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Tom, Tom, Tom

Thomas Friedman needs to learn what he's talking about:

The winners would be awarded visas and four-year scholarships to any accredited university in America to which they could gain acceptance. The winning essays would be posted on the Web in English, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and French. What do you think would make America more secure? Rewarding one person for turning in bin Laden or putting thousands of young Arabs and Muslims through American schools?
That's a nice thought, but guess who went to school in the US of A -- Sayyid Qutb. Plenty of serious al-Qaeda terrorists have lived and studied in the west. This kind of thing is neither here nor there as far as terrorism-control is concerned. Friedman -- and others interested in commenting on the issue -- really ought to read Understanding Terror Networks which is light on random speculations and outside-the-box thinking and long on empirical data about the actual lives of actual jihadis.

February 6, 2005 | Permalink


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» A Penny for Osama from MythoPoet's Mirror
Friedman goes off and proposes to send the best and brightest from the Muslim world to US colleges and universities to be educated, ignoring * The role of western education in radicalizing many Jihadist/Hirabist leaders, and * Muslim reac... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 7, 2005 12:45:13 AM

» A Penny for Osama from MythoPoet's Mirror
Friedman goes off and proposes to send the best and brightest from the Muslim world to US colleges and universities to be educated, ignoring * The role of western education in radicalizing many Jihadist/Hirabist leaders, and * Muslim reac... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 7, 2005 12:59:32 AM

» Mental Rewards from Sick Transit
Matt Yglesias justly ridicules this hilarious fruitcake of a column by Thomas Friedman. (I'm sure it must deeply rankle Yglesias' righteous and underpaid soul that Friedman actually got paid good money for writing that clonker.) I think Friedman does... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 7, 2005 11:45:21 PM


Matthew completely misses the point.

The point is not that we should bring Middle Easterners here to prevent them from developing terrorist ideologies. The point is that the Middle Easterners we bring here are likely to contribute to liberalizing the countries from which they came. That is, if we bring over 5000 Middle Easterners, we aren't looking to decrease the pool of potential terrorists by 5000; obviously a few may still be susceptable to terrorist ideologies. Rather, we are trying to get 4990 people to go back to the Middle East to help introduce liberal ideas into illiberal societies. The more people we can get to do that the better - and for that task, it is irrelevant where Sayyid Qutb went to school.

Posted by: Al | Feb 6, 2005 11:30:44 PM

We also have to consider that the USA that Sayyid Qutb encountered in the 1940s in isolated, rural northern Colorado might, just might, be a slightly different country 60 years later. For example, a 21st-century Muslim would be much more likely to encounter other Muslims than in 1948, including a fair number of American-born ones who could provide a more positive example. I imagine Mr. Qutb was exposed to a LOT of negative experiences in the USA then. He was, after all, a foreigner, and a rather dark-skined one at that. Things are far from perfect today, of course, but they are radically different.

Posted by: Joey | Feb 6, 2005 11:47:18 PM

Let me clear. What is important is not the Arab street, or the Arab basement, or even the Arab cellar, but a vast underground network of tunnels more than 2500 years old, and at least 275 feet beneath the catacombs of most major Arab capitals.

But what neither the Bush administration nor his Democratic opponents seem inclined to admit, or most of the western media to cover, is that once you're bought you're probably broken as well.

A recent talk with an olive tree in Jordan underscored this fact.

What we need is a crash course in Lexus independence - a manhattan project if you will. Laid off IT workers in this country and call center workers in India will be crucial to this project, and the hope of any moderate outcome almost everywhere.

Posted by: Tom Friedman | Feb 6, 2005 11:47:34 PM

We must think of this as a pizza baked with Baba Ganoush topping because we cannot forget that except for some Filipinos and Jonah Goldberg's dog neither the Muslim nor the Jew will eat a pepperoni pie.

Posted by: More Tommy Friedman | Feb 7, 2005 12:01:21 AM


I think Matt's point is that exposure to Western society is just as likely to radicalize young Arab men as it is to enlighten them. What Qutb found so appalling about America was its tolerance of open sexuality and its liberated women. And this was in the 1940s!

Notice also that Matt doesn't oppose Friedman's proposal -- he just doesn't think that it will make us any safer. There might be other good reasons for offering these scholarships.

Posted by: jjf | Feb 7, 2005 12:14:24 AM

Shockingly, I'm on Al's side. The fact that some terrorists have been educated in the West doesn't imply that being educated in the West has any effect one way or the other. Timothy McVeigh went to high school in the United States, but that doesn't mean that going to high school in the United States is likely to turn you into a truck bomber.

