- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

If you’re surprised that the first translation of Thomas L. Friedman’s best-selling book “The World Is Flat” is in Arabic, don’t be. The New York Times columnist has a wide circle of Arab admirers, which explains why Middle Eastern diplomats were effusive with praise at the Jordanian Embassy on Monday night as they gathered to meet the author, whose book makes the case that global trade and the Internet-driven communications boom of the past decade has not only revolutionized international business but crushed cultural barriers as well.

“He gives us hope that there’s now a great advantage for smaller countries,” said the host, Jordanian Ambassador

Karim Kawar, who first met and befriended Mr. Friedman after he published “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” a previous work that posits globalization as the major world force since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Between signings, Mr. Friedman noted that he was “just thrilled” to hear that of the 27 foreign editions of his book, “the first one sold was the Arab edition.” In the Arab world, he added, “there’s been more curiosity than controversy” over his writings, which in the past have defended the American invasion of Iraq.

The 150 guests included Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, Sen. Ted Stevens, Surgeon General Richard Carmona, Polish Ambassador Janusz Reiter, Omani Ambassador Hunaina Sultan Ahmed Al-Mughairy, District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, former protocol chief Selwa S. “Lucky” Roosevelt, Esther Coopersmith and newsman Chris Matthews (who called Mr. Friedman “brilliant”).

It was clear from the start that certain guests were attending despite strong policy differences with the guest of honor.

“Even though I might not see eye to eye [with him], as a diplomat, I’m known to be intolerably tolerant. I enjoy his articles,” Palestinian National Authority Representative Afif Safieh said.

“He’s one of the few columnists in this town who are objective,” Mr. Jackson added later. “That’s all we ask. That’s all the president asks.”

Mr. Friedman wrapped up the evening by revealing that he has identified another global trend: “a huge undertow of anxiety about education.

Wherever he goes around the world, “everyone’s talking about education, and everyone’s thinking they’re behind,” he told the crowd before explaining that the concept for “The World Is Flat” occurred to him while he was shooting a Discovery Channel documentary on outsourcing in Bangalore, India.

“While I’d been off covering the 9/11 wars, something had been happening, and I’d completely missed it,” Mr. Friedman said, noting that the idea struck him most palpably when an Indian entrepreneur in Bangalore told him that “the global economic playing field is being leveled.” The new transnational interconnectivity, in other words, is allowing once-marginalized countries to compete; geography is becoming nearly irrelevant.

Mr. Friedman clearly is still excited by his revelation that an entrepreneur in Bangalore may have as good a shot at success as one in Baltimore. “We’re going from a vertical world to a horizontal world,” he said. “This is the mother of all transitions.”

Christina Ianzito

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