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The little-old-lady defense

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  June 2, 2007 10:12 PM

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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?

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