why you should be at the rally for Gaza on Sunday

A few days ago, the NYT‘s Tom Friedman approvingly described Israel’s strategy against Hezbollah as follows:

Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future. Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”

Friedman went on to explain that he hoped a similar strategy informed the attack on Gaza.

As Glenn Greenwald noted, Friedman’s is literally a textbook description of terrorism – that is, it fulfils all the elements in the State Department’s official definition:

No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. […]

(1) For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.

(In passing, we might note that the last sentence means that the Palestinian policemen that Israel so casually extermined were not in any sense legitimate targets).

Friedman, of course, is something of a buffoon, as Matt Taibi definitively demonstrated a few years back, in a review of The World is Flat that deserves to be quoted at length:

It’s not that [Friedman] occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It’s that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it’s absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that’s guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

But, as well as being a fool, Friedman’s also a thug, one who famously and approvingly explained that the Iraq war was about telling the people of the Middle East to ‘suck on this’. More importantly, he’s one of the most influential newspaper columnists on the planet.

In that respect, Friedman’s enthusiastic advocacy of attacks on civilians illustrates the impact the Gaza campaign is having on the world. The war on Iraq, amongst other things, helped normalise torture and legitimate mass casualty violence. If Israel gets away with the campaign in Gaza, the brutalisation of public discourse will advance another step.

Of course, the protests are first and foremost about the Palestinians, the suffering of whom is heartbreakingly expressed here (be warned, though, while it doesn’t show any gore, it’s a pretty horrible clip). But the protests are also about the kind of world in which we’re all going to inhabit. If you’re not comfortable with a future in which the commentariat take an open, lip-smacking satisfaction in collective punishments and deliberate terror, get yourself to the rally.

Sunday, January 18, 2009
2:00pm – 4:00pm
State Library of Victoria, (opp Melbourne Central) and then to Federation Square
cnr Swanston and La Trobe Streets
Melbourne, Australia

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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  1. For anyone reading this in Sydney, unaware of rally details…
    2pm at Town Hall, marching to Hyde Park. Speakers include John Pilger and Anthony Loewenstein

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