Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

November 30, 2008

The Tragedy of False Optimism in Jihad World

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:04 pm

Thomas Friedman wrote an entire column today, in Sunday’s New York Times about an Iraqi legislator who was prosecuted for visiting Israel in a brave one-man attempt to make a statement that hatred didn’t have to prevail in the Middle East. Friedman reported that the Iraqi Parliament attempted to strip Mithal al-Alusi of his Parliamentary immunity so that he could be prosecuted under an old law that could have given him the death penalty for such a “crime”.

And then, Friedman told us the Iraqi federal high court took the brave action of overturning the Parliament’s decision, affirming the right to freedom of travel. And 400 Iraqi intellectuals signed an open letter in an Iraqi newpaper supporting Alusi. Good for them of course. And Friedman spent the rest of the column attempting to extract some optimism from all this, indeed to argue that perhaps we can “salvage something positive” from the entire Iraqi venture. Maybe we can. I guess it deends on what you view as “optimistic” or “positive”.

Because as I was drifting off to sleep last night I heard an interview on the BBC world service radio with al-Alusi that mentioned something Friedman did not. Maybe Friedman didn’t know it. But this brave man’s two sons were murdered because of his trip. Murdered in an attempt to murder him as well. How many Iraqis are going to now take advantage of the fabulous “freedom of travel” Friedman celebrates now? Maybe he didn’t get the death penalty–yet–but his sons did.

I don’t know about you but I’m not sure I find this all that optimistic an episode. I felt sickened by hearing it especially after Mumbai. I read Friedman’s column over and over again looking for a mention of the murder of the brave man’s sons. Was he not aware of it? I hope that’s the reason, rather than that he left it out knowingly.

But shouldn’t he have known? Shouldn’t it have made a difference to his conclusion? Americans always want to believe in hope, that there’s a solution to every problem. I’m not sure any more. Combined with Mumbai it made me think that religious hatred has won. That it will never go away. That it’s just too easy to slaughter people in the name of God. That as much as the optimists might seek to find some reason for hope, there is always going to be another al-Alusi seeing his sons murdered, another Mumbai seeing 200 or more. Let’s not fool ourselves. I’m willing to listen to counter-arguments–I’d like to find a reason to be optimistic–but not arguments that leave out little facts like the murder of a brave man’s two sons.



  1. The piece in Slate recently about how to read the Koran is typical of the fear/shame box in which Islam is now locked. The piece begins with a disclaimer dismissing Judaism and Christianity as myths, Judaism as the fantasies of a people in exile and Christianity as the misguided (and blasphemous) deification of an itinerant prophet. The logical end of this is that Islam is “the one true religion” and that, perforce, is the stumbling block. Until Western leaders risk their lives to go into the mosques and challenge this religious hegemony, Islam has no chance of a reformation.

    Comment by charlie finch — December 1, 2008 @ 10:27 am | Reply

  2. I just returned from a year deployment as a civilian counter-insurgency advisor to a US Army Brigade Combat Team in Iraq.

    I had the honor of serving with Iraqi Muslims who regularly risked death by torture for themselves and their families to build an Iraq which, while influenced by Islam, would be a country of laws, tolerant and aligned with the U.S. Moderate Islam is a small flickering flame in the Arab/Muslim world. It is our choice to nurture that flame or to let it go out and leave the Arab/Muslim world the choice of either nationalist fascism or Islamic fascism as their organizing principal.

    Ron, why don’t you embed in Iraq for a month and get the real story?

    Comment by MarcH — December 1, 2008 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  3. Western leaders can’t reform islam. How? Muslims should do that, but seemingly, they won’t. They are dead set against universalism and secularism, and as long as that is the case, it’s hopeless.

    Comment by Ulla Lauridsen — December 2, 2008 @ 2:50 am | Reply

  4. Western leaders must reform Islam the same way Martin Luther King attacked segregation, through nonviolent confrontation. This means an unrelenting, unified attack on Wahhabism, rather than the current coddling done under the umbrella of “tolerance” and “political correctness”. Root out Wahhabi money and influence; reject Wahhabi funding of mosques and foundations. There are many kinds of Islam in the world and in history, which can only blossom again if he fear of extremist reprisals is removed. The situation is analagous to Shintoism in Japan, a cult based on shame and a poisonous sense of superiority. Hiroshima and Nagasaki reversed this behavior at a terrible, terrible price and we must avoid a nuclear solution to Jihad, a prospect becoming more likely every day.

    Comment by charlie finch — December 2, 2008 @ 5:04 am | Reply

  5. Obama is going to govern like the Doge of Venice: a mystical presence, of few words and incisive attention (three question press conferences), dispatching so many Marco Polos (Hillary et al.) to the four corners of the Earth at his inscrutable dispensation. Can trade, intrigue and masques of mystery but follow?

    Comment by charlie finch — December 2, 2008 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  6. This episode is entirely typical of Tom Friedman’s intellectual cowardice regarding the dysfunctions of the Middle East. He understands the problems all too well but seems to be afraid of being labeled an enemy of Islam or a Zionist or something. This is the stupidity of false hope.

    Comment by Martin Berman-Gorvine — December 3, 2008 @ 8:49 am | Reply

  7. Americans are Crazy Eddie (h/t “The Mote In God’s Eye” by Niven & Pournelle).

    Comment by Jeff Gill — December 8, 2008 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

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