This is a bit of a change of pace from the Ramadan posts, but it's a timely article that was recently in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman regarding 9/11 and the upcoming election. He argues for the closure of Guantanamo, and building our infrastructure and progressing as a country – not becoming backwards as we have since 9/11.

The article follows here (the original can be found on NYT's website), it is short and worth the read. I also plan on reviewing Thomas Friedman's book the World is Flat insha'Allah after Ramadan.

September 30, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

9/11 Is Over

Not long ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion ran a fake news story that began like this:

“At a well-attended rally in front of his new ground zero headquarters Monday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani officially announced his plan to run for president of 9/11. 'My fellow citizens of 9/11, today I will make you a promise,' said Giuliani during his 18-minute announcement speech in front of a charred and torn American flag. 'As president of 9/11, I will usher in a bold new 9/11 for all.' If elected, Giuliani would inherit the duties of current 9/11 President George W. Bush, including making grim facial expressions, seeing the world's conflicts in terms of good and evil, and carrying a bullhorn at all state functions.”

Like all good satire, the story made me both laugh and cry, because it reflected something so true — how much, since 9/11, we've become “The United States of Fighting Terrorism.” Times columnists are not allowed to endorse candidates, but there's no rule against saying who will not get my vote: I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don't need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don't. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

Before 9/11, the world thought America's slogan was: “Where anything is possible for anybody.” But that is not our global brand anymore. Our government has been exporting fear, not hope: “Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.”

You may think Guantánamo Bay is a prison camp in Cuba for Al Qaeda terrorists. A lot of the world thinks it's a place we send visitors who don't give the right answers at immigration. I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling Guantánamo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans. Guantánamo Bay is the anti-Statue of Liberty.

Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association, told me that the United States has lost millions of overseas visitors since 9/11 — even though the dollar is weak and America is on sale. “Only the U.S. is losing traveler volume among major countries, which is unheard of in today's world,” Mr. Dow said.

Total business arrivals to the United States fell by 10 percent over the 2004-5 period alone, while the number of business visitors to Europe grew by 8 percent in that time. The travel industry's recent Discover America Partnership study concluded that “the U.S. entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is turning away foreign business and leisure travelers and hurting America's image abroad.” Those who don't visit us, don't know us.

I'd love to see us salvage something decent in Iraq that might help tilt the Middle East onto a more progressive pathway. That was and is necessary to improve our security. But sometimes the necessary is impossible — and we just can't keep chasing that rainbow this way.

Look at our infrastructure. It's not just the bridge that fell in my hometown, Minneapolis. Fly from Zurich's ultramodern airport to La Guardia's dump. It is like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. I still can't get uninterrupted cellphone service between my home in Bethesda and my office in D.C. But I recently bought a pocket cellphone at the Beijing airport and immediately called my wife in Bethesda — crystal clear.

I just attended the China clean car conference, where Chinese automakers were boasting that their 2008 cars will meet “Euro 4” — European Union — emissions standards. We used to be the gold standard. We aren't anymore. Last July, Microsoft, fed up with American restrictions on importing brain talent, opened its newest software development center in Vancouver. That's in Canada, folks. If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can't America?

We can't afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.

14 Responses

  1. Amad

    Friedman is good.

    I read his Lexus and olive tree book… I reckon that the “earth is flat” follows the same spirit. Its a must read for anyone interested in what globalization is doing to us, ALL of us. Just like how we get opinions from the East and West right here on this blog… that would be impossible just 10 or so years ago!

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  2. Abu Omar

    To bad that it has taken Friedman to learn these lessons. He was one of champions of the Iraq war, telling us that it would bring democracy to the Muslim world. He has been a vocal backer of American imperialism. Friedman is now writing from the position of hindsight after he has seen the dismal failure that is the “War on Terror” (or the War of Terror of John Pilger pointed out). Too little, too late.

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  3. Abu Omar

    Sorry, the first sentence in my post should read “To bad that it has taken Friedman this long to learn these lessons.”

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  4. Yasir Qadhi

    What I like about Friedman is his honesty. He made some major blunders post 9/11 but he’s honest enough to admit them; he learned from them and moved on. That’s not to say that I agree with all of his views, but overall I see him as a great journalist.

    BTW he studied with Hourani, one of the most famous Islamicists of the 70’s.

