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Volume 68, Issue 25, Monday, September 30, 2002


Pulitzer winner dicusses bin Laden

By Ray Hafner
Senior Staff Writer

If the United States is to win the War on Terror, it must not only defeat Osama Bin Laden, but also break the "wheel of bin Ladenism" that powers autocratic authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, said Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Thomas Friedman.

The three spokes of that wheel, he said Friday at a Houston World Affairs Council luncheon, are non-democratic regimes, the anti-modernist religious leaders who bless them and the generations of people who are raised in these countries without the necessary and proper skills to thrive in a global society.

Friedman was speaking at the luncheon as part of a book tour for his new collection of journals and columns titled Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11. 

One of the New York Times' top foreign affairs columnists, Friedman compiled the book using several pre-9/11 columns and virtually every one since 9/11. Also included are his journal entries from when he traveled throughout the Middle East.

The luncheon drew more than 800 people, said Linda Wuest, executive director of the council. That crowd boasted several VIPs, including former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier.

Wuest said Friedman always has a large crowd.

Anyone familiar with Friedman's column would have recognized his hour-long speech. He attempted to illustrate the unique challenges and possible methods of eliminating the terrorist threat.

Calling bin Laden a combination of serial killer Charles Manson and General Electrics Chairman Jack Welch, an "utterly twisted mind wedded with the skills of a Fortune 500 manager," Friedman stressed the need to eliminate al-Qaida.

The United States must recognize who bin Laden is to his people, he said. Friedman called him an "authentic character" wielding support from the Arab street.

One of the Arab nations' goals, he said, must be to find an authentic Islamic progressive who can work to modernize Islam's ideas. Islamic nations must fight "bin Ladenism" and not just bin Laden.

Next, Arab nations must work to create a system where the people have a voice, he said. Friedman offered India as the best example of how democracy can defuse militant Muslims. India is home to the second-largest Muslim population in the world, Friedman said. Yet "not a single Indian Muslim was in al-Qaida; not a single Indian Muslim is in Guantanamo Bay," he said.

Because India is a democracy, Muslims there have a place to air their grievances and work towards fixing problems, he said.

The United States must also work closely with Middle-Eastern nations and be sincere, he said. The United States must show Arab nations that we are critical "not because we want them to fail, but because we want them to succeed."

Friedman worried that while President Bush said we must be humble, "the people around (Bush) give off contempt at 100 paces," he said. If the United States does not prove its sincerity to Arab nations, there will be no progress, he said.

Friedman finished with an anecdote illustrating the crossroads faced by Arab nations, none of which are democracies.

He described a young boy whom a colleague saw on a bicycle wearing a New York Yankees cap and an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.

"We must make sure that young boy grows into the hat and not the T-shirt," he said.

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