When interviewed by Roshini Rajkumar during the MAYDAY! Conference keynote address, Thomas Friedman identified three prerequisites for peace: (1) a benign hegemon, (2) robust international commerce, and (3) presence of democracy. This liberal peace agenda–one based on western state institutions and market-based reforms–is more likely to induce further violence than even bring about negative peace or the absence of war. Friedman claimed that since the conclusion of WWII ,the United States has filled the role of a benign hegemon, despite evidence to the contrary.
During the Cold War, the US instigated multiple proxy wars resulting in significant bloodshed and destruction in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The U.S. has also violated countless human rights through enhanced interrogation techniques at CIA black sites and detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The U.S. has consistently intervened in Central America, perpetrating violent military coups and displacing farmers through trade liberalization over the past century. These atrocious policies have forced the migration of hundreds of thousands to the US, only to be met with further violence at the border. Friedman frames the US invasion of Iraq and assassination of Saddam Hussein as peace-driven. Using violence as a means to achieve peace will never result in positive peace, or the active presence of justice. The opening of neoliberal markets facilitates socio-economic inequalities, an inherently violent process. For example, small-scale agriculture has been impacted heavily in global markets which support mass-producing factory farm schemes. Contemporary farmers experience alarming rates of suicide. The notion that democracy is an element of peace is fallacious and rigidly western. Democracies may not engage in war with other democracies but nonetheless wage war and perpetrate violence. Friedman’s notion of liberal peace appears to facilitate his understanding of journalism as a vehicle for peace.
Friedman made valid arguments. He expressed how embedded experiences of war exposes one to its horrors as well as journalism’s capacity to foster productive dialogue. These arguments would bear more weight if he was more aware of his privilege, considering his self-promoting, “tourist with an attitude” rhetoric. For example, he emphasizes his positionality as a renowned journalist with robust freedom to travel anywhere. Friedman shares how he believes journalism can bring about peace, “We need to understand more so we can fear less.” This statement has power. Fear is dangerous. It stratifies society and leads to violence and discrimination. Nonetheless, the statement is ineffective when Friedman’s journalism facilitates fear.
In his recent op-ed piece, “Trump is Wasting our Immigration Crisis,” published on April 23 in The New York Times, Friedman seeks to justify the building of a border wall. Regardless of Friedman’s intent, his rhetoric constructs a narrative of fear, explicitly conflicting with his ‘peace-based agenda’ of journalism. Friedman adopts a market-based perspective towards migrants. A wall would allow Americans peace of mind [at the expensive of migrant bodies], while a gate would only welcome immigrants who would provide ‘value’ to the American economy. Friedman’s article constructs asylum requests as a vehicle for immigrants to slip through the cracks of society, negatively impacting American citizens. Friedman critiques an already oppressive asylum process as not being strict enough. This article perpetuates national immigrant fear, fundamentally supporting violence.
Gustavus recently made Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies a major. MAYDAY! is an event celebrated by the College and the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies program. Not only should the conference keynote create a dialogue concerning peace, but they should especially promote positive peace (the presence of justice). Thomas Friedman’s self-serving keynote interview failed at fulfilling either.
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