Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thomas Friedman: Wrong Again: Misreading the Egyptian Elections & Failing to Heed the Lessons of Turkey, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Politics of Islamism

Also see my earlier post on Friedman and the Times here

By Barry Rubin 
Professor: [As the Martian ambassador starts disintegrating congressmen with his ray gun]: “Mr. Ambassador, please! What are you doing? This doesn’t make sense! It’s not logical! It’s not !” – Mars Attacks
It is distasteful when Western intellectuals, politicians, and journalists who pride themselves on their enlightened, humanitarian views watch people abroad fall subject to ruthless forces of dictatorship and dogma. When these same people actually cheer the new tyrannies, put their arms around the shoulders of those who despise them, and tell everyone else that there’s nothing to worry about, that’s actively disgusting.
Many in the West have so acted toward Egypt during the last year. They have  previously done so toward the Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. Perhaps no one has touted these ideas and policies more loudly and enthusiastically than Thomas Friedman has been one of them but In doing so, of course, he has echoed U.S. government policy.
Now, Friedman goes all-out to explain that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t radical, isn’t a threat, in fact is a good thing, and will only become even more moderate once it is in power.
In a column called “Watching Elephants Fly” — obviously a reference to seeing something impossible happen — Friedman writes,
Here is what was so striking: virtually all the women we interviewed after the voting — all of whom were veiled, some with only slits for their eyes — said that they had voted for either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists. But almost none said they had voted that way for religious reasons.
Many said they voted for Islamists because they were neighbors, people they knew, while secular liberal candidates had never once visited. Some illiterate elderly women confided that they could not read the ballot and just voted where their kids told them to. But practically all of them said they had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafist candidates because they expected them to deliver better, more honest government — not more mosques or liquor bans.
My reaction is, “So what?” They voted for an authoritarian, Sharia regime (and let’s remember a hardline interpretation of Sharia, not the interpretation of Sharia offered by New York Timesreporters). That’s what’s important. People also had diverse reasons for supporting Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. Indeed, they always voted for such regimes because “they expected them to deliver better, more honest government.” Hasn’t Friedman ever heard that Mussolini made the trains run on time, Hitler built the autobahns, and the Communists promised to give land to the peasants?

But there’s  even more irony here. These women are already living lives governed by Sharia and, as traditionalists, are happy (and told to be happy) with that situation. Thus, they have ample reason for supporting Islamists. There is nothing surprising in their political behavior, except to people like Friedman who predicted last year they would back liberal, Westernized Facebook kids.

Once again, Friedman shows a striking inability to think logically. If women were voting on the basis of family orders — I’d bet on the husbands and fathers rather than the children so instructing them — how can he then say that they voted because of specific personal motives or (after reporting they were told what to do!) claim that their vote is a sign of freedom?

Why are all their neighbors Islamists? Because there are so few secular liberals they’ve never actually met one. A large portion of the voters for non-Islamist parties were Christians, who they’d never socialize with. And their Brotherhood and Salafist neighbors want an Islamist dictator?
As for “more mosques” being the supposed Islamist demand that they “reject” it shows ignorance on the author’s part. Egypt has plenty of mosques and the Brotherhood and Salafists don’t make mosque-building a top priority. The question is what will be taught in those mosques and how it will direct society.

Why is Friedman dishonest? Because if he claimed that these women weren’t interested in enforcing an “Islamic” lifestyle or destroying Israel or spreading Islamism elsewhere or enforcing on all Egyptian women the dress code they follow, then readers would see through such an argument and view it as ridiculous. So he must create silly demands for the Islamists so he can claim that the people don’t want those things.

The same point applies on the supposed disinterest in bans on liquor sales. How many of these people have ever seen a liquor store? There are already proportionately few in Egypt and they cater overwhelmingly to Christians and tourists. Such a ban would not affect their lives but would make them feel that Egypt was a moral, Islamically correct county.

Again, these are trivial issues. We can all think of far more serious ones that the Islamists and their supporters do focus on.

An aspect of Friedman’s work that makes it so popular is that he constantly invents simple new theories and catch phrases to explain Middle East politics. After reading his column it is possible to believe that one has easily achieved understanding of the region. Of course, the reason that he must come up with so many theories is that they almost always fail.
Now he has a new, materialistic explanation for why Islamists will become moderate: they need the money. He cites how Egyptian Islamists have issued conflicting statements about allowing tourists to have alcohol and bikinis as proving that they must make lots of accommodations with reality. No oil money, you see.

But I heard similar things about Iran in the late 1970s — they’ll have to be moderate because they need to sell the oil — and about Yasir Arafat at the start of the peace process in the early 1980s — he’ll have to be moderate because the Palestinians he rules will demand garbage collection and decent schools. One might just as well have posited that the Turkish government would never turn against Israel because Israeli tourists brought in so much money.

Read the continuation here

1 comment:

George Jochnowitz said...

A great many columnists are wiseguys. They feel that is part of their job. Part of Friedman's problem is his need to sound funny.
Furthermore, the New York Times has consistently supported the position that it is always wrong for a Jew to do anything that might support Jewish people somewhere in the world. This was glaringly the case during World War II.
Friedman cannot say anything critical of Islam because it might help Israel, a Jewish (shudder) state.