Thomas Friedman announced yesterday that he is taking an indefinite sabbatical to work as a taxi driver in Cairo — “because those guys know everything.”
The bestselling columnist wrote that he made the decision after he looked back over the last 20 years of columns and saw all the mistakes he had made in reporting on the Middle East.
“My worst moment was of course calling for the invasion of Iraq, but I realized there have been many other moments since,” he said in a letter to readers. “I want to take a year or two off to try and be an ordinary person and talk to ordinary people, and the best approach was to be a taxi driver in Cairo. Especially because I’ve learned so much from those guys over the years.”
Friedman said his epiphany was also brought about by scrutinizing the internet, which had “blown his mind” in the last year. He began reading Electronic Intifada and Juan Cole “surreptitiously, as a guilty pleasure,” and discovered that “ordinary people” are more accurate than the big shots and US envoys he quotes in his reports, along with the occasional taxi driver.
He said he would decide whether to return to his column after he learns what the world looks like “from a low carbon footprint.”
The most painful part of his decision, Friedman confessed, is that he will have to avoid all US embassies and diplomats and Four Seasons hotels during his sabbatical.
The least painful part of the decision? “I will be shaving my mustache in an effort to blend in with ordinary people.”
The sabbatical doesn’t mean he won’t be writing. The columnist has already come up with a working title for a book about his forthcoming journey: “I Was Wrong but Now I’m All Right.”