Thomas Friedman’s metaphorical pile-ups, hollow analyses, and factual inaccuracies

Belén Fernández in Guernica:

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 01 10.45Friedman’s writing is characterized by a reduction of complex international phenomena to simplistic rhetoric and theorems that rarely withstand the test of reality. His vacuous but much-publicized “First Law of Petropolitics”—which Friedman devises by plotting a handful of historical incidents on a napkin and which states that the price of oil is inversely related to the pace of freedom—does not even withstand the test of the very Freedom House reports that Friedman invokes as evidence in support of the alleged law. The tendency toward rampant reductionism has become such a Friedman trademark that one finds oneself wondering whether he is not intentionally parodying himself when he introduces “A Theory of Everything” to explain anti-American sentiment in the world and states his hope “that people will write in with comments or catcalls so I can continue to refine [the theory], turn it into a quick book and pay my daughter’s college tuition.”

In the case of Friedman’s musings on the Arab/Muslim world, the reduction process produces decontextualized and often patronizing or blatantly racist generalizations, such as that suicide bombing in Israel indicates a “collective madness” on the part of the Palestinians, whom Friedman has determined it is permissible to refer to collectively as “Ahmed.” Criticism of Israeli crimes is largely restricted to the issue of settlement-building; generalizations about the United States meanwhile often arrive in the form of observations along the lines of: “Is this a great country or what?” This does not mean, however, that the United States is not in perennial danger of descending into decisive non-greatness if it does not abide by Friedman’s diktats on oil dependence and other matters, such as the need to expand U.S. embassy libraries across the globe because “you’d be amazed at how many young people abroad had their first contact with America through an embassy library.”

More here.

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