Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book review: Longitudes and attitudes

Thomas Friedman, American journalist, columnis...Image via Wikipedia/Thomas Friedman

At the very beginning of my career in the domain of foreign affairs, reading Thomas Friedman's opinions was part of my daily introductory lessons. The same role was played by his books, From Beirut to Jerusalem or The World is Flat
Beyond the careful explanation of various global and regional contexts and their specific problems, what I was admiring at him was what I called the meaningful way of selecting ideas and the ways in which he was putting into balance various pro and con arguments. Every affirmation was offering the potential for a change of the current situation and aqt the end of his 700-word opinion, I was acquiring a different perception. 
I met again some of those short lessons reading Longitudes and Attitudes. Exploring the World before and after September 11 -  – a collection of articles dedicated to the US security, the Middle East and the American life post 9/11.
But my eyes and understanding are completely different. I continue to read his analysis with a lot of envy for the style and vocabulary, but I feel very often the desire of the journalist aiming to be considered too as a potential power-broker. And very often he, as other media stars from the US are playing this role. The question is what are the consequences of such a shift for the journalism. 
In his case, is the idea of insisting over and over again the same ideas - the main messages from the politicians' discourses - even the situations are changing as well as the actors. Plus, this is the idea of not risking to assume points of view agains the main waves of the opinion. As it is the case for the situation of the settlements in Jerusalem: this is the general trend, to accuse the Israeli governments for this. But, are we talking about the same situation from a year to another? And, in fact, what is the context? The journalism for the masses is tempted to avoid going into too much details, following the pattern familiar to the politicians.
But there are in this book a couple of ideas that deserve to be developed and discussed over and over again: as the fact that September 11 was an attack against the multicultural society of America and not a failure of intelligence but of imagination; the lack of a Manhattan project aimed to destroy terrorism; the lack of any society project from the part of terrorists as Bin Laden; the need for encouraging the discussion within Islam and to create the prospects for a deep reform of some Arab/Muslim states (mostly in the Saudi Arabia); US security dilemmas  after 11/9. In some pieces the world of foreign affairs and security is the pretext for a healthy laugh to tears - as it is the case of the idea of the Naked Air company, whose passengers would fly naked and will not give any chance to religious fundamentalists to put into practice their evil plans (pp. 96-97).
A very interesting information I forgot about was the relative support that US had in some Iranian circles shortly after 11/9 and the missed opportunity of the George W. Bush administration. 
The book it is an interesting diary of the foreign affairs world and a good reference for those aspiring for being good writers in the domain of the international relations. But, beyond your admiration, you have to continue using your brain and to be able to offer your own arguments and points of view.
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