Mr Friedman’s Demagoguery

Guest post by SAADIA TOOR and BALMURLI NATARAJAN of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI)

A response to his op-ed piece in The New York Times, December 3, 2008.

Among Mr. Friedman’s long list of talents seems to be the ability to directly access the minds of dead people.  After all, how else could he know that the real attackers in the Mumbai shootings shared the same set of intentions and motivations as the fictional characters he creates who murder an imam and his wife purely for being Sunni?  Maybe his short sojourns in South Asia through airports and the plush suites of the Marriot and the Taj Mahal Hotel do not allow him to imagine any other kind of Muslim than a unidimensional protestor of xenophobic cartoon images (produced, distributed and hotly defended, incidentally, by the enlightened West).  Maybe this talent comes from the same well of wisdom that made him the biggest promoter of the “innovative genius” of Wall Street bankers not too long ago, a position that he now has some trouble justifying, except by calling them “stupid”.  Or just maybe, he has simply made it a habit to promote views and policies that have no basis in fact and do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.  After all, those are the perks that come with a regular column in a major newspaper and a guaranteed readership just waiting for one to provide the ‘expert’ fuel to their fire. 

Mr. Friedman charges ordinary Pakistanis with being willing to spill onto the streets against cartoons but not against terrorism.  Perhaps Mr. Friedman would have been well-served to get better acquainted with the realities of the place(s) and people he insists on talking about in his knowledgeable way.  But doing so would, unfortunately, necessitate either dealing with the cognitive dissonance that inevitably ensues when one’s ideologies clash with the real world, or a radical rethinking of his analysis.  Because, among other things, the truth of the matter is that ordinary Pakistanis did not spill out into the streets in protest around the Danish cartoons – “Islamist” goons who torched the property and threatened the persons of ordinary Pakistanis did.  Ordinary Pakistanis have been, and continue to be, terrorized by these thugs on the one hand, and American bombs on the other; they are being killed in suicide attacks on their cities, being ‘disappeared’ by state intelligence agencies under the guise of ‘anti-terrorism’ and being handed over to the US; ordinary Pakistanis are losing their livelihoods by the very forces of neoliberal globalization that Mr. Friedman has been busy touting for the last decade at least.  Ordinary Pakistanis also launched the largest and longest movement in recent Pakistani history to remove yet another US-supported dictator despite the explicit resistance of the US, and elected an alliance of explicitly secular forces to power.

But acknowledging all this would require that Mr. Friedman face his own complicity in the terror that ordinary Pakistanis now face in the form of their state as well as the “Islamist” terrorists that populate Mr. Friedman’s fevered imagination and are in fact inseparable therein from Muslims in general.  This complicity is embodied in his terrifying justification of the occupation of Iraq, under cover of an immoral and obscene ‘War on Terror’ which is nothing if not a war on Muslims:  “What we needed to do was go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble. We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. . . .” (Friedman on Charlie Rose Show, May 30, 2003).  Is it still not glaringly obvious to us that the War on Terror has only served the forces of reaction both here in the US with the undermining of civil liberties and pre-emptive arrests of protestors and ‘there’ in ‘those’ lawless (Muslim) places teeming with beings that are not really human anyway – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran – the list goes on?   Ordinary Pakistanis – factory workers, artists, journalists, students (who have probably never seen a madrassa in their lives leave alone been inside one), lawyers, peasants, teachers – don’t exist in Mr. Friedman’s universe because they would be highly inconvenient for his deceptively neat, yet deadly, narrative.   Acknowledging them and acknowledging his complicity with the forces which are terrorizing their lives would require an honesty that Mr. Friedman has not shown himself partial to.   In any case, if all goes well, they won’t be around much longer anyway – Mr. Friedman is seeing to that with his ‘very big stick’.

Incidentally, if Mr. Friedman wishes to see evidence of Pakistani solidarity with Indians and vice versa, he has only to read the numerous statements generated by ordinary people in India and Pakistan calling collectively for peace.  But that would, again, require interacting with the pesky world of facts.  Perhaps it’s time to ask Mr. Friedman to prove his bona fides by showing that he is actually invested in facts, no matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient they may be.  In which case, we have a proposition for him: perhaps Mr. Friedman could come to Jackson Heights on Saturday, Dec 6 at 4 pm where ordinary Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, other indigenous religious, irreligious, atheist, agnostic activists across South Asia are congregating together in a peaceful rally to express solidarity with the victims of Mumbai and the War on Terror.  That might offer a much-needed corrective to the fantasy world he inhabits.  But perhaps we must spare a thought for the sabre-rattling circles that rely on the truth-effects created by Mr. Friedman’s dangerous fictions – what will happen to them if Mr. Friedman is forced to rethink his fantasy world?  He does have some responsibility towards them, after all, and we know that Mr. Friedman is nothing if not a responsible public intellectual.

December 6th, 2008

We join the people of India and Pakistan in condemning the violence in Mumbai and calling for peace and unity in South Asia. This latest episode of violence claimed the lives of at least 200 people and injured many more. The victims hailed from different countries, belonged to different religions, and had different class and caste affiliations. We express our profound sorrow and solidarity with all those directly and indirectly affected by the violence.

We are concerned that this tragic event and the loss of innocent lives in Mumbai may be used as a pretext to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan at a time when diplomatic and civil society efforts for peaceful coexistence have been making progress. The people of India and Pakistan, and South Asia as a whole, have a rich shared history and need peace in order to survive and prosper.

We urge the government of India to not use this as an opportunity to suspend civil liberties or impose draconian anti-terror laws such as TADA and POTA, which have been used selectively in the past against Indian Muslims, Sikhs, and political activists. The history of anti-terror laws in India and elsewhere has shown that they fail to achieve anything but a climate of repression and the targeting of minorities. There are already laws on the books which can address this issue without curtailing people’s basic due-process rights. The experience of the US since 9/11 has shown that repressive laws such as the USA-PATRIOT Act have only led to the racial profiling and unjust detention, deportation, and torture of South Asians, Muslims and Arabs. Such policies and practices have seriously undermined the basis of a democratic polity which rests fundamentally on the rule of law and the guarantee of basic civil liberties for all. We must not allow this to happen in India or in South Asia as a whole.

We should be judicious and careful in our response and not let our pain turn into bigotry against any community or nation. Let us unite together to ensure that peace and democratic principles are staunchly defended in South Asia.

South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI), Dalit Solidarity Forum, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), Sikh Coalition

Date: Saturday, December 6, 2008      Time: 4.15 PM
Place: 73rd Street and Broadway (across from Kabab King Diner), Jackson Heights
(Take the E/F/G/R/V/7 to Roosevelt Avenue/ Jackson Heights)
Contact: Prachi 917 415 0659 or Ash 917 279 4923

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