This man is dangerous

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Thomas Friedman talks to Mamoun Fandy, reads poetry translated by MEMRI. Conclusion: Muslims and Arabs, as a group of humans, are cowardly and have no moral fiber. They don't feel sorry for Iraqis. They have an irrational hatred for Americans. Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda have the same discourse.

I have a suggestion. Can someone get the mustache a subscription to a serious Arab press translation service like mideastwire.com? Or even point him towards those Arab publications that translate their articles into English, like al-Hayat? Perhaps point out to him that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda are at war over the former's participation in elections and commitment to non-violence? Perhaps even email him a few of the many articles that appear in Arabic doing exactly the things that Friedman (and his native informant Fandy) says do not happen in the Arab/Muslim world?

This man is becoming dangerous. He obviously has influence, you can't get the NYT to fire him even though its own correspondents (I hope) could probably tell him that he is full of shit. Someone has to give Thomas Friedman an education before he makes the view that Arabs and Muslims are congenitally amoral subhuman hordes completely mainstream.

(The full op-ed is after the jump. Prepare yourself, it's one of the worst in a while.)

New York Times
March 2, 2007
Pg. 17

The Silence That Kills

By Thomas L. Friedman

On Feb. 20, The A.P. reported from Afghanistan that a suicide attacker disguised as a health worker blew himself up near “a crowd of about 150 people who had gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open an emergency ward at the main government hospital in the city of Khost.” A few days later, at a Baghdad college, a female Sunni suicide bomber blew herself up amid students who were ready to sit for exams, killing 40 people.

Stop and think for a moment how sick this is. Then stop for another moment and listen to the silence. The Bush team is mute. It says nothing, because it has no moral authority. No one would listen. Mr. Bush is losing a P.R. war to people who blow up emergency wards. Europeans are mute, lost in their delusion that this is all George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s fault.

But worst of all, Muslims, the very people whose future is being killed, are also mute. No surge can work in Iraq unless we have a “moral surge,” a counternihilism strategy that delegitimizes suicide bombers. The most important restraints are cultural, societal and religious. It takes a village — but the Arab-Muslim village today is largely silent. The best are indifferent or intimidated; the worst quietly applaud the Sunnis who kill Shiites.

Nobody in the Arab world “has the guts to say that what is happening in Iraq is wrong — that killing schoolkids is wrong,” said Mamoun Fandy, director of the Middle East program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “People somehow think that killing Iraqis is good because it will stick it to the Americans, so Arabs are undermining the American project in Iraq by killing themselves.”

The world worries about highly enriched uranium, but “the real danger is highly enriched Islam,” Mr. Fandy added. That is, “highly enriched Sunnism” and “highly enriched Shiism” that eats away at the Muslim state, the way Hezbollah is trying to do in Lebanon or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Al Qaeda everywhere.

One result: there’s no legitimate, decent, accepted source of Arab-Muslim authority today, no center of gravity “for people to anchor their souls in,” Mr. Fandy said. In this welter of confusion, the suicide bombers go uncondemned or subtly extolled.

Arab nationalist media like Al Jazeera “practically tell bin Laden and his followers, ‘Bravo,’ ” Mr. Fandy said. “The message sent to bin Laden is that ‘You are doing to the West what we want done, but we can’t do it.’ This is the hidden message that the West is not privy to. Unless extreme pressure is applied on Muslims all over the world to come up with counter-fatwas and pronounce these men as pariahs, very little will happen in fighting terrorism.”

“The battleground in the Arab world today is not in Palestine or Lebanon, but in the classrooms and newsrooms,” Mr. Fandy concluded. That’s where “the software programmers” reside who create symbolic images and language glorifying suicide bombers and make their depraved acts look legitimate. Only other Arab-Muslim programmers can defeat them.

Occasionally an honest voice rises, giving you a glimmer of hope that others will stand up. The MEMRI translation Web site (memri.org) just posted a poem called “When,” from a Saudi author, Wajeha al-Huwaider, that was posted on Arab reform sites like www.aafaq.org.

When you cannot find a single garden in your city, but there is a mosque on every corner — you know that you are in an Arab country.

When you see people living in the past with all the trappings of modernity — do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country.

When religion has control over science — you can be sure that you are in an Arab country.

When clerics are referred to as “scholars” — don’t be astonished, you are in an Arab country.

When you see the ruler transformed into a demigod who never dies or relinquishes his power, and nobody is permitted to criticize — do not be too upset, you are in an Arab country.

When you find that the large majority of people oppose freedom and find joy in slavery — do not be too distressed, you are in an Arab country.

When you hear the clerics saying that democracy is heresy, but seizing every opportunity provided by democracy to grab high positions — do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country. ...

When you discover that a woman is worth half of what a man is worth, or less — do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country. ...

When land is more important than human beings — you are in an Arab country. ...

When fear constantly lives in the eyes of the people — you can be certain you are in an Arab country.”

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.