Tom Friedman Sounds the Alarm; The Muslims Are Coming!

by James M. Wall

My people are into the season of Advent, when Christians throughout the world begin a year-long reflection on the saving mysteries of Christ.

My Advent weekend coincides with the end of the three day Muslim Eid ul Adha, the Celebration of Sacrifice. It is on this occasion that Muslims remember Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to Allah .

The Eid ul Adha comes at the conclusion of the Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam.

This past weekend was one of those inter-faith moments when the three Abrahamic religions shared the same Koranic and biblical moment, albeit with different interpretations.

Aware of these religious celebrations, I found it especially distressing to pick up my Sunday New York Times and discover that Thomas Friedman was once again sounding the alarm: The Muslims are coming; the Muslims are coming!

Had I been Tom’s editor, I would have spiked this column (“killed it”, in newspaper parlance), and sent him a memo: “Sorry, Tom, this one doesn’t pass the smell test, especially on the weekend of Eid ul Adha. At long last, man, show some respect!”

This Friedman column gives off the distinct smell of smoke generated from an excess of uncontrolled anger.  Tom should know anger clouds one’s judgment. His column is offensive not only to Muslims, but to Christians and Jews as well.

What prompted Friedman’s latest outburst against Muslims was the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, presumably at the hand of US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan.  Friedman began his column:

Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam,” and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.”

Reread these words with your deductive reasoning cap firmly in place. What do we find? First, Friedman acknowledges that he agrees with the assumption that Major Hasan “may have been” mentally unbalanced. But then he finds, as he no doubt hoped he would, some anti-American moments in the major’s life.

What is the evidence at hand? Tom writes that Hasan “showed up” at a public-health seminar, with a Powerpoint presentation bearing the ominous title, “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam.” Further, Major Hasan has had “contacts” with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support “jihadist violence against America.”

Based on this evidence, Friedman concludes Hasan “was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by ‘The Narrative'”. By the end of the paragraph, Hasan is no longer just mentally unbalanced;  he is an “angry jihadist”.

Well, Tom, which is it? Mentally unstable or a jihadist? Or in your mind, are the two the same? Friedman doesn’t hang around in his column long to clarify his quick shift from mentally unstable army officer to jihadist. He races on to the real purpose of his column: His attack on The Narrative.

Friedman has adopted the latest marching orders, quite possibly issued from Israel’s spin-masters. In recent years, the word “narrative” has slowly made its way into the margins of public discourse, thanks to the insistence of the Palestinian supporters who maintain that the Zionist narrative has been, until now, the only narrative heard in public discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I presume Israel’s spin masters sent out the new memo, or in Tom’s case, probably gave it to him personally during some of his warm and friendly chats with high level Israeli military and political officials. The spin is this: “The Palestinians are  making the case that 1948 was actually the start of two narratives, the Palestinian and the Zionist. We must not let this succeed!”

To understand their sense of panic, consider the history of the competing narratives: The dominant Zionist narrative begins with the Holocaust and anti-semitism. Then it moves to the permanent condition of Jewish victimhood that gives Israel permission to batter the Palestinians with all the violence it needs to drive the Palestinians into walled-in villages and cities. This narrative has been so dominant that it has been, simply, The Way Things Are.

You have no doubt seen the impact of the Zionist Narrative when friends and colleagues  tell you, in amazement, they never before realized what the conflict was all about.  They grew up believing the Zionist narrative that the outnumbered  Jewish people were bravely defending their land against the mighty Arab armies that wanted to drive the Jewish people “into the sea”.

They have just seen and/or heard the Palestinian narrative. This stuns them into realizing that The Way Things Are are not really The Way Things Are.

Since 1948, the Palestinian people have experienced a different narrative.  What is that narrative?

It begins with the Nakba (the “catastrophe”), when the modern state of Israel was created on land formerly known as Palestine. Israel’s seizure of Palestinian land was followed by the carefully planned program of ethnic cleansing, a systemic program designed to drive Palestinians away from their original homeland.

Tom Friedman has shown himself to be a willing and faithful warrior in the War of Narratives. As he describes the background of Major Hasan, Friedman sounds the warning: “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.”

What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.

