Thomas Lauren Friedman, Meet Barack Hussein Obama

Friedman on Iran and transliteration

From Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column this morning:

Barack Hussein Obama would present another challenge for Iran’s mullahs. Their whole rationale for being is that they are resisting a hegemonic American power that wants to keep everyone down. Suddenly, next week, Iranians may look up and see that the country their leaders call “The Great Satan” has just elected “a guy whose middle name is the central figure in Shiite Islam — Hussein — and whose last name — Obama — when transliterated into Farsi, means ‘He is with us,’ ” said Sadjadpour.

Even for a man who has made a lucrative career out of oversimplification, this is a pretty asinine statement, better suited for a Coca-Cola commercial than the NYT’s op-ed section. Barack Obama’s familiar-sounding name will compel Iranians to abandon their concerns over American hegemony, like lazy children following the Pied Piper? “He is with us” will make Iranians forget that the United States currently occupies the border states of Iraq and Afghanistan, with not-very-subtle designs on Iran? By that logic, if America elected a president named Santa Claus, Iranians would stop worrying about an impending invasion and start waiting for gaily wrapped gifts to be airdropped from a rocket-fueled sleigh. By that logic, the election of Charles Taylor as president of Liberia should have compelled Americans to fundamentally reassess their opinions of and relationship with the continent of Africa. By that logic, every time I read a column by Thomas Lauren Friedman, I should feel extremely confused about gender roles.

Certainly one hopes that Iranian citizens start putting pressure on their ruling mullahs. But it is grossly optimistic to think that this pressure will stem from the pronunciation of Obama’s last and middle names.

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.