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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thomas Friedman's "Farewell to Geronimo": Again with His Head in the Sand

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Farewell to Geronimo" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/opinion/04friedman.html), Thomas Friedman would have us believe that bin Laden and al-Qaeda were repugnant to the Muslim Middle East and that the recent uprisings in the region sprang from a rejection of bin Laden's violent ideology. Friedman writes:

"There is only one good thing about the fact that Osama bin Laden survived for nearly 10 years after the mass murder at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that he organized. And that is that he lived long enough to see so many young Arabs repudiate his ideology. He lived long enough to see Arabs from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Syria rise up peacefully to gain the dignity, justice and self-rule that Bin Laden claimed could be obtained only by murderous violence and a return to puritanical Islam.

. . . .

Very few Arabs actively supported Bin Laden, but he initially drew significant passive support for his fist in the face of America, the Arab regimes and Israel."

. . . .

All we can hope for is that this time there really will be a struggle of ideas — that in a region where extremists go all the way and moderates tend to just go away, this time will be different. The moderates will be as passionate and committed as the extremists. If that happens, both Bin Laden and Bin Ladenism will be resting at the bottom of the ocean."

Wedded to a romantic theory, Friedman, however, ignores the facts.

According to statistics released by the Pew Research Center on December 2, 2010 (http://pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/), 19% of Muslims in Egypt expressed confidence in bin Laden. Moreover, 34% of Jordanians had a favorable view of al-Qaeda.

Whereas Friedman might regard 19% of Egypt's population of 82 million as "very few", I regard this support of bin Laden and al-Qaeda by millions of Egyptians as horrifying.

Also according to the Pew Research Center report:

"At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt . . . say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion."

Note, too, that according to this survey, 95% of Egyptian Muslims believe it is "good" that Islam plays a large role in politics. Excuse me, Tom, but where is the basis for pinning hope upon "moderates" in these numbers?

Declaring that "very few Arabs actively supported Bin Laden", Friedman additionally overlooks Hamas's reference to bin Laden on Monday as an "Arab holy warrior" (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/02/binladen-palestinians-hamas-idUSLDE74110O20110502).

Although Friedman would have us believe that a struggle for "dignity, justice and self-rule" comprises the common denominator of the "Arab Spring", he ignores the root causes for each of these uprisings, which in fact have little in common:

• tribal jealousy in Libya;
• Shiites opposing Sunni rule in Bahrain;
• a Sunni majority opposing Alawite rule in Syria, against the backdrop of a drought that has destroyed agriculture in that country;
• crushing poverty and unemployment in Egypt.

Sure, "dignity, justice and self-rule" resonate with many New York Times readers; however, they have little to do with the reality of the Middle East, where radical Islam persists.

Finally, I would observe that the use of Geronimo's name in the title of this op-ed is reprehensible. Any comparison between Geronimo and bin Laden is a travesty upon "dignity, justice and self-rule".

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