Friedman: We are facing civilizational war

A shift in the wind? In an imaginary letter from President Bush to Muslim leaders, Thomas Friedman puts into Bush’s mouth a shockingly non-liberal thought which Friedman himself seems clearly to approve: that unless the moderates within the Muslim world begin battling the extremists, “we are just one more 9/11 away from … a war between our civilizations.” That the self-righteously liberal Friedman, the best known U.S. commentator on the Mideast, would utter such sentiments, and that the New York Times would publish them, is nothing less than astonishing.

Unfortunately, the piece is marred by Friedman’s analogy between the Muslim extremists and “our own intolerant bigots,” by which Friedman means both the Christian right and the Confederacy. That’s standard Friedman. The fellow would simply be unable to make a seriously critical statement about Muslims if he didn’t immediately draw some specious moral equivalency so as to re-establish his liberal bona fides.

The interesting question is not whether he has undercut his point about civilizational warfare with that moral equivalency, but whether he will stay with the point beyond this column. Friedman is a highly emotional , self-important writer who veers from one theme to another as his vanity dictates. Yet, to be fair, he is more honest and self-questioning than most liberals.

Since Times articles do not remain available online, here is the entire piece.

November 27, 2002
Defusing the Holy Bomb

To: Leaders of the Muslim world
From: President George W. Bush

Dear Sirs,

As you approach the end of Ramadan and we approach our Thanksgiving, I thought it would be a good time for me to share with you some concerns. Let me be blunt: I am increasingly worried that we are heading toward a civilizational war.

How so? Well, let me point out just a few news stories in recent days: Imam Samudra, the Indonesian Islamist accused of masterminding last month’s Bali bombing—in which nearly 200 tourists were killed—reportedly said during his confession that it was a “holy bomb” that ripped apart that disco, and that it was aimed there because it was full of foreigners—i.e., non-Muslims. There is nothing “holy” about a bomb that kills 200 people just because they are foreigners.

Then I read about Bonnie Penner, a young U.S. missionary nurse at a prenatal clinic in Sidon, Lebanon, which provided care for needy Palestinians and Lebanese. She was shot three times in the face. A Palestinian security official told The A.P. that “the killing was the result of a hostile Muslim reaction in Sidon to the preaching … lessons the center was giving to Muslim youths.” Do you know how much proselytizing Muslim groups do in America? A lot. We have no problem with that. That’s who we are. Who are you? I have no idea whether this woman’s clinic was involved in proselytizing Muslims, but I do know that she was a nurse, caring for Muslims, and she was shot for who she was.

Then there was Azmi Abu Hilayel, whose son Na’el strapped himself with dynamite and blew up an Israeli bus with school kids. Azmi was quoted as saying: “I thanked God when I heard that my son had died in an operation for the sake of God and the homeland.” I can’t believe that the God of Islam, a God of mercy and compassion, would bless killing anyone’s kids. Believe me, I know Israeli soldiers have killed dozens of Palestinian children during the intifada. That is shameful. But I don’t hear Israeli generals, parents or rabbis thanking God their sons could kill Muslim kids. Soldiers shooting kids is wrong. Suicide killing is wrong. There is no God that blesses either.

On top of all this, we just had the imam of a Paris mosque arrested for allegedly helping the airplane shoe-bomber. And we had two U.S. marines shot in Kuwait, a country we helped rescue from Saddam, and we saw one of our top aid officials in Jordan killed in his front yard for a similar “crime”—being an American in the Muslim world. Now you see why I ordered that young men from most Arab countries who are studying in America be fingerprinted and photographed by the I.N.S. I had no choice.

You say all this is happening because we support Israel. I know we need to do more to bring peace, but I don’t think that nurse was shot, or that Bali bomb was made “holy,” because we support Israel. I think it has to do with the rise within your midst of a deeply intolerant strain of Islam that is not simply a reaction to Israel, but is a response to your failing states, squandered oil wealth, broken ideologies (Nasserism) and generations of autocracy and illiteracy. Armed and angry, this harsh fundamentalism now seems to totally intimidate Muslim moderates.

But the values it propagates will bring ruin to you and conflict with us. As Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute wrote in National Review, “No faith will make rote memorization of ancient texts, suppression of critical inquiry and dissent, subjugation of women, and a servile deference to authority the recipe for anything other than civilizational decline.”