You hear that, people? This guy is no foreign-born ticking time bomb. He was BORN, RAISED AND EDUCATED in America, and he succumbed to THE NARRATIVE, thanks, it appears, to the influence of a single radical cleric.

Get the children inside! Home grown narrative pushers are roaming our streets!

Friedman’s description of this dangerous Narrative is chilling, ugly and most definitely, fails the Eid ul Adha smell test. Here is Friedman again:

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.

Do you know any parents, pastors, church officials, public officials or college presidents, who have cowered before the fear tactics of the Zionist Narrative? Of course, you do; don’t try and deny it.

Have you wondered lately how best to describe what drives American foreign policy? Friedman tells us, using his best neo-con language in a remarkably distorted litany that covers 20 years of American history.

Yes, after two decades in which US foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Friedman, in case you have forgotten, was a cheer leader for the Iraqi war because he argued that WMDs were about to erupt from Iraq, first to strike Israel and then finally, the rest of the world.

Who were those institutions and individuals who drove us into our war against Iraq?  The US Congress and the Industrial-Military complex, to be sure, but the war was pushed further by major media like the Washington Post and the New York Times, with its star columnist Friedman leading the way.

Most public figures have repented of their support for the Iraq war, especially politicians who were hurt by their association with yet another unpopular war. But don’t look for repentance from our man Tom Friedman.

On May 30, 2003, Friedman appeared on the Charlie Rose PBS program. Here is an excerpt from that interview, courtesy of Glenn Greenwald’s blog:

ROSE: Now that the war is over, and there’s some difficulty with the peace, was it worth doing?

FRIEDMAN: I think it was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie. I think that, looking back, I now certainly feel I understand more what the war was about . . . . What we needed to do was go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble. We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. . . . And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society? . . . . Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.

We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That’s the real truth.

In his Eid ul Adha Sunday column, Friedman concluded his tirade against Islam with a suggested speech for Barack Obama to deliver.

Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, ‘This is not Islam.’ I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn’t. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques.

If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us — and to yourselves.”

Friedman started his column with a question about Major Hasan’s mental instability. He segued quickly, and throughout his column, to a discussion of a now defunct War of Civilizations, Islam against the West. It is a leap totally without evidence.

Friedman would do well to reflect back on a massacre of Muslim worshippers that took place on February 25, 1994,  when an Orthodox Jew, Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 Palestinian worshippers and injured another 125, at Hebron’s Ibrahim Mosque.

Goldstein was an Israeli-American settler who served in the Israeli army as a reservist. He was also a member of the extremist Kach movement, which openly advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. He carried out his massacre with an assault rifle and four magazines of ammunition

Goldstein lived in the Kiryat Arba settlement next to Hebron. After the massacre, a memorial was erected for Baruch Goldstein at the entrance to Kiryat Arba.

Goldstein was supported by extremist forces in Israel, but in no way did he represent all of Judaism.

All religions have fanatics who act in horrendous ways contrary to the religious tradition they claim to follow. It is unworthy of an experienced journalist like Tom Friedman to elevate such a tragic event into a tirade against Islam.

Picture above of a Palestinian family is by Connie Baker. It was taken at a back entrance to Bethlehem. The picture from Mecca is from the Los Angeles Times.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Media, Middle East Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Tom Friedman Sounds the Alarm; The Muslims Are Coming!

  1. Larry George says:

    Thank you, Jim, for another important and timely assessment of the kind of fear-mongering so typical of Friedman, still disguised as a “liberal” columnist.

    I especially appreciate your reminder of February 25, 1994. I was in Jerusalem the week after Goldstein committed that massacre, and recall the curfews and closures, of course only on the Palestinian population, while Goldstein’s funeral procession in Hebron intentionally snaked through the very neighborhoods of his victim’s families. Rabin, whose death later came at the hand of Goldstein’s admirers, was forced to give police protection to this hateful, lawless crowd, giving me my most memorable impression that in the Jewish State, the most lawless Jew has a status above that of the most law-abiding Palestinian. I’m not sure, but I think this horrific incident preceded, by a few months, the first Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel.

