Thomas Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times covering most of the events in the Middle East and, well, anything he wants. He is also a three time Pulitzer Prize winner and general crackpot. I suppose one could make the argument that a life of travel and reporting has caught up with Friedman and that his drift from reality is a the unfortunate consequence of age. Yet: a) Friedman is not that old and b) his older works reveal the same vacuity as his latest column in the Times. Friedman is in Egypt and writes a column attributing the Egyptian revolution to Obama, Israel, Google Earth, the Beijing Olympics and Fayyad. The first issue is obviously Friedman’s inability to consult with Egyptians. Yikes. But Israel and Fayyad as causes for revolution?
Unfortunately, Friedman does not say Fayyad’s ineffectiveness and the Israeli occupation. No, for Friedman, Fayyad’s brilliance and Israel’s domestic issues caused the Egyptian revolution. Nowhere does he mention the shame felt by many Egyptians in their country’s participation in the siege on Gaza. Nor does he talk about how Fayyad is perceived – like Abbas and the rest of the PA – as simple subcontractors hired by Israel to run the occupation. Perhaps Friedman would know a bit more about the conflict if he ever left Ramallah. Yet, I made the grave error of reading Friedman’s column seriously. Sarah Carr did not make the same mistake:
Since I’ve been here in Egypt I’ve been putting together a list of “the-absolutely-irrelevant forces” that have captured the captive Arab mind and ignited the simmering coals of the instant garden BBQ that is the Middle East. You might ask why, since I am in Egypt, I don’t ask an Egyptian – possibly two Egyptians – about what inspired them to completely ignore my theories on the Arab peoples and take to the streets. The answer is this: I am Thomas Friedman and I write a column in the New York Times.
I started my last extremely important column with an introduction in which I listed tyranny, rising food prices, youth unemployment and social media as the “big causes”. Rather than just stop there, I did a Google “surprise me” search and chose five of the random results for my special “mix of forces” which inspired the Arab mass revolts. These included Barack Obama, Google Earth and the Beijing Olympics.
But there are other critical factors integral to an understanding of my bollocks theory on the Middle East. Here they are:
MY MOUSTACHE – Americans have never really appreciated what a radical thing I did in growing a moustache, long the symbol of Arab male virility. I’m convinced that when Arab men catch a glimpse of my moustache as they bring me my breakfast in my hotel they are inspired and say to themselves: “Hmmm. Let’s see. He’s middle-aged. I’m middle-aged. He’s slightly tanned. I’m roughly the same colour. His name is Thomas. My name is Hussein. He is a prick. I sometimes act like a prick. He is not president of the United States. I am not president of the United States. Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska. Water boils at 100 degrees centigrade. He has a moustache. I have a moustache. Both our moustaches have no voice in my future”. I’d put that in my special mix of hallucinogenic drugs and ingest it.
HOME SHOPPING NETWORK.com – While Facebook has gotten all the face time in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain, don’t forget the Home Shopping Network which has never been particularly relevant to any Arab state but let’s shoehorn it in anyway. A big issue in Bahrain- particularly among nobody at all – has been access to home solutions. On Nov. 27 2006, the Washington Post ran this report from there: “Mahmoud, who lives in a house with his parents, 97 siblings and their uncountable number of children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up the Home Shopping Network and saw huge numbers of spring cleaning ideas for the home. ‘We are 1798 people crowded into one small house, like many people in the southern district,’ he said. ‘And you see on Home Shopping Network how they have the best solutions for mess and free shipping.’ Bahraini activists have encouraged people to take a look at the crafts section of the website, which has $5 shipping on Cricut machines.
ISRAEL – The Arab TV network Al Jazeera has a big team covering Israel today. They frequently report Israeli incursions on Palestinian towns, illegal settlements on Palestinian land, Israeli killings, torture and illegal detention of Palestinians as well as Israel’s continual transgression of international law. I will ignore this and focus on a few incidents of domestic housekeeping (and include a completely irrelevant reference to Google maps!) in order to prop up my theory and ignore the fact that if Egyptians are in any way inspired by anything that happens in Israel, it is their ability to identify with Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. When you write a column for the New York Times and your name is Thomas Friedman, well, that’s what you do.
THE COOPER’S HILL CHEESE-ROLLING AND WAKE NEAR GLOUCESTER – Gloucester and Egypt both have G in their names. Today Gloucester is the host of this event and Egypt is still living on foreign aid. What do you think Egyptians thought when they watched the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2008 Cheese-Rolling competition? It was another wake-up call – “in a way that America or the West could never be” – telling young Egyptians that something was very wrong with their supermarkets, argues Whata Loadofbollox, who teaches recreational pot pourri mixing.
THE MUBARAK FACTOR – Former Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak introduced a new form of government thirty years ago, something I, and others, have dubbed “enlightened Western-friendly leader” and others call “oppressive, corrupt dictator in bed with the West”. It says: judge me on my foreign policy towards Israel, not how I treat my own people. Every Arab could relate to this. Chinese had to give up freedom but got economic growth and decent government in return. Arabs had to give up freedom and got the Arab-Israeli conflict and my columns and books in return.
Photo from Walt