Monday, December 8, 2008

Intellectual death of Thomas Friedman?

'Calling All Pakistanis' in The New York Times on December 2, 2008, Friedman wrote in a manner which is widely being seen as irreponsible.

What is special about the backlash against Friedman's article is that he seems to have lost credibility with the educated Pakistani (and some Asian) writers and readers, and also The New York Times has also come down a few notch on the benchmark ('sub-standard' is the buzz word currently going around):
  • Response by Asim Khan: posted on TeethMaestro, this detailed reply is followed by a string of thought-provoking comments which make an interesting read by themselves (originally published in Cogito, Ergo Sum).
  • Mr. Friedman's Demagoguery: written from a slightly different milieu by Saadia Toor and Balmurli Natarajan of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI), this reply doesn't represent the Pakistani point of view alone, but comes out as a South Asian response. If Friedman was hoping that by losing Muslims readership he would gain some from the other side then he may have been wrong on that count too, it seems from this article.
  • Don't Shoot the Messenger: this response from Shandana Minhas is well-articulated and was published in a leading mainstream newspaper in Pakistan, though some may find it to be a bit more defensive than others.
To set the record straight, Friedman's article didn't fail to get some followers when it first appeared about a week ago. "I know this article is written by a non-Pakistani, telling Pakistani'swhat to do," someone posted in the mailing list of a leading rights group in Pakistan. "But he says a lot of what I've been thinking that we all need to do in response to Mumbai. Please consider." As a member of the same group, my response to this was:

The problem is not that this is written by a non-Pakistani, but that it is written in a manner which will incite adverse reaction rather than persuade many. If I could conduct a detailed linguistic analysis, I would show that the writer knows that he doesn't know what he's talking about and his purpose is to show off his intellectual muscle and the size of his ego rather than to understand and be understood :)

Regarding the suggestion that Pakistanis should start alienating those fellow-citizens who support the wrong kind of extremism, such a suggestion will certainly appeal to some of us who have already been doing that since 11 years before Pakistan came into being. However, by this token we should have asked the Americans to alienate those who voted for George Bush a second time ;)

Another member called it "a bogus article" and commented, "How many times has the international community come out in vigils for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Pakistan, and the bombing of innocent civilians in FATA? How can he pass this racist lashing out at Pakistanis as material worthy for the New York Times?" Referring to one of the responses listed above, the mailer went on to say:
Shandana Minhas blasted it today; but somehow I don't think our tone should be defensive that Pakistanis have organized and participated in vigils for Mumbai. We should not be entertaining this idiot's charge. (And Mumbai, to remind everyone was something that the right winged BJP government did to change the name from Bombay, and hence assert their saffron agenda. It should not be confused with resistance to British colonialism.)
To this, one of the most highly respected of the emerging intellectuals in Pakistan replied, "Thomas Friedman has been writing along these lines for atleast the last seven years. Jokers like him are best ignored." This last suggestion is quite likely to be followed more than anything else by a large number of readers in the future. Let's see.
Photograph of Thomas L. Friedman is by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times. Source: The New York Times, December 2, 2008.

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