Friedman and Rice - Seeking Absolution through Arrogance and Bigotry

An article by Tom Friedman and a quote from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hit in one day this 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 outraged.

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. You and Tom have a lot to share.