Since Wednesday, I've been expecting the Times to publish a letter (or two) objecting to the tack Thomas Friedman took in his column, "Iran Arrests Grandma"($) :
Yes, big, tough President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the man who shows us how tough he is by declaring the Holocaust a myth -- had his goons arrest Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old scholar, grandmother and dual Iranian-U.S. citizen, while she was visiting her 93-year-old mother in Tehran. Do you know how paranoid you have to be to think that a 67-year-old grandmother visiting her 93-year-old mother can bring down your regime? Now that is insecure.
Now, you don't have to be Judge Judy to see the holes in this argument. Friedman doesn't really think "67-year-old grandmother" is synonymous with "feeble, harmless old lady." (Golda Meir? Indira Gandhi? Aung San Suu Kyi? He also knows he couldn't use "67-year-old grandfather" that way, to imply "harmless, powerless husk." (Not so long ago, Saddam Hussein was a 67-year-old grandfather.)
So what's with the poor-old-granny rhetoric? (He used the word "grandmother" five times in the column, not counting the headline.) Is the language there to taunt Iran, to fire up American sentiment, or just for "human interest"?
Whatever Friedman's end, readers apparently don't have a problem with his means. I've seen only one blog comment pointing out the illogic of the little-old-granny argument.
Did other readers think that a bit of sexism and ageism in defense of liberty was no vice? Or that the whole grandma angle was just too lame to deserve comment?
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.