Words to think about now that the Iraq war is “over.”
What’s the word for when you attack a country, kill its leaders, and then install your own puppet government in order to let your nation’s businesses loot and profit?
Something that I pop up constantly on right-wing sites is the idea that the “Arab world” is stuck in the past because it has very few books translated into Arabic each year. The common claim is that it translates less than Greece each year and the total number of books translated into Arabic since the Abbasid caliphate is 10,000, what Spain translates each year.
There’s a few problems with this. Let’s assume all of the numbers are correct. First, starting just after the Abbasid caliphate is extremely screwy, as the Abbasid caliphate was famous for its translations of works in Syriac, Greek, and Persian. So, you’re missing out on one of the most fruitful periods of cultural transmission in all of human history.
Second, there’s an underlying premise that to be modern, you must read Western works. This is especially common when it is brought up in conservative circles, where it’s often stated outright that without translations of English works (and the implication of American conservative books), the Arab world will always languish. This ignores the large role the US has played in oppressing the growth of an intellectual culture that would consume these works through American sponsorship of brutal regimes that do not want ideas like this being discussed. Also, it’s a bit racist to imply that only European works are really worthy of being read and that if you haven’t read European/Western books, you’re uneducated, uncivilized, and barbarous.
Third, lots of people in the “Arab world” speak English or French, especially those who have been educated and would be the intended audiences of translations. There’s no need for translations for them, as they can read English or French translations.
This argument has always bothered me because of the racism behind it and the Western-centric view it implies. Conservatives love this argument because it lets them be racist without being too explicit and it reinforces their ideas about Western cultural superiority. It’s a brutal combination of Orientalism (Westerners have complex ideas while Arabs only read religious texts and don’t have advanced ideas) and cultural imperialism (to be serious and respected by the West, you must read and accept our ideas).
One last point: How many conservatives can read Arabic and have any idea at all about the debates going on in the “Arab world”?
Michael Fuchs, leading German conservative politician on the Greek crisis
This exact same argument was used against Egypt and the Ottoman empire in the 1870s, with the result that the Ottoman empire was kept as a buffer between England and Russia and Egypt was colonized by England.
The innovative prince appears in Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded eating pizza at a Bahraini bistro with Friedman, while the daughter of a woman in a head-scarf at the table next to them is “dressed like an American teenager and had what looked like a tattoo on her left shoulder.” The bearer of the possible tattoo presumably belongs to the same category as the modern-sounding Egyptian hotel receptionist and other desirable types of Orientals, like “emphatically pro-Western Saudis, who have studied in America, visit regularly, and still root for their favorite American football teams.”
The relative familiarity of these ‘Orientals’ to the Western observer earns them Friedman brownie points vis-à-vis other contenders in the struggle for the soul of Arab/Muslim civilization, such as Palestinians “gripped by a collective madness” and Iraqis opposed to the US “occupation” of their country, who are written off as members of the “Iraqi Khmer Rouge.” Though Friedman eventually starts referring to the US occupation without quotation marks, he never explains why it is that the destruction of Iraq “to try to build one decent, progressive, democratizing society in the heart of the Arab East” is necessary when he has already advertised Bahrain, Jordan, and Morocco as “progressive Arab states” and decreed that “whatever happens with the Iraq experiment — but especially if it fails — we need Dubai to succeed. Dubai is where we should want the Arab world to go.”
Back when he arrived in Cairo in February, Friedman was thrilled to discover in Tahrir Square “[you] almost never hear the word ‘Israel,’ and the pictures of ‘martyrs’ plastered around the square are something rarely seen in the Arab world — Egyptians who died fighting for their own freedom not against Israel.” That Egyptians may not have forgotten the role of the “Israel” in regional oppression is subsequently suggested by a storming of Israel’s embassy in Cairo. Friedman, however, prefers to go from excising concern for the Palestinians from Egyptian consciousness to arguing that the Jewish state is itself one of the catalysts for the Arab Spring, because “[when] you live right next to a country that is bringing to justice its top leaders for corruption and you live in a country where many of the top leaders are corrupt, well, you notice.”
You probably also notice when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is charged for corruption, but not for his role in the 2008-2009 deaths of 1,400 people, primarily civilians, in another territory you live right next to, Gaza, or the deaths of 1,200 other neighbors, primarily Lebanese civilians, in 2006.
The primary issue over which Friedman is fairly consistently critical of Israel is that of settlements, which he manages to cast variously as the work of “renegade settler groups against the will of Israel’s government”, the work of the Israeli government itself, and the work of “the rejectionists” — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas — whose “main goal…is to lock Israel into the West Bank — so the world would denounce it as some kind of Jewish apartheid state.” The lock-in project is presumably facilitated by Israel’s willingness to erect hundreds of miles of concrete barrier in accordance with rejectionist goals.
The whole damn article is amazing at deconstructing the imperial message behind Thomas Friedman. This is an asshole who runs around on a limitless credit card from the NYT, has a huge mansion, and hangs out with Arab despots, but still has the gall to tell Americans they should be concerned about energy use and their government should tighten its belt.
Of course, Thomas Friedman will be invited on TV shows all of the time to present his boring, conventional analysis, while people like Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, and Noam Chomsky are marginalized.