Imperious New York Times foreign affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize magnet Thomas Friedman sometimes transcribes URLs in his dispatches. In 2006, for example, he directed us to www.fclimo.hu, the website of his limousine driver in Budapest, a “Communist-era-engineer-turned-limo-proprietor” whose globalizing metamorphosis enabled Friedman to exultantly coin the following proverb: “You know that the global economy is spinning off all kinds of new business models when your Hungarian driver has his own Web site in English, Magyar and German—with background music.”
Then there was www.americanselect.org, the property of a group aiming to field a third presidential ticket elected by Internet convention. Not long after Friedman swore that Americans Elect would do “what drugstore.com did to pharmacies,” observers noticed that the organization had “given up.”
Friedman’s latest column, titled “Look in Your Mirror,” contains not one but 10 URLs, all of which were provided to him by the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri) and nine of which link to various locations on the Memri website.
The column was occasioned by the reaction of Khaled Ali, Official Representative of the Arab/Muslim World, to the film The Innocence of Muslims. Friedman writes:
On Monday, David D. Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief for The Times, quoted one of the Egyptian demonstrators outside the American Embassy, Khaled Ali, as justifying last week’s violent protests by declaring: ‘We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?’ Mr. Ali, a 39-year-old textile worker, was holding up a handwritten sign in English that read: ‘Shut Up America.’ ‘ Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!’
(Photo: Belén Fernández/Jadaliyya)
In most Friedman productions, Arabs and Muslims are offered a limited range of identities: fetus, special needs baby, babysitting charge. All incarnations are susceptible to haughty lectures; in this particular case, Friedman instructs Mr. Ali and company to “look in the mirror—or just turn on their own televisions” to witness the “chauvinistic bile that is pumped out by some of their own media.”
And if Mohammed won’t come to the mirror, the mirror will be brought to Mohammed! Friedman reports: “I asked Memri for a sampler of the hate-filled videos that appear regularly on Arab/Muslim mass media” and then lists 10 of them, divided into four categories: “On Christians,” “On Shiites,” “On Jews,” “On Sufis.” One example:
The Egyptian Cleric Mazen al-Sirsawi: ‘If Allah had not created the Shiites as human beings, they would have been donkeys.’ http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/3101.htm — Aug. 7, 2011.
So there, Khaled Ali. But what exactly is Memri?
According to its website, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit “bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, Urdu-Pashtu, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends.”
According to Friedman, who has sung Memri’s praises since 2001, it is an “invaluable… research service” that “translates not only the ugly stuff but the courageous liberal, reformist Arab commentators as well.”
And according to persons less prone to hallucinatory delusions, such as the Guardian‘s former Middle East editor Brian Whitaker, “it poses as a research institute when it’s basically a propaganda operation…to suit [a] political agenda.”
Indeed, as journalist Ali Gharib has noted, “[a]n early archived version of the ‘about page’ of MEMRI’s website… lists one of MEMRI’s missions as ‘emphasiz[ing] the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel,’” while Memri president Yigal Carmon happens to be “a 20-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces (where he spent five years running Israel’s occupation of the West Bank) and top adviser to two Likud governments.”
Gharib also highlights a few examples where Memri has succeeded spectacularly in bridging the language gap:
In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert checked MEMRI’s translations of a Palestinian children’s program against those provided by the cable news channel’s own interpreters:
Media watchdog MEMRI translates one caller as saying – quote – ‘We will annihilate the Jews.’ But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says ‘The Jews are killing us.’
What Friedman means by “courageous liberal reformist,” meanwhile, is basically any Arab or Muslim—Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf included—who either confirms Arab/Muslim backwardness, complains that the Arab world “can’t even make an aspirin for our own headache,” declares Islam fanatical and intolerant, exonerates bellicose maneuvers by the U.S., blames Arabs and Muslims for being more concerned with Israel than with progress, or writes poems about how “the large majority of [Arabs] oppose freedom and find joy in slavery.”
Fortunately for the decadent Arab/Muslim world, Friedman is forever standing by with reminders about civilizational etiquette. In his latest column prescribing a mirror for Khaled Ali, he announces: “[A]n insult — even one as stupid and ugly as the anti-Islam video on YouTube that started all of this — does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies and kill innocent diplomats. That is not how a proper self-governing people behave. There is no excuse for it. It is shameful.”
Never mind the argument that the video and the killings were not involved in a cause-and-effect relationship. As for the issue of the slaughter of innocents, it is useful to recall Friedman’s own contributions to the U.S. military’s civilizing mission in Iraq: Shortly after debunking the notion of a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Friedman decreed that Iraqi citizens needed to “Suck. On. This”—i.e. the “very big stick” [Video] being wielded by “American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad”—as compensation for 9/11.
Were Friedman to look in the mirror, there’s a good chance he’d see chauvinistic bile too.