Thomas Friedman's 'Middle East Animal Kingdom' article in New York Times enrages Arabs, supporters of Palestine over 'racism'

Thomas Friedman's 'Middle East Animal Kingdom' article in New York Times enrages Arabs, supporters of Palestine over 'racism'
Thomas Friedman's controversial New York Times blog post likening the Middle East to an "animal kingdom", "jungle" sparks accusations of racism and Orientalism
3 min read
05 February, 2024
Want questionable takes on international affairs? Read Thomas Friedman's column, say critics [Getty]

Thomas Friedman has again caused outrage over a misconceived analogy in a blog post in the New York Times in which he compared the Middle East to the "animal kingdom" and "jungle", drawing accusations of racism and Orientalism. 

The short blog post, published on February 2, addressed the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza and US-Iran tensions.

Friedman, a NYT columnist who has regularly upset Middle East natives and experts for decades due to his often superficial takes on the region and justifications of US and Israeli war crimes, compared key players in the region to insects or animals, while the United States was compared to an 'old lion'.

He wrote: "Is there a better description of Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq today? They are the caterpillars. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the wasp. The Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas and Kataib Hezbollah are the eggs that hatch inside the host — Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq — and eat it from the inside out".

The coup de grace and arguably most offensive sentence in the article was Friedman's closing line: "Sometimes I contemplate the Middle East by watching CNN. Other times, I prefer Animal Planet".

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity, says Hanlon's razor. But most Middle East watchers and natives attributed this to Friedman's malice.

"In 1989, Edward Said warned us about the shallow, racist, and orientalist perspectives of Thomas Friedman," recalled Abdalhadi Alijla, an author from Gaza, on (formerly Twitter). "Said believed Friedman felt entitled and authorized to advocate for extreme measures in the region. Since I began reading articles and analyses in English, it has become evident that Friedman's perspectives are consistently proven wrong. His analyses are shallow, inaccurate, racist, and contradictory," he added.

"The Thomas Friedman article is the textual equivalent of the racist and dehumanising IDF propaganda on the right", wrote Marc Owen Jones on X (formerly Twitter), an expert on disinformation and media narratives.

"Has Thomas Friedman been sacked for this? As if. Will he be rewarded with a huge pay rise? Probably" wrote Chris Doyle, a British expert on the Arab world.

Friedman is no stranger to controversy. In 2020, he compared the UAE-Israel normalisation agreement to a soap opera, prompting a flood of criticism and mockery on social media.

Friedman is a long-time commentator if Middle East affairs, best known for his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, but has stoked controversy in the Middle East for many of his views, including the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.