Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Repulsive Paternalism of Tom Friedman

Are you raising a troubled country? If so, parenting expert Thomas L. Friedman has some advice for you. Here's Papa Tommy on Turkey:
Is there anything the U.S. can do? My advice: Avoid a public confrontation that Erdogan can exploit to build more support, draw U.S. redlines in private and let Turkish democrats take the lead. Turkey is full of energy and hormones, and is trying to figure out its new identity. There is an inner struggle over that identity, between those who would like to see Turkey more aligned with the Islamic world and values and those who want it to remain more secular, Western and pluralistic. Who defines Turkey will determine a lot about whether we end up in a war of civilizations. We need to be involved but proceed delicately.
In case you're in a coma, let's spell out what Tommy is doing here. He's oh-so-subtly comparing
Turkey -- a country of 70 million people -- to a rebellious adolescent. Full of hormones! Trying to figure out its identity! So let's be an involved parent, but don't push too hard or junior may drop out of high school. Or start a "war of civilizations."

Regular Tommy readers (like this masochist) know that comparing predominantly Muslim countries to children is a Friedman staple. Sometimes they're even babies. Like Afghanistan, about which, Tommy wrote last September, we need a vigorous debate (in the U.S; Afghan voices, of course, don't count) if we're going to change our mission there from "babysitting to adoption." Tommy liked this infantilizing metaphor so much that he used it over and over until he figured out a way to make it even more offensive -- by comparing escalating the war in Afghanistan to "adopt(ing) a special needs baby." (I'm not making this up; go ahead and click if you don't believe me but promise you'll come back).

Before Afghanistan was a baby, it was Iraq. In five different New York Times columns, Tommy lamented that the occupation was now a babysitting mission, as the original noble purpose for invading (which for Tommy was always about bombing them into democracy, not WMD) had deteriorated into keeping those naughty Shia and Sunnis from fighting with each other. In one of those columns, Tommy also declared that the Iraqis are "notoriously difficult" and advocated a sterner parenting approach led by Dick Cheney to try to push them into finally growing up. (Tommy's got a point -- when are those Iraqis going to give up their childish grievances about being invaded and killed and occupied? Actually, I'm surprised he's never written a column about sending Muslims to a metaphorical psychologist so they can work through their Western issues).

It's worth noting that Tommy has never uses these metaphors except to refer to Muslim countries. Turkey is the only country in Europe that's a teen acting out. And you'll never hear Tommy say that a dysfunctional institution like the United States Congress needs a babysitter.

Since infantilizing Muslims and Muslim countries is so obviously and inherently wrong, I don't think I need to say much more except this: One, Tommy's repulsive paternalism allows him to spin his constant call for Muslim deaths as the equivalent of telling a child to eat their vegetables. So when Tommy openly calls for Israel to inflict "heavy pain on the Gaza population," a policy others might call a war crime or terrorism, it's framed as "education." Two, as I've noted before, no form of prejudice is more socially acceptable in so-called polite company than anti-Muslim sentiments. If anyone, even Thomas L. Friedman, talked about another group of people the way Tommy talks about Muslims, they wouldn't have a New York Times column for very long.

Fire Tom Friedman.

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