"It is not just the comic philistinism of Friedman’s ideas that I find so remarkably jejune, or his sassy and unbeguiling manner, or his grating indifference to values and principles by which, perhaps misguidedly, Arabs and Jews have believed themselves to be informed. It is rather the special combination of disarming incoherence and unearned egoism that gives him his cockily alarming plausibility — qualities that may explain the book’s quite startling commercial success. It’s as if — and I think this is true of his views on both Arabs and Jews — what scholars, poets, historians, fighters, and statesmen have done is not as important or as central as what Friedman himself thinks. Not only is there scarcely a reference in From Beirut to Jerusalem to the latest work on Arab history and society, but Friedman is also quite innocent about the latest in Israeli scholarship that has analyzed the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem, or the birth of Israel, or the internal dislocations within Israeli society.
Inside this serenely untroubled cocoon of the purest race prejudice the Friedmanian sensibility ambles from subject to subject. When he arrives finally at the vexed problem of press coverage, he warns us that the media are unfair in their relentless fixation on Israel (this from the journalist-author of a 600-page book on the subject), then he compliments the Israelis on manipulating the media brilliantly, then he blathers on about Israeli troops beating up three-year-olds, and how that vigorous form of outdoor exercise provides them with self-knowledge! Friedman seems to have no inkling that people were and have been killed or beaten when he and his media colleagues were not there to report the story, or that such things as imperialism, or demography, or conflicting ideas played a role while he wasn’t around to comment on the case. He does not seem quite to have apprehended that other peoples besides Westerners with sharp-angled symbols and superstories might have had a sense of nationhood, or that when a whole society is shattered and its people dispersed and stripped of their lands, it might on its own, without a Biblical superstory or a sharp Western symbol, try to reforge itself and create a new independent society.
A treatment of these facts would have been fairer and perhaps less grand than asking Arabs and Jews to bear the brunt of Friedman’s ponderous judgments on their infractions and departures from the essences and fates decreed for them by Friedman and his dubious authorities. Yet despite the distorting prism of his official self, Friedman does indeed have an understanding of how people hang on — e.g., the young Palestinian defenders of Beirut in 1982 — or of how a self-serving myth of victimization still controls the Israeli self-image. Compassion and affection thus occasionally get through Friedman’s remorseless machine, but the really curious thing is how little he seems to be interested in these genuine accomplishments, and how much more determined he is to be an all-knowing White Father composing the ultimate how-to-do-it book for the Middle East."
Edward Said on Thomas Friedman
This is just beautiful. It’s also a testament to how much of an outrage it is that Thomas Friedman is still treated as a serious commentator on the Middle East.