore our own forms of inciting hatred and our own crimes. We have the magnifying glass directed towards those "others" and stubbornly refuse to use it against ourselves, presumably out of fear of what this would reveal, though this thought is rarely ever spoken.

Friedman is most probably the leading liberal U.S. mouthpiece writing in arguably the world’s most influential and far-reaching newspaper. It is therefore no exaggeration to state that his views and ideas are to be taken seriously, especially as he gives advice to the powers-that-be. Thus when someone like Thomas L. Friedman suggests that "excuse-makers" for terrorism "are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed", it is safe to assume that such advice will seriously be taken into consideration. It is nothing less than advice to stifle and muffle dissent, to purge by exposition those who disagree with the views of Friedman and his official buddies. According to this logic, there is absolutely no correlation between worldwide grievances and terrorism. Actions that happen in one part of the world have no effect on what may happen some other place across the globe. There is no cause and effect relationship here, only the fluke and random acts committed by crazed fanatics. This type of deductive reasoning is quite convenient because it consciously refuses to engage the question of what conditions and circumstances breed criminality and/or terrorism.

Friedman maintains that terrorists do what they do because they are terrorists, clear and simple. He quotes Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen as saying that "These terrorists are what they do", then slyly adds "And what they do is murder". As if it takes a genius to figure that one out. Terrorists by nature commit terrorist acts, which by definition include murder. In any case, the logic is quite reductive. This type of reasoning is akin to the type of grade-school clichés that claim that "You Are What You Eat". It bears no substance or clearly thought-out argument. Why is a terrorist a terrorist? What makes people engage in terrorist acts? Is it simply ideological leanings? Are there absolutely no other legitimate motives that can be included within the equation of terrorism? These clichés simply reaffirm standard and conventional thinking because they are convenient, uncomplicated, and because everyone seems to regurgitate them ceaselessly so that in the end they become self-evident truths.

To argue that terrorists are criminals and mass-murderers who deserve to be brought to justice, but at the same time to argue that perhaps some of their motivations do come from legitimate grievances, is taboo and unacceptable. Friedman, like many of his colleagues, has trouble making the distinction between "justifying" terrorism and "explaining" it. The same diligence that social scientists apply to problems such as crime and poverty, for example, and the links and correlations between the two, would not apply when it comes to terrorism. Those who engage in terrorism do so because they are inherently evil and because it’s in their nature to do so, according to the likes of Friedman. No other rationale is acceptable or tolerated, and if it is considered at all it is lumped under some derogatory category such as "excuse-making" or "justifying terrorism". Again, the great guru of the liberal mainstream media has thereby effectively marginalized and quarantined dissent by portraying those who try to explain the motivations or reasons of terrorism (so as to better deal with it) as not much better than the terrorists themselves. Presumably, by the standards set out by Thomas L. Friedman, the Mayor of London himself, among other respectable figures, would also fit nicely into this subhuman camp, being "just one notch less despicable than the terrorists" themselves.[5]


[1]. Thomas L. Friedman, "Giving the Hatemongers No Place to Hide", The New York Times Op-Ed, July 22, 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/22/opinion/

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Nick Lewis, "How the Seductive Power of Video Games is Being Harnessed to Push Deadly Agendas", Calgary Herald, July 9, 2005. http://www.canada.com/technology/story.html? id=ffffc56d-636c-40b0-8f9d-5edc40967b03

[4]. David Leonard, "Unsettling the Military Entertainment Complex: Video Games and a Pedagogy of peace", Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education, Volume 4, Issue 4 (November 2004). http://www.utpjournals.com/jour.ihtml?lp=simile/

[5]. Andrew Sparrow, "Western policies are to blame, says Livingstone", The Daily Telegraph, June 20, 2005. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml? xml=/news/2005/07/20/nblame120.xml&sSheet=/ news/2005/07/20/ixnewstop.html