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*****= An all-time favorite
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****Longitudes and Attitudes

Exploring the World After September 11, 2001

by Thomas L. Friedman

Reviewed December 7, 2002.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2002.  383 pages.

This book is a collection of columns written by foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times.  The fact that it is a collection of columns gives it some weaknesses.  Instead of one coherent description of his views, we get repetitive, short arguments.  He keeps repeating himself, since a columnist cannot be sure that his readers have also read his earlier columns.  This makes the book one that you wouldn’t want to read in one sitting, but good for reading in small doses.

I was going to give the book a lower rating because of this disjointedness, but by the end I became convinced that his message and his thoughts and insights make this an important book in spite of its drawbacks of construction.  He does bring the ideas together in a “diary” section at the end of the book, and perhaps it was reading this that changed my thinking.  It does repeat ideas I had already read in columns, but it brings the ideas together in one longer, thought-provoking essay.

There are many recurring themes in Thomas Friedman’s columns.  He traveled around the world and talked to many people from many different countries.  He believes that America is a great country.  And one of the things that makes America great is that we accept and embrace diversity.  He talks about the many different ethnic groups represented at a concert at his daughter’s school.  He celebrates the ethnic diversity in a group of American Special Forces.

He believes that the problem we are up against is that many Muslim nations are not being trained to accept diversity.  In their schools, young people are trained to hate.  In Saudi Arabia, women are not even allowed to drive.  Meanwhile, unemployment is at 30%, and certain to go up because of a high birth rate.  Young people are urged by religious leaders to turn their anger and feelings of powerlessness into hatred toward Israel and America.

Mind you, this is only a summary of one of Thomas Friedman’s themes.  He has talked to Muslim people in many countries.  He sees less problems in countries where democracy is being encouraged—countries like Turkey and India.  Part of the reason this is everyone’s problem is that satellite TV and the Internet and other modern technology have made it possible for a few angry individuals to create big problems.  He can easily see the day when a terrorist will ask for suicide bombers to bring nuclear bombs into Israel, and will find an abundance of volunteers.

The situation between Israel and Palestine is also a big theme in his writings.  He sees that region as the key to the future of the rest of the world.  He blames Arafat for walking away from a genuine chance at peace and thus causing Sharon to be elected.  He blames Sharon for insisting on having Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.  He expresses horror at Arafat’s legitimizing of suicide bombers.

He talked to people on the street, and he talked to some world leaders.  In most Muslim countries, people genuinely believe that 4,000 Jews were warned not to go to work in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th.  This rumor came from the Internet and spread quickly.  One Pakistani father explained to his children why logistically it couldn’t possibly be true.  He later got a message from their school that his kids needed to stop challenging that story or they would be ostracized by their classmates.

He pointed out that although the Internet makes the world a smaller place, it also spreads anger and hate, because you can be selective and only listen to the people who agree with your own viewpoint.

He expresses hope that we will rise to the challenges of the new Century without destroying ourselves.  This is an important book, giving some interesting insights and perspectives on the new world facing us after September 11.


Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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