The effect of offering scholarships to Middle Eastern kids is an empirical question, and I don't know if any empirical work has been done. Intuitively, though, it seems likely to be helpful. The fact that a few of them will turn out badly is neither here nor there.

Posted by: Kevin Drum | Feb 7, 2005 12:25:51 AM

"Timothy McVeigh went to high school in the United States, but that doesn't mean that going to high school in the United States is likely to turn you into a truck bomber."

Well, maybe not a truck bomber...

Posted by: The Unabomber | Feb 7, 2005 12:41:26 AM

MY is right on the broader point but--and I'm sure he's aware of this point--we still need to help make 'western' philosophical/political texts more widely available to Muslim populations. This doesn't mean a propaganda campaign to shove the stuff down their throats or drag them out here and hope Burger King and MTV will do the trick.. rather make info more easily available for those who want it. Strengthen that segment of the population with knowledge.

Juan Cole once upon a time explained this idea better than I could, even started a project to help translation (not sure of the status on that, someone might want to ask for a sitrep). Here's the link: http://www.juancole.com/trans.htm

Posted by: Bubba | Feb 7, 2005 1:16:45 AM

jjf: you have remarkably little faith in the benefits of liberal, progressive society if you think those exposed to it are more likely to be appaled with it than to be enamored of it.

Posted by: yoyo | Feb 7, 2005 1:45:04 AM

My understanding is that (male?) Saudi citizens have long had the right to a free college education at any school to which they are accepted.

Perhaps there is behavior in the West that is considered as repugnant and backwards in Arab culture as so many on our side of the water seem to feel is true of theirs.

Should we also consider sending promising young Americans to Medina?

Posted by: Ken | Feb 7, 2005 1:49:58 AM

Friedman's point is as usual overstated. Current immigration requirements for foreign students are overly draconian, creating a bad image of the US as an intellectually walled-community.

Note: I've already started to see this happen with my very bright foreign friends in my PhD program: they're talking about what an EU professorship might bring them, they're willing to take the salary cut for more job security and, notably, freedom of speech.

So much of Friedman's argument is just pie-in-the-sky stuff, though. As others above pointed out: we've already got mechancisms by which the US boosts ME students. What Friedman is suggsting is a full-scale PR blitz---and that sort of thing, especially when announced beforehand by an admin-friendly columnists, tends to be viewed with skepticism.

You really have to wonder, sometimes. I reckon Friedman himself isn't bad off. He really could establish an admittedly limited endowment for one or two ME students--if he really believed in the program's potential. I know it's unfair to personalize what is in essence a national debate, but since ME-types are so justifiably suspicious of ideological fellowships backed by nationalism, presumably the next step would be to back these fellowships by private money.

Mr. Friedman, I urge you to take the lead.

Posted by: Jackmormon | Feb 7, 2005 1:50:06 AM

The discussion so far also seems to miss the point that the people who would be recruited to come to the USA under Friedman's plan would have had to write an excellent essay about how democracy is fantastic - which could be difficult for someone who has fundamentalist Islamic leanings. It sounds like the idea is to take people who have liberal democratic leanings already and to make them more liberal still.

Posted by: Andrew | Feb 7, 2005 4:27:11 AM

IME lots of middle eastern students enjoy certain aspects of life in the US they encounter while studying. They do not necessarily want those things to exist in their own societies and no amount of wishful thinking can change that.

Setting up free (or very cheap since in some countries 'free' education is suspect) secular schools that teach a broad variety of subjects to those who might not have access to such an education otherwise would probably do more good but would also be much more difficult and doesn't have the hi-tech glamor of bombing folks or the noblesse oblige glamor of paternally teaching them our (presumably better) ways on their way to american-manquehood.

Posted by: Michael Farris | Feb 7, 2005 4:49:33 AM

You guys should seek out Sayyid Qutb's actual writings about America. He was particularly bothered by our national obsession with lawn mowing.

Also worth noting is that Qutb looked more African than Arab.

Posted by: Jeff | Feb 7, 2005 4:56:58 AM

Rather, we are trying to get 4990 people to go back to the Middle East to help introduce liberal ideas into illiberal societies.

