Friday, July 15, 2005

Debating Islam After the London Bombings

The NYTimes’s Thomas Friedman has been getting much credit in the sphere for his latest column: mostly, as far as I can tell, for having had the audacity to suggest that Islamic terrorism might just have something to do with Islam of all things. But Friedman’s column also finds him performing the same logic-defying feat in the face of terrorist attacks as we have previously seen performed on Trans-Int by the likes of George Galloway and Tariq Ramadan: viz. that of “understanding” the attacks, even while ostensibly condemning them – or rather, as Friedman puts it, in characteristically more convoluted terms, understanding, but not “accepting”, them. (I am not sure who has asked Tom Friedman to “accept” a terrorist attack). Friedman writes:

I can understand, but never accept, suicide bombing in Iraq or Israel as part of a nationalist struggle. But when a British Muslim citizen, nurtured by that society, just indiscriminately blows up his neighbors and leaves behind a baby and pregnant wife, to me he has to be in the grip of a dangerous cult or preacher….

Thus in the midst of arriving at a plain truth that anyone in their right mind should find unproblematic – such as “Blowing up your neighbors is bad” – Friedman manages to banalize assumptions that are outrageous and have hitherto only been associated with extremists: like blowing up your neighbors in the name of a “nationalist struggle”, that at least is “understandable”. Note that Friedman expresses his “understanding, but not acceptance” of suicide bombing in Iraq in an article published just two days after a suicide bomber killed some two dozen children in Baghdad. How such an act is supposed to be any less sick when committed in the name of a “nationalist struggle” than it is when committed in the name of an ostensibly religious one - this an insight to which I guess only very dedicated readers of Friedman are privileged.

Moreover, Friedman's remark is doubly (or triply) twisted – as much in the factual assessment that underlies it, as in the normative distinction that Friedman seems to believe follows from the latter – since neither the terrorist groups in Iraq, nor those in Israel act strictly or even predominantly in the name of an ideology that can be accurately described as “nationalist”. Rather, in both cases, precisely religious, i.e. Islamic, motifs are massively and obviously in play. If these motifs do indeed co-exist with or even reinforce certain “nationalist” ones, the nationalism in question is, more exactly, Arab nationalism (and not specifically “Iraqi” or “Palestinian” nationalism, even if the latter might appear as a pretext). And, in any event, the perpetrators of the London attacks were presumably motivated by exactly the same set of "grievances" - against the Anglo-American "occupation" of Iraq, etc. - as those of the Baghdad ones. So, what exactly is Friedman's point?

Even if he had in mind, more precisely, the tortuously convoluted quality of Friedman's metaphors, I cannot help but be reminded of Matt Taibbi's observation in "Flathead" - his review of Friedman's latest opus The World is Flat - to the effect that "Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up.... It's that he always screws it up." Taibbi might be a man of the anti-Bush "left". But he is spot on in his withering assessment of the Friedman "method".


This is how the London-based blogger Colin Meade introduces himself:

Until recently, I was a committed supporter of the Left. For some years before 9/11 I had been studying modern French and German foreign policy, which had led me to ask some hard questions about the real goals of European integration and its relation to the dark side of the European past. I went on the first antiwar demonstrations, but was shocked by the hysterical and obsessive hostility to Israel and the strategic alliance between the Left and Islamists underpinned by that hostility. Things started to come together in my head. A radical rethink was clearly in order….


This would be an excellent time to get to know Colin's blog, which today features a long and interesting post on the pusillanimous attitude of the British media toward supposed “representatives” of Islam. It begins:

Over the past week since the London Islamist terror bombings, the airwaves have been clogged with interviews with representatives of the "Muslim community" and diverse Muslim organisations. The interviewers have treated the Muslim guests like precious porcelain that will shatter if a hard question is asked. As a result, no hard questions have, in fact, been asked of these people, who have instead been given free airtime to promote their programme, which is: Islam is the answer to all problems including terrorism.

The rest is here.