go to top

Thomas Friedman Reads World Politics Review

Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2006

In his Dec. 20 column, "Mideast Rules to Live By," New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman referenced an interview with Al Jazeera Editor Ahmed Sheikh that was published in English exclusively in World Politics Review. Here's the relevant excerpt:

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel's mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can't understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera's editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: "It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this."

Friedman cites Die Weltwoche, where the interview was originally published in German. But unless Friedman reads German, which is doubtful given what we know about his history and experience, he read that passage in World Politics Review, or on one of the many, many blogs that linked to our translation (by WPR contributor John Rosenthal) in the days after we published it Dec. 7.

We're not going to lose sleep over it, but are we wrong in thinking Friedman should have cited WPR? Not only is it the gentlemanly thing to do, but it also would give his readers more information about the source of the quote.

As it happens, Friedman isn't the only one who commited this sin of omission recently. In a Dec. 15 piece for National Review, historian and author Victor Davis Hanson also failed to give WPR credit for his extensive quoting of our translation of the Sheikh interview.

Both authors find, as we did, something revealing in Sheikh's comments about Arab self-esteem and Israel. Friedman seems to take at face value Sheikh's diagnosis of Arab psychology and thus his implied call for changed U.S. policy vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine. Hanson, on the other hand, finds it "strange that Mr. Sheikh, if for the wrong reasons, has inadvertently echoed the neoconservative thesis that only with fundamental reform will come Arab prosperity — a progress that in turn will bolster the 'collective ego' enough for Arabs to forget an Israel that seems to 'gnaw' at the Middle East."

We'll leave it to you to evaluate the respective uses to which each writer put our translation. We just wish they'd be kind enough to cite our humble publication when their work benefits from what we publish:)