Tom Friedman is a very bright man. Flat world, long tail and all that. And until the WTC attack he, Juan Cole and the late Bernard Lewis were about the only writers that a casual American reader would find commenting on the Middle East.
Since then other well-informed sources have been advancing different and not always agreeable viewpoints about events in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Joshua Holland, writing in the Gadflyer, reacts to a couple of Friedman pieces in the NY Times:
Friedman writes: Yet these mass murders - this desecration and dismemberment of real Muslims by other Muslims - have not prompted a single protest march anywhere in the Muslim world. And I have not read of a single fatwa issued by any Muslim cleric outside Iraq condemning these indiscriminate mass murders of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds by these jihadist suicide bombers, many of whom, according to a Washington Post report, are coming from Saudi Arabia.
Holland replies: I guess the New York Times doesn't have a search engine. Here's a story about Iraqis protesting against Al Zarqawi at the Jordanian Embassy in Iraq, this one's about an Iraqi demonstration against attacks on infrastructure, here's one about Kuwaitis marching against terror attacks, and you can read here, here and here about influential clerics across the Muslim world loudly and publicly condemning suicide attacks.
Mark Lynch keeps one of the finest blogs on Mid East issues, Abu Ardvaark. Let's just say politely that he is not a big fan of Tom Friedman. His blog is where I found the link above.
His take on the Saddam-in-underwear story seems right to me. I don't know why his very real construction of the whole affair isn't being discussed.
As I understand it, the pictures were leaked by American military sources to friendly (conservative) newspapers - the New York Post and the Sun - as a psychological warfare gambit against the Iraqi insurgency. Saddam's lawyers are suing over what appears to be a breach of international law.
Me, I could care less about Saddam's privacy - kill hundreds of thousands of your own people, I guess you'll just have to live with having a picture of yourself sitting on the toilet published in the newspaper. I'm more concerned about the political backlash, and how that plays out in the Arab media and inside of Iraq. Hopefully I'll have more to report later.
One interesting tidbit, though, and a nice indicator of the current political lines within the Arab media: from what I can tell, al-Jazeera and al-Quds al-Arabi (the two pillars of the non-Saudi, Arab nationalist Arab media) refused to run the photos, while al-Arabiya and al-Sharq al-Awsat (the two pillars of the Saudi, pro-American Arab media) ran it prominently. I didn't see it in today's al-Hayat, but I didn't see that paper yesterday.
I'm not aware of any prominent US journalist, left or right, who makes it a point to discern among the Arab media, unless they are advancing some ulterior argument. I'm sure this blogger will not be invited to any White House parties, but I don't sense he will be at any political conventions either.