The arrogance... Well, I think it's more likely at this point that they'll pick up more fundamentalist and fascist ideas than liberal ones. Not that 4990 people would make any difference anyway one way or the other.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 7, 2005 5:49:21 AM

I work for a US-based NGO that administers several of these US-govt. funded scholarship programs for foreigners and I have some knowledge of the scope and breadth of these programs. I also think Tom Friedman is an idiot who randomly writes things and once in a while they make sense purely by accident, so I don't know why people take the time to critique his columns. Of course foreign exchange study programs are good for both Americans and non-Americans. For heaven's sake, the fact that Americans are still debating whether or not there is quantifiable value in cross-cultural exposure shows that they have a long way to go in the understanding of this planet and the human beings on it. The fact that some people go study in the West and go on to become destructive or negative is irrelevant. The fact that Sayyid Qutb specifically went to the West because he believed that Muslims had a duty to study knowledge from non-believers if it did not exist in their own countries, which is one of his key ideas as explained in his book "Milestones," seems to have escaped everyone. I don't understand what sort of example he is supposed to serve. Also he was a political philosopher. Yes some of his ideas were reactionary. He was not an actual "terrorist" and it really is stupid how Americans throw these words around.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo | Feb 7, 2005 6:01:54 AM

"You guys should seek out Sayyid Qutb's actual writings about America"

Yes. Can someone recommend a good accessible book on Qtub? Not your doctoral thesis, pl.

Posted by: Otto | Feb 7, 2005 8:46:05 AM

Well, I think I agree with a lot of folks here. Anna is right, but she forgets that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atta were also educated in the West and were actual terrorists. This is not to say that we shouldn't have such programs, but rather that it's more important to help Arabs build up their own education systems at home, which is what Qatar and Kuwait are doing--they should do more liberal arts, however.

Another oddity of the relationship between the West and the ME is that Arab nationalism was originally developed at AUB as part of a complex interaction between Syrian Arab elites and American missionaries.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 7, 2005 9:37:45 AM

One thing we ought to have more of is cultural exchanges generally. I forgot to mention that Anwar Sadat was forever changed by his trip to California, which is what led him to ultimately to make nice with the U.S. and sign a peace accord with Israel. That hasn't worked out so great in some respects, but it's not Sadat's fault Mubarak is a goon.

Posted by: praktike | Feb 7, 2005 9:40:28 AM

One problem with freely educating foreign students is that if they *really* like the U.S., they'll do everything they can to stay in the U.S. Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, but it's not much help as far as affecting attitudes about the U.S. back in their native countries.

Posted by: David W. | Feb 7, 2005 9:54:05 AM

There's a decent NPR segment called Sayyid Qutb's America:


Posted by: Jeff | Feb 7, 2005 9:55:50 AM

I can't see anything particularly wrong with scholarships, but ABB1 right that it is tremendously arrogant to think the four years in southern California will turn you into Vaclav havel, and MattY right that plenty of folks come to the USA and stil get radicalized.

Is there a promised land? Someplace that can turned the frumious bandersnatch into a lovable puppy? Yes! Current (and supposedly liberalizing) Egyptian PM Ahmed Nazif went to school in Montreal. Shia hotshot and supposed future PM Hussein Shahristani, who went to school at U of Toronto and is married to a nice small town Ontario girl (Berniece from Ingersoll).

Going further afield, the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, was a psychology Professor in Montreal for 35 years, and credited her experience with illiberal language laws in Quebec for her veto of a proposed anti-Russian language law in Latvia.

So the solution is obvious. The US should pay for arab students to attend University in Canada!

Posted by: Ikram | Feb 7, 2005 10:25:20 AM

and MattY right that plenty of folks come to the USA and stil get radicalized.

Still get radicalized? Don't get me wrong, I don't want to shut the doors but if anything I think that being a student here was something that opened you up to radical ideas before 9/11. You are in a foreign country, one that has since the '70s been steeped in nasty feelings towards Arabs. The mosque is where you start heading even if you weren't particularly religious before you showed up just because there are people there that are more like you.

Anyway, it's not important anyway, the important thing to note is Friedman's continued belief that all our problems are PR related and that we don't really do anything wrong, we are just misunderstood and need someone to get our message out for us.

Posted by: absynthe | Feb 7, 2005 12:18:40 PM

Oh, and I don't think I have to mention that since 9/11 I think coming here is a way to guarantee they leave disliking this country.

Posted by: absynthe | Feb 7, 2005 12:19:39 PM

Gee, "If they could just see us for what we truly are..." They could go to a school like Marquette University and see the Young Republicans trying to fundraise for Adopt-a-Sniper, for example.


One of the assumptions that has been running around is that America is in fact a broadly tolerant, enlightened place that gets a bad press. Well, the best that can be said is that parts of it are--and that most of the bad press for awhile now has been eminently deserved.

Posted by: pbg | Feb 7, 2005 1:06:03 PM

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