Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All We Have to Do Is Change Their Minds....

I was listening to the radio yesterday and discovered, of all things, that the Israeli defense establishment employs taxi drivers:
Well, Neal, I by accident was in Israel on September 11. I was there covering the latest Israeli-Palestinian fighting. And I actually learned the most important lesson on the morning of September 12, that has really guided my thinking ever since.

That morning, I called friends of mine in the Israeli defense establishment and said you guys have dealt with suicide bombing a lot. I really want to know everything you've learned from that experience.

And they brought a group together, and we had a conversation very early on the morning of September 12, and what they said was - this is not verbatim, but the basic message was this. They said: Tom, we're really good. Our intel is really good. We can get Khalid(ph) before he blows up a pizza parlor. We can get, you know, Marwan(ph) before he blows up a disco. But you know what? Mohammed will get through.

Mohammed will get through unless the village says no. It takes a village. And that has guided my thinking ever since. Until and unless the Arab Muslim community fundamentally delegitimizes these kinds of attacks, they're not going to go away.
Okay, so the "group" assembled by Friedman's "friends ... in the Israeli defense establishment" probably wasn't comprised of taxi drivers but, as with Friedman's very long series of columns that relied upon statements attributed to taxi driver's as a source of common sense street wisdom, it's no surprise that the lesson Friedman claims to have gleaned from the group happens to be the exact argument Friedman was hoping to make. Although he dresses up his anecdote, it boils down to a truism: Intelligence is imperfect so the only way you can be sure that you'll stop terrorist acts is to convince all terrorists to refrain from committing such acts. Which is also to say, it's not gonna happen. With the best education, economic opportunity and individual freedom you'll still have people who are radicalized along the lines of Tim McVeigh, Baruch Goldstein and (with the complicating factor of mental illness) Ted Kaczynski. Those examples should highlight something else: It's not just that you can never completely educate or convince a population not to engage in terrorist acts, you should not pretend that terrorism is unique to a particular religion or culture.

If memory serves, Friedman absorbed that lesson and responded to the group with the suggestion, "Brilliant. So if you guys end your occupation of the West Bank and withdraw most of your settlements, end your collective punishments in Gaza, come to a fair solution on Jerusalem, and allow the Palestinian people a state and some semblance of human dignity, you will not only gain the international moral high ground but you'll take an important step toward educating the Muslim world that the west is fair, reasonable, and that there's far more to gain through peaceful economic development than through acts of terror." No, wait, my memory is a bit off. Having embraced the idea that the West needed to educate the Muslim world to delegitimize terrorist attacks, Friedman gave the following explanation of how that should be accomplished:
What they [the Muslim world] needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?” You don’t think, you know we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This.
We are fortunate to have such wise men shaping our debate on Middle East policy.

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