  2. On Nov. 8, 2006, Dr. Ilan Pappe spoke in East Jerusalem, to over 330 International ecumenical Christians during Sabeel’s 6th International Conference: The Forgotten Faithful:

    He stated, “On March 10, 1948, eleven men had a meeting in the Red House headed by Ben Gurion. The eleven decided to expel one million Palestinians from historical Palestine. No minutes were taken, but many memoirs were written about that fateful meeting. A systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine began and within seven months the Zionists managed to expel one half of all the Palestinian people from their villages and towns.

    “The New York Times followed Israeli troops and reported the truth of the expulsion and separation of men and women, and of the many massacres. The world was well informed in 1948, but a year later not a trace was reported in the USA press or books. It was as if nothing ever happened.

    “From March to October 1948 the USA State Department stated what was happening was a CRIME against humanity and ethnic cleansing. When ever one ethnic group expels another group they should be treated as War Criminals and the victims should be allowed to return. This is never mentioned in the USA about Palestine.

    “Israel is so successful in their ethnic cleansing because the world doesn’t care! The ethnic cleansing continues via the apartheid policies of the Israeli government and because of the denial of the truth by the USA media.”

  3. Joseph Pummill says:

    It is a shame that Mr. Friedman lowered himself to fanning the flame of hostility and racism. I would suggest he read the Charter for Compassion which Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhist, to name but a few faiths practiced by signers.

  4. Chris Ladd says:

    I’m uncomfortable with your characterization of Friedman’s article. I don’t think he was far off. Think of it this way:

    When Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City we had no trouble identifying and condemning the ideology that drove him to the act. In the years leading up to the bombing, right-wing extremists had been feeding a tide of anti-government rhetoric, organizing “Militias”, and creating an atmosphere ripe for violence. In other words, they created A Narrative.

    The people who fostered that narrative universally condemned McVeigh’s actions, but nonetheless remained culpable. Absent that narrative, a guy like McVeigh might have gotten into bar fights or kicked his dog, but its unlikely that his brushes with civil society could have done harm on such a massive scale.

    You didn’t hear people on the left claiming that anti-abortion radicals, Texas secessionists, Militia organizers, and other associated extremists who fed that narrative should be given a pass – that their grievances were being overlooked by a biased media that only focused on fear. You didn’t hear that because it wouldn’t have made any sense. Those extremists who shaped that narrative played a fundamental part in McVeigh’s crime.

    Your mention of Goldstein is apt, and perhaps should have been the core of the article. If I see a weakness in Friedman’s article it is in its focus on the Muslim world. Those who foster the kind of paranoia, victim-hood, religious fundamentalism, and violence that gives rise to these acts are dangerous. They are dangerous regardless of what word they use to describe God. It might be helpful for all of us to understand the role that these various Narratives play in destroying precious lives and condemn them regardless of whatever grievances, real or perceived, give them oxygen.

  5. Betsy Mayfield says:

    Tom Friedman is a huge disappointment and he does toe the Zionist party line right down to timing his articles to attract the most fear and the most inauspicious moments. Am I right in thinking that his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” was thoughtful and well advised and from there things in his head became skewed by those he has chosen to listen to? Or is he victim of once a Zionist always a Zionist ideology?

  6. Peter Bourne says:

    With all the focus on the tragic killing at Fort Hood it seems strange that the news media drew no comparison with the wanton slaughter of 17 innocent Muslim civilians by Black Water employees in Baghdad. There has been no suggestion that those involved were suffering from mental illness, atleast a partial explanation suggested for Dr Hassan. What ideology or religion was behind their act, imperial extremism, or modern day crusaderism against Islam. We deplore those in the Muslim world who sympathize with the purpetrators of terrorist acts against us but too many Americans are happy to ignore or excuse the Black Water killers or even praise them as heroes.

  7. wallwritings says:


    My memory of Tom Friedman’s earlier book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem” was, as you say, “thoughtful and well advised”. It was a good resource for the period he worked as a foreign correspondent. Future research scholars will have to tell us when Tom made his sharp right turn.


  8. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    I agree with your comment.
    In his book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem”, which I read years ago, I was facinated by Friedman’s journalistic style. But, as I got towards the last few chapters of the book, I was disappointed, even back then, to notice how sympathetic he was towards extremist Jews and tried to rationalize their action and “humanize” their horrific deeds.

