Friday, May 21, 2010

Karzai the Carpet Salesman

A few weeks ago, Tommy was angry. According to a Times article,Hamid Karzai had "recently told lunch guests at the presidential palace that he believes the Americans are in Afghanistan because they want to dominate his country and the region." This assessment of American aims upset Friedman so much in the very next paragraph he repeated it essentially verbatim, "Karzai believes that America is trying to dominate the region". (I've subsequently learned from a conversation with someone in the NYT editorial office that Friedman doesn't have an editor).

Tommy, of course, didn't pause to consider what might make that paranoid Karzai think the U.S. was trying to dominate the region. Instead, he started in in on a typical Friedman theme: the ingratitude of those whose countries we invade and people we kill: "That is what we’re getting for risking thousands of U.S. soldiers and having spent $200 billion already."

Much of what followed was pretty forgettable. Apparently, the U.S. is violating THREE CARDINAL RULES OF MIDDLE EAST DIPLOMACY. I'll spare you, except for what he said about rule # 2:

Rule No. 2: “Never want it more than they do.” If we want good governance in Afghanistan more than Karzai, he will sell us that carpet over and over.
Karzai will sell us what?!? "Selling us that carpet" is simply not an an expression. And while Friedman is famous for making up his own tortured metaphors, you cannot just throw out racist caricatures about the President of Afghanistan on the editorial page of The New York Times.

Except apparently you can. Not only did Friedman write that and The New York Times printed it, but no one said a word about it. I spent a lot of time reading reaction to that op-ed (it might surprise you to learn I'm a little obsessed with Friedman), and there were lots of people who oohed and aahed over the THREE CARDINAL RULES. But except for a lone solitary tweet, no one said, "what the fuck did you mean by that carpet crack, Tommy? What caused you to choose those particular words? Were you were playing off of the racist stereotype of Arabs and Persians from the Middle East as slick carpet salesmen?"

The sad fact is no form of prejudice is more socially acceptable in so-called polite company than anti-Muslim sentiments. Can you imagine the uproar if someone had written in the New York Times, "If we want peace more than Netanyahu, he'll lend us money at exorbitant rates over and over"? But that's essentially what Friedman did.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, Tommy's racist writings are a drop in the bucket compared to the atrocities committed by the U.S. in our -- dare I say it -- attempt to dominate the region. But in a just world, Friedman would making his carpet salesman cracks on some obscure xenophobic website and not as Esteemed Thinker on the pages of The New York Times.

Fire Tom Friedman.