January 2, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 324

Jordanian Columnist: Arab anger at Thomas Friedman unwarranted

January 2, 2002
Jordan | Special Dispatch No. 324

Liberal columnist Fahd Al-Fanik published an article in Jordan's Al-Rai daily titled "Why does Friedman arouseour ire?" Following is the article in its entirety

"It is natural that columnist Thomas Friedman would be famous in the Arab world. This is not only because he publishes his column in the New York Times, America's most important newspaper; other columnists in that paper do not get the same publicity. Another reason for his fame is that he writes on Middle East affairs, which naturally arouses our attention so much that some Arab papers translate and publish his column."

"It is also natural that Friedman would earn the hatred of many, and that he would be criticized and even attacked – not only because he is a Jew, and therefore likely to be biased against Arab interests and in favor of Israel, but also because he is not diplomatic and reveals our shortcomings to us without taking our tender feelings into account!"

"Friedman aggravates many when he smears Arab culture and regimes. Perhaps his aim is to harm Arab morale – but that doesn't mean that he is inventing the flaws. The flaws exist, and we would rather no one reminded us of them."

"I have read much of what Arab journalists wrote against Friedman, and I noticed that most of the arguments voiced against him concerned existing flaws [mentioned by Friedman in his articles] that we would be better off acknowledging and trying to correct. Being an American, he has a right to demand that a large Arab state [i.e. Egypt] abide by the will of the U.S. if it wants to keep receiving billions of American taxpayers' dollars. He has the right to tell another Arab state [i.e. Saudi Arabia] that its schools produce terrorists. He has the right to blame the Palestinian leaders for missing the opportunities given to them, preferring rather to espouse populist positions that are futile."

"In his most recent article, Friedman presented the factors that can prevent America from attacking Iraq – not because he likes Iraq, but because the U.S. will find no allies for this mission. Russia has trade interests with Iraq; Turkey fears the rise of a Kurdish state in the North; Saudi Arabia fears the rise of a Shi'ite state in the South; Jordan has trade and petroleum interests; Syria fears that after Iraq it will be the next target; and Egypt does not want an Iraqi regime that will align itself with America and compete for leadership of the Arab world."

"In his column, Friedman wrote hypothetical letters from the American president to Mubarak, Assad, and Arafat. Last May, I asked him why he doesn't write a letter to Sharon, and he said that he was working on it and will publish it soon. To date, he has not kept his promise."[1]

[1] Al-Rai (Jordan), December 29, 2001. Actually, Friedman did write a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in his column "Dear Ariel and Yasir," New York Times, October 23, 2001.

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