Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thomas Friedman's Selective Historical Remembrance

Thomas Friedman offers another "history lesson" in today's NYTimes:
 "the key forces shaping [the Middle East] today were really set in motion between 1977 and 1979 — and nothing much has changed since. Indeed, one could say Middle East politics today is a struggle between 1977 and 1979 — and 1979 is still winning." 
1977 was the year of the "good Arab" (my emphasis), as Anwar Sadat made his trip to make a separate peace with Israel (a bold move that, implies TF, the Arab people were too backward, or perhaps too full of hate, to follow).  1979 was the year, in contrast, that saw the rise of  those "bad Muslims": the Wahhabi fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia, the "mad mullah" Iranian Shii under the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the mujahideen in Afghanistan. 

At least Friedman is willing to point the finger at the US (if only on the way to his larger point) for Reagan's support of the Saudi royal family's "Wahhabification" of their country and the Afghan "freedom fighters."  But the real problem, says he, is that people across the Arab and Muslim worlds are still buying into a  false "meta-narrative" (as recently described by Edward Djerejian in the Wall Street Journal):
"‘The Arabs and Muslims are victims of an imperialist-Zionist conspiracy aided by reactionary regimes in the Arab world. It has as its goal keeping the Arabs and Muslims backward in order to exploit their oil riches and prevent them from becoming as strong as they used to be in the Middle Ages — because that is dangerous for Israel and Western interests.’ ”
That story, says TF, needs to be "deconstructed" in order for a new narrative of "responsibility, modernization, and Islamic reformation" to take hold.  Only then, says TF, can such seeds as Iraq's new democracy, the Green Movement in Iran, and young pro-democracy reformers across the Middle East really sprout.

I have no beef with Friedman's hope that reform movements come to fruition in Iran and elsewhere (although I'm hardly as sanguine about the fledgling Iraqi system's possibilities of resulting in meaningful "reform').  But Friedman seems to think that once that happens, all will be well, for little Americas will take wing across the region.  Ain't gonna happen - and when I look at the current state of affairs in our nation's capital (including the Supremes' decision to unleash the lobbyists), I can't say I'd wish the American system on anybody at this point).

But my real problem with Friedman's little history lesson is that his historical field of view is (as usual) too little.  The problems of the Middle East didn't begin in 1977.  And to wax on about the need to "deconstruct" the narrative about Western-Zionist imperialism and colonialism ignores the reality of that imperialism and colonialism.  Think Balfour Declaration, Sykes-Picot Agreement, post-World War I mandates, the Seven Sisters and the Red Line Agreement of Big Oil, Operation Ajax, the Suez Crisis of 1956 . . . .  Hell, I'm not even to 1960 yet.

Fast forward then, to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, or the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon, or the earlier Israeli Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, or the ongoing Zionist colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank . . . .

I understand the pitfalls of Friedman's needing to come up with punchy columns in the New York Times, week after week.  But that's simply no excuse for purveying to a huge public such "history lessons" that are so oblivious to the deep historical roots, and grievances, that underlie the current realities.  The reductionism of such a "1977 and 1979" approach is a disservice to Friedman's readers - and with an advanced degree from Oxford in Middle East studies, Friedman ought to know that.

No comments:


Blog Archive

Cluster map

Search This Blog

ICAHD - 18,000 Homes Campaign (large banner)