Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Tom Friedman went to work as a journalist in Beirut, Lebanon soon after securing a masters degree from Oxford University in Middle Eastern Studies. Employed by United Press International in 1978, he soon transferred to the New York Times and covered the Syrian destruction of that country’s own town of Hama, the Israeli Lebanese invasion, the massacre of Palestinians in refugee camps, the evacuation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the suicide bombing of the US Embassy and Marine headquarters, and the departure of the Marines. Transferred to Jerusalem in 1984, he reported on the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, the first Intifada, and the gloomy procession of events that thereafter consumed the old Palestine. In 1995, he became THE foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times with carte blanche--unlimited travel budget and no supervision as to content. He has written two books and collected two Pulitzer Prizes. He just gained a third.
In his current job, Friedman writes a 740-word column twice a week.
It appears syndicated in many of the world’s newspapers and on the Web. This latest book, Longitudes and Attitudes, is a compendium of his more recent columns and a diary of supporting incidents. The text relates to the theme that has consumed him in his career: the failure of the Arab nation to develop, democratize, and compete properly with the West. This theme is given point by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the attack of 9/11.
Because of Friedman’s experience and his personal qualities, he has friends all over the Middle East. His arguments and conclusions are well thought through, so much so that they draw opponents to reason with him. Of Jewish religion, he still wears the American flag on his sleeve and berates Israel for the West Bank settlements. Wherever he goes in Muslim lands, he appears before editorial boards and argues his conclusions. He has persuaded the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to take a useful initiative for peace. You see many of his views reflected in the public positions of the American Administration. Friedman has moved on from journalist to interpreter and intellectual stimulant. He is a treasure.
Friedman believes that Arabs suffer a “poverty of dignity” that engenders rage over their individual and collective, third rate status. They miss an Islamic Enlightenment that would have privileged opposition points of view and placed responsibility on the individual. Thus, angry young men fall for a religious fundamentalism that is now doubly dangerous because of the empowerment of modern technology. He spreads blame around for the Palestine situation, but focuses on Saudi Arabia, its schools, its oil-funded foreign fundamentalism, and its corrupt autocracy for 9/11. He bemoans the failure of Muslim elites to take responsibility for Arab malaise and their unwillingness to work any other issue besides Palestine.
Friedman advocates a rapid Israeli abandonment of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestine state under American policing. He fears that otherwise Israel will rule a violent Muslim Bantustan whose population grows faster than its own. He recommends increased American foreign aid to, and cooperation with, Arab moderates.
Finally, he appears mixed about our bruited invasion of Iraq. He deplores Bush’s unilateralism while admiring the president’s violent reaction to 9/11. When so much hate of America bubbles in the Middle East, would a show of force be more sobering than harmful? Thoughtful and highly recommended.