Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Narwani vs. Friedman: Nobody's Right if Everybody's Wrong

Sharmine Narwani is one of the stand-up members of the anti-Israel blogger brigade on the Huffington Post. Pretty much every article she writes is either about Israel (doing something wrong) or Israel's enemies (how they aren't as bad as we think). Needless to say, her point of view is pretty clear, and yet none of the HuffPo talkbackers accuse her of being a propagandist. Rightfully so, in my opinion, I hate that ridiculous argument.

Anyway, Ms. Narwani has her sights set on Thomas Friedman in her latest post on the HP. Apparently Mr. Friedman has written a column talking about "The Narrative," in which many in the Arab and Muslim world have been misled to see America as the source of everything that's wrong on Earth. Ms. Narwani is flabergasted that he would say such a thing, and attempts to refute his argument, but utterly fails to disprove what he says.

She begins by attempting to blame America for the hatred direct upon it, by claiming that the War on Terror fails to distinguish between real terrorists and "legitimate resistance movements." Gee, I wonder who she could be referring to there? Then Ms. Narwani turns her attention to this quote by Friedman:

"U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny."

Ms. Narwani points out (rightfully) that two of America's major allies (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) are anything but free, and are in fact very tyrannical. She's right. Unfortunately, for someone who claims to be a "human rights activist," I think that this is the first time that she has ever mentioned how awful Egypt and the Magic Kingdom are in one of her writings. I suppose that standing for the rights of Muslims takes a second base to scoring debating points against Mr. Friedman.

Of course, Ms. Narwani attacks Israel for killing Muslims in self-defense, and America when they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. This quote is particularly amusing:

"Hundreds of thousands of Arab and Muslim men, women and children ceased to exist after our onslaughts in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Ceased to exist?" Seriously? You really wrote that, Ms. Narwani? Like they spontaneously combusted? Or were perhaps abducted by aliens? Thousands of Iraqis have been killed by suicide bombers and by insurgency forces. Maybe you can blame America for that too, but this statement implies that America just walked into Iraq and Afghanistan and started mowing down innocent people. I'm not sure that Ms. Narwani should be throwing stones at Mr. Friedman if she is going to be making statements like this one.

Ms. Narwani has a legitimate point that the wars that the United States and it's allies have fought to help Muslims have in many cases brought more harm than good. But in focusing on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel, she leaves out important historical facts. For instance, the United States has entered into armed conflicts in Lebanon, Kuwait, Somalia, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, in addition to the ones mentioned above. All of these cost the lives and resources of Americans. And all were done to save the lives or the freedoms of Muslims. I'm not saying that Ms. Narwani should overlook Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of those examples (they were skirmishes compared to Bush's wars) but a little bit of recognition would have been nice.

In her haste, Ms. Narwani is pointing the finger at Israel and America, moralizing at them, and blaming them for most of the suffering that Muslims of 2009 experience. But in doing so, she made a huge misstep, and not a particulary uncommon one. Namely: The four hundred thousand people dead in Darfur. More than two million displaced, thousands more women raped. This was done by the Arab-led government of Sudan and their Janjaweed proxy militia. The vast majority of the victims were Muslims. And yet I don't see the "human rights activist" Ms. Narwani pleading their case. She doesn't even seem to know they exist. She would much rather talk about Israeli cluster bombs. And yet she has the gall to call Mr. Friedman a "propagandist?"

Continuing with the fisking of this article...
""A million acts of kindness?" Name three."
-The USA is the top donor of money to the Palestinians, despite the constant hate speech pouring out of the territories directed against us.
-The USA is the backbone of the military missions fought to save Muslims mentioned above (that really should count for all three but I digress).
-The USA is one of the freest places on Earth for Muslims to live. We aren't banning the burka, unlike some places in Europe.

"Perhaps if we ceased our efforts to block the popular and balanced coverage of Al Jazeera's English channel from being broadcast on our television screens, we would get a clearer picture of the Muslim word, Tom."
-HA HA HA. Tip to Ms. Narwani: Just because they agree with you doesn't meant they are "balanced." You're starting to sound like lbsaltzman.

"Most galling, however, is Friedman's attempt to coin a phrase and insert it into our own nation's narrative. It smacks of Hasbara, a Hebrew term -- often interpreted as 'propaganda' -- used by Israel and its supporters to direct the Middle East debate and reshape public opinion abroad."
 -This is the closest that Ms. Narwani ever comes to trying to refute Mr. Friedman's argument. She uses the favorite of the pro-Arab and anti-Israel poster: The ad hominem attack. Her link is to the Wikipedia article for "Hasbara," (aka "public diplomacy") where the very first sentence contains the literal translation to "explanation." The only people who translate it to "propaganda" are people who are looking for an opportunity to attack Israel. Ms. Narwani's use of that term in her article shows a very clear bias. If her conclusion about Friedman is correct, she is no better than he is.

"I can only imagine that Friedman wrote this column at 3 am one morning in a full-flegded Jerry McGuire moment that he will hopefully come to regret. He has no facts whatsoever to back up his assertions, and his only source for information on this supposedly widespread "The Narrative" that has infiltrated the collective Arab-Muslim brain is -- wait for it -- the claims of an anonymous "Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert."
Forgive me for saying this because I actually think well of Jordan and its resourceful citizens. But, the current Jordanian establishment, like many other Arab and Muslim elitists, is so far up the collective US, Israeli and Saudi arse, it would take major surgery to find it, let alone free it. Find some new friends, Friedman."

-I'll ask it again: You really wrote that, Ms. Narwani? This is what you consider to be a professional response to a syndicated columnist? In these two paragraphs she makes an ad hominem attack not only against Friedman himself but against his source. I'm honestly not sure who comes off worse in this little exchange, Ms. Narwani or Mr. Friedman.
-Finally, I'm not going to make Mr. Friedman's point for him, but Arab and Muslim preachers blaming the Jews and Westerners in general on the world's ills is not exactly difficult to find. Maybe Ms. Narwani should have thought through his case before banging out this response. It's somewhat lacking, to say the least.

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