    Yasir

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  5. Kashif

    salaam aleikum,

    I’ve never quite understood the fascination Muslims and others around the world have had for the “liberalized” version of a neo-con mr. Friedman. Besides supporting the war in Iraq (along with Judith Miller who photocopied press releases from the White House and passed them off as “stories”) he was one of the most active and vociferous in championing the war in Iraq and has been called out for it numerous times:

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/oct2005/frie-o27.shtml

    http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2884

    http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=13723

    in some ways he is actually WORSE than the right wing Islamic hating machine in the sense that he tries to find “democratic” and “liberal” arguments to back up imperial designs. This has included:

    1. advocating the lesbian Irshad Manji as a “progressive” Muslim voice:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/03/opinion/03friedman.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    2. Support for U.S. military invasions of BOTH Iraq and Afghanistan, one quote particularly stands out:

    “America cannot be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is…The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist–McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonald-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” (NYTs March 28, 1999)

    3. Attacking the divestment from Israel movement. His notion that Israel has already made enough concessions to the Palestinians and if the Arab/Muslim world wants more they need to “democratize” first i.e. whore themselves completely to Israel for “peace”:

    http://www.middleeast.org/world/nytimes55.htm

    4. He is also an intellectual and political coward who when confronted and challenged on his crackpot ideas and subservience to U.S. multinationals cannot stand behind the garbage that he vomits out in his columns,

    http://palestinechronicle.com/story-20020430190733365.htm

    this quote is good here:

    “New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, on an unscheduled appearance, stole the show when he walked out after he came under criticism for his pro-Israel bias, with some picking up an admission in his address that as a columnist, he is “paid to have an opinion.”

    “I will not sit here and listen to that garbage,” Friedman said.

    rather than waste time on this stupid idiot and apologist for U.S. imperialism and multinationals I would *strongly* suggest that interested people read the following for a better perspective on issues:

    * Naomi Klein
    * Noam Chomsky
    * Sidney Blumenthal
    * Michael F. Scheuer
    * Tariq Ali

    each of the writers above gives insights and radical and unique perspectives on many issues of concern to Muslims and people the world over.

    salaam aleikum,
    Kashif

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  6. abu ameerah

    “Friedman is good.”

    Hmmm … in that sense fried chicken is also good. However, if one consumes too much of it — the result is everything from high blood pressure to obesity. That is how I like to think of Friedman. Too much of him simply ain’t a good thing.

    As a former Professor of mine once put it (in reference to Friedman’s book The Lexus and The Olive Tree) … Friedman was heavy on facts and other minutia but light on any substantive analysis.

    Ultimately, the debate continues on the impact of globalization in international political affairs. Friedman would argue that its ALLLL about free trade, markets, and global economic development. That remains to be seen. Consider his McDonalds & War theory (kinda didn’t pan out btw).

    Also, Friedman was indeed a supporter of the Iraq war and once discussed that on a Sunday morning political talk show. I think it was ABC’s This Week or CBS’ Face The Nation. Anyway, Friedman mentioned how he differed with his wife on the Iraq war as she wasn’t a supporter of the war in 2003 and was generally less inclined to pursue the “use of force” option in dealing with America’s adversaries.

    Seeing Friedman argue (post Iraq debacle) with other political commentators, I don’t think he has learned much from his mistakes.

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  7. Amad

    Kashif/AA/Abu Omar: you are right. Friedman is not a “darling” for Muslims. He has said some awful stuff in the past as well as espoused some of the neocon positions.

    But he also writes good stuff at other times. So, we take the good and leave the bad. He isn’t Krauthammer or Pipes… He is definitely not from the neocon circle. Unfortunately Muslims just don’t have the luxury to have someone of their choosing. We’ll take what we can get! The fact that Frontpage got issues with his article, then it MUST be good. The enemy of our worst enemy can be a friend at times :)

    wsalam

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  8. abu ameerah

    “The enemy of our worst enemy can be a friend at times” (smiley face)

    Well put. I suppose that is realpolitik MM Style… (smiley face)

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  9. Abu Omar

    After you have finished reading what Thomas Friedman had to say about 9/11, I would suggest reading what Mr. Robert Fisk wrote about 9/11: http://news.independent.co.uk/fisk/article2893860.ece

    Now Mr. Fisk is a journalist that I have a great deal of respect for and is someone with actual principles, unlike Friedman who changes his political opinions with the wind.

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