Finally, someone who tells the Middle East situation like it is. I've got his book on order, can't wait. Full text included due to NYT's dorky linking policy. The link I used is here.
The Best P.R.: Straight Talk
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The fact that the White House spokesman Scott McClellan spent part of his briefing on Tuesday excoriating Newsweek - and telling its editors that they had a responsibility to "help repair the damage" to America's standing in the Arab-Muslim world - while not offering a single word of condemnation for those who went out and killed 16 people in Afghanistan in riots linked to a Newsweek report, pretty much explains why we're struggling to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world today. We are spending way too much time debating with ourselves, or playing defense, and way too little time actually looking Arab Muslims in the eye and telling them the truth as we see it.
In part this is because we are so dependent on their oil - and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. In part this is because the administration got so carried away by the vote in the Iraqi elections that it lost focus. (We don't even have an ambassador in Iraq at this critical juncture, when it is so important that an ethnically balanced Iraqi government be formed. But don't worry - John Bolton is going to reform the U.N.)
And in part this is because we are afraid to say the truth, because we - wrongly - believe these people are incapable of rational thought and will just react violently. Therefore, if we have an information campaign, it must all be about explaining to them who we are, and why we are not bad people, and why Newsweek made a mistake. It must never involve us asking who they are and why they are behaving in ways that don't live up to the values they profess.
Instead of sending Mr. McClellan out to flog Newsweek, President Bush should have said: "Let me say first to all Muslims that desecrating anyone's holy book is utterly wrong. These allegations will be investigated, and any such behavior will be punished. That is how we Americans intend to look in the mirror. But we think the Arab-Muslim world must also look in the mirror when it comes to how it has been behaving toward an even worse crime than the desecration of God's words, and that is the desecration of God's creations. In reaction to an unsubstantiated Newsweek story, Muslims killed 16 other Muslims in Afghanistan in rioting, and no one has raised a peep - as if it were a totally logical reaction. That is wrong.
"In Iraq, where Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Muslims are struggling to build a pluralistic new order, other Muslims, claiming to act in the name of Allah, are indiscriminately butchering people, without a word of condemnation coming from Muslim spiritual or political leaders. I don't understand a concept of the sacred that says a book is more sacred than a human life. A holy book, whether the Bible or the Koran, is only holy to the extent that it shapes human life and behavior.
"Look, Newsweek may have violated journalistic rules, but what jihadist terrorists are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan - blowing up innocent Muslims struggling to build an alternative society to dictatorship - surely destroys the Koran. They are the real enemies of Islam because they are depriving Muslims of a better future. From what I know of Islam, it teaches that you show reverence to God by showing reverence for his creations, not just his words. Why don't your spiritual leaders say that? I am asking, because I want to know."
Fortunately, a few courageous Arab intellectuals, such as Abderrahman al-Rashed, have asked such things. Writing in Wednesday's Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat, he said: "When thousands in Afghanistan are concerned about a report in a magazine that does not reach them, written in a language they do not speak, leading them to protest in a manner unprecedented among other Islamic nations that do speak English, the matter is worth pursuing further: it tells us more about the dangers of propaganda and its exploitation by opposition groups than it does about spontaneous popular sentiments."
And a few days ago, a group of Iraqi journalists actually went to Jordan and got right in the face of Jordanian columnists and editors, demanding to know why they were treating Muslim mass murderers in Iraq like anticolonial war heroes. It's already changed the tone. That's the war of ideas.
The greatest respect we can show to Arabs and Muslims - and the best way to help Muslim progressives win the war of ideas - is to take them seriously and stop gazing at our own navels. That means demanding that they answer for their lies, hypocrisy and profane behavior, just as much as we must answer for ours.