If we have learned anything from the war on terror, it’s that individual Middle eastern taxi, livery, and car service drivers have no special insight into world affairs. Someone on the web has kept track of how often Tom Friedman used that kind of anecdotal evidence to characterize the opinions and feelings of the entire Middle East. Now it’s time for Richard Cohen, liberal pundit of the Washington Post. He writes:
In the end, the photos taken at Abu Ghraib produced an explosion of
outrage. When I visited Jordan in 2005, my driver — Bassam was his
name — brought it up himself. Just as the military’s interrogators
knew the intense shame Muslim men feel when stripped naked and viewed
by women, or when forced to wear women’s underwear on their heads, so
did Bassam deeply feel that shame himself. "We are Muslims," he said.
No offense to Bassam, but what makes Cohen think this guy represents anything more than his own view? There is little question, by the way, that Cohen is right–he’s just not right on account of the testimony of this or of every conveyance driver he meets.
One thought on “Taxi driver”
There is a danger of reading too much into anecdotes, especially when you consider how much of a globetrotter Friedman has become. But anecdotes can be an effective ways to bring up issues…good opening paragraphs at the very least. Sometimes columnists can be observers, and they are merely reporting observations by bystanders they found interesting. The problem is with overuse of the first person is “This random person confirms an idea that I had”…. instead of “I’ve interviewed four different people, and they seem to be concerned about…” They don’t have to check to see whether this feeling is common to more than one person.
An example of a columnist who used this device effectively (and I would argue–not fallaciously) is Mike Royko.
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