Ron Rosenbaum

The Tragedy of False Optimism in Jihad World

Thomas Friedman wrote an entire column today, in Sunday’s New York Times about an Iraqi legislator who was prosecuted for visiting Israel in a brave one-man attempt to make a statement that hatred didn’t have to prevail in the Middle East. Friedman reported that the Iraqi Parliament attempted to strip Mithal al-Alusi of his Parliamentary immunity so that he could be prosecuted under an old law that could have given him the death penalty for such a “crime”.

And then, Friedman told us the Iraqi federal high court took the brave action of overturning the Parliament’s decision, affirming the right to freedom of travel. And 400 Iraqi intellectuals signed an open letter in an Iraqi newpaper supporting Alusi. Good for them of course. And Friedman spent the rest of the column attempting to extract some optimism from all this, indeed to argue that perhaps we can “salvage something positive” from the entire Iraqi venture. Maybe we can. I guess it deends on what you view as “optimistic” or “positive”.

Because as I was drifting off to sleep last night I heard an interview on the BBC world service radio with al-Alusi that mentioned something Friedman did not. Maybe Friedman didn’t know it. But this brave man’s two sons were murdered because of his trip. Murdered in an attempt to murder him as well. How many Iraqis are going to now take advantage of the fabulous “freedom of travel” Friedman celebrates now? Maybe he didn’t get the death penalty–yet–but his sons did.

I don’t know about you but I’m not sure I find this all that optimistic an episode. I felt sickened by hearing it especially after Mumbai. I read Friedman’s column over and over again looking for a mention of the murder of the brave man’s sons. Was he not aware of it? I hope that’s the reason, rather than that he left it out knowingly.

But shouldn’t he have known? Shouldn’t it have made a difference to his conclusion? Americans always want to believe in hope, that there’s a solution to every problem. I’m not sure any more. Combined with Mumbai it made me think that religious hatred has won. That it will never go away. That it’s just too easy to slaughter people in the name of God. That as much as the optimists might seek to find some reason for hope, there is always going to be another al-Alusi seeing his sons murdered, another Mumbai seeing 200 or more. Let’s not fool ourselves. I’m willing to listen to counter-arguments–I’d like to find a reason to be optimistic–but not arguments that leave out little facts like the murder of a brave man’s two sons.