Sunday, August 26, 2007

Friedman's flummery

Comfortably ensconced on the editorial pages of the New York Times, pundit Thomas Friedman can always be relied upon to rhetorically deflect from the Western mainstream media the opprobrium their conduct so often merit. His column in Sunday’s edition is a case in point.

In it, he takes to task the Bush administration for having so effectively “swift-boated” the “authentic Vietnam war heroes” Max Cleland and John Kerry in the American media, while failing to do likewise with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in those of the Arab-Muslim world. Writing from Doha, Qatar, Friedman bewails the fact that in conversations in that region “it won’t take 30 seconds before the words ‘Abu Ghraib’ and ‘Guantánamo Bay’ are thrown at you” and, the numberless atrocities of the jihadist enemy notwithstanding, “none of their acts have become one-punch global insults like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.” As an example of said atrocities he cites the Aug. 14 suicide-bomb massacre of some 500 Kurdish Yazidis in Iraq, decries the Bush administration’s failure to denounce it in loud enough tones, and sternly asserts that “Even if we don’t know the exact perpetrators, we know who is inspiring this sort of genocide — Al Qaeda and bin Laden — and we need to say that every day.”

Excuse us, Mr. Friedman, but just who is this “we” that needs constantly to reiterate this point? I’ll tell you who: not the Bush administration but the Western mainstream media, at the rarified heights of which you toil. But said media can be counted upon to do nothing of the sort, which is why neither the Yazidi massacre – nor the butchery of hostages, the lynching of American contractors in Fallujah, the destruction of the Shi’ite Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, etc., etc., ad nauseam – has become a “one-punch global insult.” And the reason why Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo have become such insults is because the media have harped on them endlessly in precisely the manner you propose.

There are two reasons they do so. One is that in the wake of the traumatic 2000 election overtime slugfest, George W. Bush is perceived as a villain on a much more visceral level by the preponderant majority of American mainstream media reporters and pundits who are partisan Democrats than is Osama bin Laden or any other jihadist. The other is the near-reflexive deference of such people and their editors to Muslim sensitivities that has become almost a daily occurrence – as witness such current examples as the refusal of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to print pictures of two men photographed while engaged in highly suspicious activity on a Puget Sound ferry that were released for public dissemination Aug. 21 by the FBI, and the decision by 25 mainstream newspapers to withhold the Aug. 26 and Sept. 2 installments of the comic strip “Opus” because a character shows up in a niqab, declaring Islamic radicalism “a hot new fad.” As Washington Post Writers Group Executive Sales Manager Karisue Wyson told the trade journal Editor and Publisher, many papers “won't publish any Muslim-related humor, whether pro or con,” stressing that “They just don't want to touch that.”

Not that the media of the Arab-Muslim world would be likely to parrot anti-jihadist coverage and commentary were it to appear in the Western media, the way they do the latter's current anti-American screeds. This is because the jihadist enemy’s critiques of America in particular and the West in general resonate among populations brought up not only on decades of inimical propaganda but on centuries of Quranic recitations such as Verse 48:29, which stipulates that Muslims are “hard against the disbelievers and merciful amongst themselves,” and verses 3:28, 3:118, 4:138-9, 5:51, 9:23 and 60:1, all of which enjoin the faithful to forbear from friendship or alliance with infidels – even if they are “your fathers or your brothers.”

Far be it from Friedman, of course, to cite the scripture, doctrines, and history of Islam as an obstacle to Arab-Muslim acceptance of anti-jihadist criticism. Instead, it’s all the president’s fault. “Mr. Bush is losing a P.R. war to a mass murderer,” he cavils. “Yes, it is not easy breaking through the innate, anti-American tilt of the Arab media, but we have barely tried.”

Again, that spurious “we.” Not only has the U.S. government, hobbled by its habits of “sensitivity” and deference, “barely tried” to make a case against the jihadist enemy, but the mainstream media establishment has collectively done its absolute damnedest to undermine any such case. Unhappily, it can be relied upon to continue to do so, for humor is not the only “Muslim-related” matter its editors, publishers and producers “just don’t want to touch.”

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