Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Thomas L. Friedman and the Bali Bombers


The Daily Telegraph of Australia carries a report of an extraordinary death-row press conference/ festive family visit (Indonesian death rows run on looser rules than do American ones) involving Bali-bomb planner Imam Samudra who is said to have told reporters when asked what he would say to the victims’ families: “If they are unbelievers I say to them, it is your risk because you are kafir and unbeliever … If the people are not Muslim I am never, never sorry for them.”(Cindy Wockner and Gita Anggun Athika, “Terrorists’ Final Insult. Facing hate: the day I met the Bali bombers,” The Daily Telegraph (Australia), Saturday, November 24, 2007 [via Joyo Indonesian News Service])

The writer justly complained that Imam Samudra and his two co-convicts “were being treated more like celebrities than the cold-blooded killers they are.”

In May, 2003, not on death row, but on a prestige forum on US network TV, a leading thinker of the US establishment, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, gave perhaps the most compelling explanation yet by a powerful Washington figure for why the US invaded Iraq — or, more precisely, why it felt compelled at that moment to invade a Muslim country like Iraq.

Speaking on the Charlie Rose show, Friedman postulated the existence of a terrorist “bubble” — a prevailing idea — then popular, he said, in a certain part of the world:

“And what we needed to do was go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble. We needed to go over there, basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble. And there was only one way to do it. Because part of that bubble said: ‘We’ve got you. This bubble is actually going to level the balance of power between us and you because we don’t care about life. We’re ready to sacrifice and all you care about are your stock options and your Hummers.'”

“And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad and basically saying: ‘Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society? You think this bubble fantasy, we’re just going to let it grow? Well, suck on this.'”

“OK? That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.”

(Thomas Friedman appearance on Charlie Rose, PBS, May 30, 2003)

Friedman was obviously speaking metaphorically, playing the tough-guy on PBS, but when he was saying to the Muslims chosen to be used as examples “suck on this” — once again articulating Washington’s Id — he seemed to be speaking not just in the sexual sense but also in the sense of inviting them to wrap their lips around an M-16.

Given the fact that the invasion of Iraq really was, to a significant extent, a case of find-a-Muslim, any Muslim,-and-kill-them, it can be difficult to convince overseas Muslims who raise the issue that US policy is not religion-driven.

But it isn’t. The US system is too cold-blooded for that, despite the presence in it of some religious fanatics (like, for example, General William G. Boykin, Rumsfeld’s special operations chief, or, for that matter, President Bush himself, who is reported to believe in Armageddon).

It was Washington’s Zbigniew Brzezinski (now foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama) who once boasted of creating the Afghani jihadists (to screw the Soviets, he said, and, he added, it was definitely worth it; see “‘The CIA’s Intervention in Afghanistan,'” Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998, Posted at 15 October 2001), and it was the US that flew early Al Qaeda types to Bosnia to fight on the Muslim/ NATO side.

If you actually took Washington’s pile of corpses from recent decades and sorted them out by religion, there’s a good chance that the Catholic stack would stand highest, given the operations in South, then Central, America.

So there are clearly differences between the targeting criteria employed by a Friedman and an Imam Samudra. One would kill you if you had the wrong religion. The other if you had the wrong (non-US) address, and if he woke up that morning and simply felt that the national interest (or whim) required the killing of someone vaguely resembling your description.

There are differences, but there is a more important commonality, ie. a willingness to commit holy murder (or at least advocate it from a first class hotel room). In the name of God, in the name of the State, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re the victim, you’re just as dead, and the perpetrator feels just as uplifted.

Its not clear if Imam Samudra is a good, punchy, concise writer, but that doesn’t matter either. Since he is due to be executed, there won’t be time for The New York Times to offer him a column.

Allan Nairn can be reached through his blog.



ALLAN NAIRN writes the blog News and Comment at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians