An Open Letter to Thomas Friedman

- by Shirin Vossoughi

Dear Thomas L. Friedman,

For the last few years, I have read your column in the New York Times and become increasingly disturbed at the arrogance with which you defend U.S. hegemony, imperial occupation (of the U.S. and Israeli varieties) and what you consider the benign effects of a devastating global economic system. Until now, I have seethed in seclusion, occasionally venting to friends and family. But this Sunday's column was the last straw.

Responding to the current debate regarding the outsourcing of white collar jobs to India and other developing countries, your column, "The Secret of Our Sauce," essentially claims that Americans suffering from unemployment need not worry because:

"America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can't be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a noncorrupt bankruptcy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that are unrivaled in taking new ideas and turning them into global products."

After reading your columns, I usually wonder - are you purposefully blind or simply, blind? Surely the "extreme freedom of thought" you praise cannot be found in the corporate media and its ever increasing allegiance to the state and its rhetoric, in an education system built on standardized testing, an emphasis on unquestioning patriotism and "official" versions of U.S. History, or Lynne Cheney's American Council of Trustees and Alumni - whose thought police attack those academics that have not responded to 9/11 with adequate jingoism.

You only need peruse the pages of your own paper to see the lack of value placed on "independent thinking." In his Sunday piece on Iraq, "The Road Ahead May be Even Rougher," John Burns laments the ungratefulness with which Iraqis view Americans. Burns argues that anti-Americanism in Iraq is "something rooted in a collective psyche so battered by Mr. Hussein's terror that authority is instinctively blamed and distrusted, that rumor and conspiracy theory crowd out facts, that acts of good will are seen as ill intent." With Edward Said gone, it is up to the rest of us to combat such blatantly racist attitudes - which consider hatred of the U.S. as triggered by Arab emotion and instinct (as do most of your columns examining the "Arab mind") rather than the very rational consciousness of a people living under occupation. Apparently, "independent thinking" is a euphemism for independently arriving at a conclusion acceptable to the U.S.

You portray the United States as an innovative environment rich with opportunities for small businesses. Yet this rosy picture is a far cry from the current process of ever increasing monopolization. One only need look to the recent cases of Disney, Cingular Wireless and the monster of all broadcasting corporations, ClearChannel, to see that the space for small businesspeople is disappearing, fast.

And as for a supposed lack of corruption, does Halliburton ring a bell? American "growth" is built on legalized mechanisms of corruption exemplified in the bidding process for the reconstruction of Iraq, the campaign contributions of giant corporations to both Republican and Democratic candidates and the power of wealthy lobbies to affect and shape policy. The democracy you choose to see is one in which money buys votes and airtime, plain and simple.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you divorce the economic success of the United States from its historic roots. This success is built on the looting of resources from the developing world, a steady supply of cheap labor fueled by slavery and the exploitation of immigrant workers and unequal relationships of trade that force open the markets of poor countries while keeping American businesses well protected.

The U.S. remains "ahead" economically because it actively pushes other countries behind. A living example can be found in Jeffrey Gettleman's piece, "U.S. Detains Iraqis, and Families Plead for News," again, on New York Times' front page (March 7, 2004). It describes the devastation Iraqi families face as thousands of men and boys are detained for weeks and months at a time without access to lawyers or contact with their families. Farms are left without people to work them and children are left without their teachers. In Abu Sifa, a farming village north of Baghdad, 11 village teachers were taken away by Americans soldiers. Already robbed of their childhood, Iraqi children are left without a future. How is such a country expected to develop?

This, Mr. Friedman, is the real "Secret of Our Sauce." Because your microphone is loud, you have the responsibility to stop telling lies. I suggest you open your eyes.


Shirin Vossoughi

Shirin Vossoughi is a graduate of UCLA and freelance journalist. She is a teacher in brooklyn, developing social justice curriculum for high schools. She is currently on leave from NYU School of Law and can be reached at

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