Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thomas Friedman Desperately Running Out of Non-Islamic Metaphors for ISIS, October 17, 2014

Last week Thomas Friedman tried to understand ISIS through the lens of Batman. This week he’s back and valiantly struggling to see ISIS in any terms other than Islamic.
I was intrigued by this story because it highlighted the degree to which ISIS operates just like an “invasive species” in the world of plants and animals. It is not native to either the Iraqi or Syrian ecosystems. It never before grew in their landscapes.
I find it useful at times to use the natural world to illuminate trends in geopolitics and globalization, and this is one of them…
I can’t think of a better way to understand ISIS. It is a coalition.
I can’t think of a better way to understand Thomas Friedman except brain damage. He thinks that the best possible way to understand an Islamic terrorist group is not through Islam but through ecology.
There are a couple of problems with Friedman’s analogy
1. ISIS is native to Iraq/Syria/Jordan. Its current Caliph is an Iraqi with a degree from the U of Baghdad.
2. There is a history of similar groups going back centuries including the Ikhwan’s attacks on a lot of the same places. Even the Takfiri term which Friedman fastens on to explain ISIS’s invasiveness is used precisely because it has an extensive local history.
3. If ISIS were an invasive species it would be displacing local Islam in which case there would be an internal religious war. There isn’t.
4. Thomas Friedman is a wellspring of ignorance that never stops flowing.
They spread so far, so fast, despite their relatively small numbers, because the disturbed Iraqi and Syrian societies enabled these foreign jihadists to forge alliances with secular, native-born, Iraqi and Syrian Sunni tribesmen and former Baathist army officers, whose grievances were less religious and more about how Iraq and Syria were governed.
If you can follow Friedman’s serious case of brain damage/article, then he is arguing that the Iraqis who are part of ISIS are secular while the Jihadis are foreign Muslims. There’s no reason for Friedman to claim this except that it keeps his metaphor on life support.
Generally speaking, though, over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan we have overspent on herbicides (guns and training) and underinvested in the best bulwark against invasive species (noncorrupt, just governance). We should be pressing the Iraqi government, which is rich with cash, to focus on delivering to every Iraqi still under its control 24 hours of electricity a day, a job, better schools, more personal security and a sense that no matter what sect they’re from the game is not rigged against them and their voice will count. That is how you strengthen an ecosystem against invasive species.
That’s right. The only thing that will stop ISIS is better schools. They would have to be better than Oxford which doesn’t seem to have helped Friedman any.
I look forward to Friedman’s next column comparing ISIS to hot air balloons or a species of poodle or a sesame seed bagel.
The best way to understand Thomas Friedman may be through Lord Palmerston’s comment describing Napoleon III as a “meddlesome mediocrity… in whose brain foolish ideas multiply like rabbits.”
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.

Dan Friedman

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