Thomas Friedman’s new column reminded me of the line from Casino Royale: “Arrogance and self-awareness rarely go hand in hand.” In the same column in which he complains that Westerners treat Muslims as nothing more than objects and deprive them of agency and responsibility, he urges on the mass slaughter of said Muslims by other Muslims to get them to stop believing “bad things.” In short, he won’t credit them with being morally responsible agents until they embark on a bloody religious war of his design.
Ackerman responds appropriately:
Yes, what problem can’t be solved by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, egged on from the sidelines by a newspaper columnist?
There are many, many problems with urging on a “civil war” among Muslims. I don’t expect Friedman to be careful in his choice of words, but his use of the phrase “civil war” shows how confused he is. A civil war is fought between citizens of the same polity for control of its government. By speaking of a “civil war” within Islam, he unwittingly writes as if he accepts a global Islamic polity as a reality and something over which Muslims of various stripes can fight one another to control. Obviously, such a polity does not and never will exist.
As he did late last month, Friedman is carelessly reproducing pan-Islamist ideas as part of his own effort at looking for red herrings because he doesn’t want to “look inward.” In his case, the red herring is the lack of Muslim outrage. Maybe Muslims should be expressing more outrage over jihadist atrocities, but Friedman is demanding impassioned reaction from hundreds of millions spread out across four continents in response to events that are mostly abstract and far removed from them. It could be that large numbers of these people appear indifferent or quiescent not because they approve of the atrocities or fear the jihadists who commit them, but simply that they are indifferent to events that occur thousands of miles away in other lands. What we have seen in Iraq and Pakistan is the revulsion local populations come to feel for jihadists who target their people. Unless I miss something, the only way Friedman is going to get the war he wants is for jihadists to become much more numerous and widely distributed throughout Muslim-majority countries so that every Muslim society can be terrorized and then react against the attackers. That would mean a dramatic increase in terrorism worldwide and all of the attendant excesses that various national governments would engage in to combat these threats.
What Friedman is trying to avoid looking at are all those aggressive policies that he has vociferously backed for years that have done so much to sow distrust of the U.S. among Muslims. If jihadists have been making gains, it is partly because we have provided them abundant provocations and attacks to use as fodder for their propaganda. These policies have radicalized entire populations. That is what wars do: they radicalize and intensify political and/or religious beliefs, and they typically empower maximalists and fanatics. As destructive as the conflicts he would wish upon all Muslims would be, the end result could still very well be a larger population of deeply radicalized people, which would be disastrous for the welfare of all these societies and likely damaging to the security of the U.S. and allied nations.