  9. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    You are absolutely right.
    It was soon after the horrendous massacre of Palestinian worshipers by Goldstein that a Palestinian group carried out the very first suicide bombing in Israel.

  10. Lydia Talbot says:

    Thank you, thank you for your authentic interpretation of the “clash of rights” between Palestinians and Jews in Israel. Your insight into the Tom Friedman column bashing Muslims in light of the Fort Hood tragedy is right on target, and helps us all see more clearly the Israeli anti-Islamic spin strategy.

  11. Sol says:

    Tm Friedman seems to have something against our patriotic soldiers in this quote:

    “Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is.”

    Of course, that is exactly what our soldiers are doing now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. They will say its all inadvertent, they didn’t sign up for this, etc., but that’s what’s happening nonetheless. If they are not insane when they are in the armed forces, many of them are after they get home.

  12. Bill Gepford says:

    I also read Tom Friedman’s book “From Beirut to Jerusalem.” Yes, his journalistic style was impressive, but in the end his biases came out in clear view. Having lived in Lebanon for ten years, it was easy to see his faults, even then.
    Concerning Timothy McVeigh: My wife and I were driving our of Chicago to Iowa on that Wednesday morning. I turned on the radio to check any news. It happened to be Rush Limbaugh reporting the bombing of the Murry Federal Building in Oklahoma City. After reporting the “facts” he concluded that it certainly must have been done by Islamic terrorists who have no respect for this country. I am sure it must have been a shock to him to learn that it was a Christian American from Michigan who did the bombing.
    In all of the following reports in the media, writers never referred to McVeigh as a “Christian” terrorist, though most certainly he was that.
    One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
    Labeling people using false information or through the use of ideology is a crime against humanity and should be resisted in every possible way.

  13. Helen Livingston says:

    I wrote to Friedman about that column, not that I expect he will see it. I pointed out that I had heard that Hasan’s grandmother livies in Bilin, West Bank, and that he has other relatives in the area, phones often to them. Poor little Bilin has been sliced by the “Separation Wall” restricting residents from farmlands and services they may need. Also I know that a nearby Israeli settlement continues to steal Bilin’s land and water and to harass the residents. I asked Friedman if it was possible that this treatments of his Palestinian family might have more influence on the major than the ” narrative ” of rabid imams.

  14. Nate Wright says:

    I had a very different interpretation of Friedman’s book. I was a late-comer, only reading it in 2004, so maybe that explains my different reaction.

    While he was certainly more restrained and considered than he is today, I found the book contemptuous of Arab politics (the same kind of dismissive arrogance he displays today, the old “why can’t these petty little people think rationally?” bit) and utterly devoid of any relationship to what I would call “lived experience”. By that I mean his portrait failed to engage with the conflict beyond high politics.

    If my memory is very accurate, you’ll find on a re-reading that Arafat and other high-level politicians are the only spokespeople he seems to have interacted with. My overriding sense after reading the book was that for all its weight (and it was long) it was surprisingly empty of any real insight into its subject.

    My father was a Friedman fan at the time, because of his Lexus and the Olive Tree, and I’m happy to say that a five year campaign by myself (with the help of Friedman’s frequent asinine outbursts) has weened him from this guy.

  15. Ibrahim Hussein says:

    As a Muslem living in US, I am appauled by the response to Mr Friedman’s column. Unlike the few who follow the “narrative”, I am one of the billion plus moderate and nonviolent Muslems who agrees fully with Friedman’s message, Too bad that so many have missed his important message. To his credit, he wrote several columns creticizing Israel. Stop circulating the conspiracy theory. Ibrahim. Washington DC

  16. Brenda Bentz says:

    That was not the picture reported at the time. My husband Tom McFadden was head of the US Office of War information for Syria/Lebanon from 1943 to 1953. His job from 1943 to 1947 was to monitor stories about the Middle East in local Arabic papers and in the US. He tried valiantly to get information about what was happening to Palestinians into US papers. He was unable to do so.

    After he died, I found letters to journalists in the US telling them about stories that needed to be written, citing the sources, assuring them that the stories were not classified and could be – should be – told.

    He failed. The press was closed to stories from the Palestinian point of view from at least 1943.

    The story was never in the press here.

    Brenda Bentz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s