Thomas Friedman: Dehumanisation par excellence amid a genocide

It is hardly surprising that these days, America’s leading columnist is working hard to dehumanise the people of the Middle East.

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman speaks during the International New York Times Energy for Tomorrow Conference at the Hotel Potocki, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Paris, France December 9, 2015 on the sidelines of the COP21 United Nations conference on climate change. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman speaks during the International New York Times Energy for Tomorrow Conference in Paris on December 9, 2015 [File: Reuters/Mandel Ngan]

There are few American journalists who so transparently embody the United States’ pompous and demeaning approach to Arab and Muslim lands and peoples as Thomas Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times since 1995.

Prior to tormenting humanity with his biweekly opinions (such as that McDonald’s is the key to world peace), Friedman served in the 1980s as the Times bureau chief in Beirut and then Jerusalem. His time in the Middle East permitted him to hone his Orientalist arrogance, which earned him the starring role in a 1989 essay by none other than Edward Said, who remarked on the “comic philistinism of Friedman’s ideas” and Friedman’s apparent conviction that “what scholars, poets, historians, fighters, and statesmen have done is not as important or as central as what Friedman himself thinks”.

Of course, Friedman’s inauguration as a foreign affairs columnist gave him greater freedom to share what he, himself, thought. Over the years, these thoughts have included that Palestinians are “gripped by a collective madness”, that Afghanistan is the equivalent of a “special needs baby”, and that the nation of Iraq needed to “suck on this” in order to burst the “terrorism bubble” that had made itself known on 9/11 – an event Friedman nonetheless admitted Iraq had nothing to do with.

Friedman’s persistent warmongering has been facilitated by a dedicated rejection of reality and its replacement with one in which “a lot of bad stuff happens in the world without America, but not a lot of good stuff”. The fact that Friedman’s opinions align so conveniently with US foreign policy goals does much in the way of explaining how a purveyor of “comic philistinism” has soared to such prestigious heights at the national newspaper of record.

With a genocide now going down in the Gaza Strip, however, nothing is very comical any more. A die-hard fan of Israel – to the extent that he gushes that Israel “had me at hello” – Friedman was clearly not going to be any objectively logical person’s go-to source for analysis of a war that has now killed more than 28,000 Palestinians since October.

In his February 13 column, Friedman reasserts his self-appointed centrality to the Middle East by once again claiming much of the credit for the Saudi-backed “peace plan” of 2002. The present genocide of Palestinians notwithstanding, Friedman blasts Hamas for being a “longtime enemy of reconciliation” and the perpetrators of a “brutal down payment on Israel’s destruction” – never mind Israel’s apocalyptic monopoly on destruction and repeated rejections of truce offers from Hamas dating back to the 1980s.

Friedman, who curiously insists on portraying himself as a serious critic of Israel despite having been “had at hello”, goes on to announce: “I totally get why Israelis, who every day are taking fire from Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis, do not want to discuss a two-state solution with the Palestinians right now.” As for the folks who are actually “taking fire” on a daily basis, he reduces Gaza to merely being “engulfed by conflict” and the West Bank to “boiling”.

Granted, this was unsurprising coming from the man who during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009 suggested that it was “not pretty, but it was logical” for the Israeli military to “inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties” on Arab populations – and who enthusiastically cheer-led the sadistic 2002 Israeli attack on West Bank refugee camp of Jenin (so much for that year’s “peace plan”).

Some 10 days before his latest Israel-Palestine column, Friedman unleashed a dispatch titled “Understanding the Middle East Through the Animal Kingdom”, which even those of us who have been condemned to extreme intimacy with the Friedman oeuvre were not prepared for.

At first, one naturally assumed the article to be some sort of sick joke or Friedman parody. Alas, it was not. This would be grotesquely bonkers enough already had the Israeli military establishment not declared its Palestinian victims to be “human animals”.

Explaining that he sometimes prefers to think about Middle Eastern politics “with analogies from the natural world”, Friedman casts the US in the role of an “old lion” who is “still king of the Middle East jungle” but tired. The Islamic Republic of Iran, on the other hand, “is to geopolitics what a recently discovered species of parasitoid wasp is to nature”.

Quoting Science Daily, Friedman educates us as to how said wasp “injects its eggs into live caterpillars, and the baby wasp larvae slowly eat the caterpillar from the inside out, bursting out once they have eaten their fill”. He proceeds to ask: “Is there a better description of Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq today?”

A better question might be whether there is no one else in the world who might perform the functions of New York Times columnist without babbling nonsensically about parasitoid wasp eggs. In case we haven’t fully grasped the analogy, Friedman specifies that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the wasp, while the aforementioned four countries are the caterpillars. The eggs are the Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas and Kataib Hezbollah.

Friedman laments: “We have no counterstrategy that safely and efficiently kills the wasp without setting fire to the whole jungle”.

Never mind that the old, tired lion and its Israeli accomplice have wreaked far more lethal destruction in the Middle East than all of the wasp eggs combined. Burning down the whole jungle has long been the US-Israeli modus operandi, and is once again endorsed here by Friedman as basically the only option.

Anyway, there is no time to dwell on murderous incoherence since Friedman – having just appointed Hamas one of the wasp eggs – suddenly decides that the group is instead the “trap-door spider”, which according to an unnamed nature site “leaps out at great speed, seizes its prey and hauls it back into the burrow to be devoured, all in a fraction of a second”.

There is evidently no need for the animal equivalent of a military that has spent more than four months slaughtering Palestinian children, women and men with US backing, but Friedman does manage a profoundly bizarre yet innocuous comparison of bloodthirsty Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the sifaka lemur (apologies to all lemurs everywhere).

Having neared the end of his dehumanising rant, our New York Times columnist throws in one last defiance of political correctness and basic human decency: “Sometimes I contemplate the Middle East by watching CNN. Other times, I prefer Animal Planet”.

In his 2002 book Longitudes and Attitudes, Friedman boasted that the only person who reviewed his biweekly columns prior to publication was “a copy editor who edits them for grammar and spelling”. Perhaps it’s time to rectify that arrangement.

And as Thomas Friedman approaches his 30-year columnist anniversary of injecting his audience with incendiary drivel, it seems there might be another contender for the title of parasitoid wasp.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.