Tom Friedman, Condoleezza Rice, Virgil Goode — The Polluting Of Our National Discourse

An article by Tom Friedman, a quote from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a letter by a Virginia Congressman hit in one day last week reminding me how tolerant our national discourse has become of bigotry toward Arabs and Muslims and how condescending policy-makers and analysts have become in their dealings with the Middle East region.

Tom Friedman’s Article

In the lead up to the Iraq War, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was one of the invasion’s strong advocates. Friedman has now figured out why the war has gone so badly and so in a rather remarkable piece appearing in the Times this week, he offers advice to President Bush.

Never known for humility or apologies, here’s what Friedman has concluded: it’s the Arabs’ fault. I said the article was remarkable, and it was, not for its wisdom, but for its shameless self-serving bigotry.

Here’s why.

The article "Mideast Rules To Live By" makes the following observations:

  • Arabs are dishonest (they say one thing in private, another in public);
  • Arabs are illogical (prone to conspiracies);
  • Arabs are weak-kneed, without principles ("moderates", in particular, are dissemblers, with no backbone);
  • Arabs are more violent and vengeful than "we" are;
  • Arabs are petty and tribal, and so on.

The Friedman lesson for the President appears to be, "It’s not your fault, sir, it’s theirs. You and I weren’t wrong about the war; they weren’t ready for the gift you were giving them." I have often been disturbed by Friedman’s dismissive tone coupled with his weird obsession with all things Arab. With this piece my reaction went from disturbed to outrage.

As I read through Friedman’s 15 rules for dealing with "Middle Easterners" (as he terms the objects of his condescension), I wondered, "what if an Arab had written a comparable piece about Jews?" The reaction would have been swift and justifiable condemnation.

European imperialists wrote this way about their subject natives. And whites, at one time, wrote much the same was about blacks. But, this is the 21st century and here, in the "enlightened" New York Times, is bigotry and condescension on display – passing as enlightened analysis.

Which brings me to…

Secretary Rice’s Quote

In a long interview with the Washington Post Rice notes, "The old Middle East was not going to stay. Let’s stop mourning the old Middle East. It was not so great and it was not going to survive anyway."

The condescension and arrogance at work here is stunning. In one sweeping stroke, Rice dismisses the tens of thousands who have died, the civil war in Iraq and the volatile mess left by our neglectful and misguided policies in Lebanon and Palestine as the mere passing of the "old Middle East," which wasn’t "so good" anyway. There is, therefore, no need to beat our breasts with mea culpas, no reason to fret about the failures and the devastating consequences of our misguided policy. It is not our fault, it is theirs. And, in any case, things are better off now, because we said they were.

Thank you for the clarification and the history lesson, Madame Secretary.

If Friedman and Rice weren’t bad enough, the worst quote of the week came in the form of…

Rep. Virgil Goode’s (R-VA) Letter

In a letter to constituents, Republican Congressman Virgil Goode expressed his concern with the intention of newly elected Congressman Keith Ellison to take the oath of office using the Qur’an.

Goode wrote, “I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. …[I]f American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.”

This ugly rant conflates a number of bigoted threads that have infected our national discourse, including xenophobia and Islamophobia. I’ve heard them on our radio talk shows and read them in blogs but coming from a Congressman on official stationary is another matter.

Facts don’t matter to bigots, only hate and fear. Ellison is an African American who traces his ancestry back to the 1700’s. The largest component group of U.S. Muslims are African American converts, not immigrants. There are a number of American Muslim immigrants serving with distinction at the highest levels in the Administration and in the US military.

But, facts don’t matter. What does matter and is of concern here, is that it has become acceptable to spew this type of venom.

All of this raises serious and troubling questions we must answer. How do we face up to the mess we made in the Middle East and find a way forward? How can we capture and preserve the “values and beliefs” that we claim if a Congressman can write like this, a Secretary of State can be so dismissive of the human tragedy created of our blunders and the respected New York Times can publish such ugly bigotry?

Resolving to answer these questions might be a great way to start the New Year.