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(DV) Whitney: Tom Friedman -- Fabricating the Roots of Terror







Tom Friedman: Fabricating the Roots of Terror
by Mike Whitney
July 28, 2005

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“[W]e fight because we are free men who don't sleep under oppression. We want to restore freedom to our nation, just as you lay waste to our nation. So shall we lay waste to yours. . .  Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.” 

-- Osama Bin Laden, Al Jazeera, November 1, 2004


 “The root cause of suicide terrorism is occupation, not Islam.”

 -- Robert Pape, “Al Qaeda’s Smart Bombs,” NY Times, July 9, 2005

Tom Friedman is the undeclared spokesman of the American establishment. His articles represent a distillation of the current thinking among a broad range of American mandarins, particularly members of the powerful Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the driving force behind much of America’s foreign policy. He is the imperial chronicler, the man responsible for promoting the narrow interests of elites and transforming the crimes of the empire into a narrative of generosity and goodwill. If one can decode Friedman’s bi-weekly hieroglyphic, they can also understand how elites use the media to manage public perceptions.

In his latest article, “Giving the Hate-mongers No Place to Hide,” Friedman offers his views on both terrorism and free speech. He argues that we should pay greater attention to “hate speech” and try to grasp its relationship to terrorism. Friedman sees this overheated rhetoric as such an imminent threat that he thinks “the State Department should identify the top 10 hate-mongers” and provide their names to the public.

Apart from the McCarthy-like overtones of Friedman’s proposal, it’s hard to believe that his contemporaries in talk-radio would be very enthusiastic about this new idea. After all, sectarian and racial hatred have become staples on the country’s airwaves, with many of the nation’s top broadcasters savaging gays and Muslims on a routine basis. As Friedman knows, the issue of hate speech is normally a question of “whose ox is being gored.”

But, Friedman’s intention is not to take aim at the “accepted” institutions of discrimination and racism within the body politic, but to single out Muslims who vent their rage at American foreign policy and subject them to public intimidation. This can be accomplished by developing a State Department “blacklist” of anyone who utters a word against the Fatherland and, presumably, its junior partner, Israel.

“Words matter,” Friedman opines. “We need to shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears…When their words are spotlighted, they often feel pressure to retract, defend or explain them.”

Friedman’s comments echo the Stalinesque directive from Donald Rumsfeld in May of 2005: “People need to be very careful about what they say as well as very careful about what they do.”

Indeed, they do, but is that the function of government, to silence those with an unpopular point of view? Or, are Friedman and Rumsfeld’s remarks simply intended to have a chilling effect on free speech?

More importantly, does “hate speech” really generate terrorism or is there a more identifiable source?

While Friedman may be concerned with “shutting people up,” he’s much less concerned with the real origins of terror. His own paper, The New York Times, ran a very scholarly article just three weeks ago by Robert Pape, “Al Qaeda’s Smart Bombs” (7/9/05), which dismissed many of the commonly held illusions about terrorism. Pape, who documented every case of suicide bombing between 1980 and 2004, says that the “core motivating factor behind suicide terrorism” is “a nationalistic response to occupation”; “The root cause of terrorism is occupation, not Islam.”


Pape’s “fact-based” analysis directly challenges Friedman’s “hate mongering” theory of terror. The distinction between the two hypotheses is colossal. If Friedman is correct then the West is justified in invading Muslim countries to rid them of, what Tony Blair called, “an evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of Islam.” This is the rationale that supports the US occupation of Iraq, presenting the conflict as “the central battlefield in the war on terror.”

However, if Pape’s analysis is right then the real catalyst for terrorism is the American occupation itself, a permanent recruiting sergeant for Muslim extremists and jihadis. If that were the case, the only reasonable solution would be a quick transfer of power and a complete withdrawal of American forces.

This is not a debate that Friedman or his colleagues in the corporate establishment can afford to lose. Pape threatens to derail the Iraqi master plan by simply presenting the facts of his investigation and changing the hearts and minds of the American public. That explains why every media bullhorn is feverishly broadcasting some variant of Friedman’s “hate mongering” theory: trying to keep alive the fading belief that America is fighting “Islamo-fascism” in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil. It is a storyline that grows more threadbare by the day.

The UK Independent’s Patrick Cockburn delivered a stunning blow to Friedman’s theory last Tuesday in his aptly named article, “Iraq: The Unwinnable War.”  Cockburn states:

“The findings of an investigation, to be published soon, into 300 young Saudis, caught and interrogated by Saudi intelligence on their way to Iraq to fight or blow themselves up, shows that very few had any previous contact with al-Qa'ida or any other terrorist organization previous to 2003. It was the invasion of Iraq which prompted their decision to die.

Some 36 Saudis who did blow themselves up in Iraq did so for similar reasons, according to the same study, commissioned by the Saudi government and carried out by a US-trained Saudi researcher, Nawaf Obaid, who was given permission to speak to Saudi intelligence officers. A separate Israeli study of 154 foreign fighters in Iraq, carried out by the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel, also concluded that almost all had been radicalized by Iraq alone.”

“No contact with Al Qaida”?... “All had been radicalized by Iraq alone”?

Do we need more proof then this or can we put to rest Friedman’s musty ideas about Muslim “evil-doers”. The source of the problem is not in the heart of Islam but in the sanctuaries of the American plutocracy, where fantasists who never held a rifle dreamt of leading the nation to war. Their muddled vision has now produced the greatest wave of terror the world has ever seen.

Friedman scrupulously tiptoes around the facts so he can shift the blame onto his favorite whipping boy: radical Islam. But the problem is not the “cancer in their midst,” as Friedman claims, but the cancer in ours. “Hate mongers” were not responsible for the unprovoked invasion of Iraq. That was the cynical calculation of American mandarins and their political operatives in the White House. The war has reaped a firestorm of terror and Friedman’s fabrications just keep fanning the flames.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

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