The decent, but passive, Muslim center must go to war against this harsh fundamentalism. Yes, we have our intolerant bigots too. I just publicly distanced myself from those Christians who smear Islam with a broad brush. But our moderate majority and press regularly denounce them too. They are not dominating our society. We’ve had our civil war against intolerance. Now I’m urging you to have yours. Don’t tell me you can’t. Look at those courageous Iranian students who are now taking on the extreme fundamentalists within their own society—risking their lives to fight those who want to take Islam, and Iran, back to the Dark Ages. God bless them.

Friends, unless you have a war within your civilization, there is going to be a war between our civilizations. We’re just one more 9/11 away from that. So let’s dedicate this next year to fighting intolerance within so we can preserve our relations between.


Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 30, 2002 09:13 AM | Send


Meanwhile, the Pope is also speaking of a “clash of civilizations”—as something that must be avoided at all costs, even while he acknowledges that it seems increasingly inevitable:

“Without renouncing the affirmation of the force of the evangelical message, it is an important work in the torn world of today that Christians be men of dialogue and work against that clash of civilizations that at times seems inevitable…. Violence, terrorism and war only build new walls between people.”

One wonders if this pacifist Pope would have preferred that the allies not have waged war against Nazi Germany, and that the U.S. and NATO not have waged a Cold War (backed by the readiness to use nuclear weapons) against the Soviet Empire and so helped free Poland from Communist tyranny. This Pope is so far gone that when the Islamofascists start setting off bombs in Europe, I’m confident we can count on him to be there, urging “negotiations” and consistently undermining any effort at Western self-defense.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 30, 2002 4:35 PM

At least Friedman recognises that there is a strain of Islam irreconcilably hostile to the non Muslim West.

Many liberals in Australia are still pushing the line that things would be OK if only we stopped supporting the US, and that the terrorists are merely poor misguided victims of Western policy.

Brian Deegan’s son was killed in the Bali bombing. Deegan, a former diplomat, wrote an open letter to our Prime Minister in which he not only blamed our alliance with the US for the bombing, but wrote that “I have forgiven those uneducated people who, with fear in their hearts, have murdered my boy for a paltry $10.”

As it happens when one of the bombers, Amrozi, was caught he was videotaped in a very relaxed and happy mood pointing to an Australian journalist and saying “That is the kind of person I wanted to kill.” His co-conspirators, far from being uneducated, were academically successful and professionally employed.

Deegan also asked our PM “Why is your Government torturing certain citizens of our country by allowing armed invasions upon their private properties - all in the name of national security?”

What Deegan is referring to are some dawn “raids” (the police knocked on the doors) of a small number of Australian Muslims who had been visited by the leader of JI, the organisation responsible for the Bali bombing. The raids, in which weapons were never drawn, were merely to seize computer gear, which led to the confession by one man of a plot to blow up the Israeli embassy in Australia. This is what Deegan sees as the “torture” of innocent citizens!

Deegan closes his letter by claiming that it’s “terribly unfair that it is men of our ages that picks the fights and then expect boys of my son’s age to fight the battles” - once again as if Australia was the aggressor in incidents like the Bali bombing.

Posted by: Mark Richardson on November 30, 2002 5:46 PM

In the Fall 2002 issue of The Public Interest, there’s a relevant article by James Bowman, entitled “The Lost Sense of Honor”.

While I hesitate to recommend an article from a neo-con journal in these environs, I do think this one is worth a look.

On the one hand, it helps explain the sense of offended honor which leads educated young Muslim men like Amrozi to become bombers. This is a far more satisfactory explanation, I think, than the usual one about poverty and alienation, etc.

On the other, it reminds us of the rich Western tradition of gentlemanly honor. This, I hope, is who we are and what we are fighting to preserve.

Posted by: Charlie on November 30, 2002 10:17 PM

To Mr. Richardson: There are no words to describe the sickness and wickedness of persons such as Brian Deegan; yet they constitute a significant part of the Western world.

To Charlie: It’s not necessary to apologize for recommending an article from a neoconservative journal. A worthwhile article is worthwhile wherever it appears.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 1, 2002 7:12 AM
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