Sunday, December 11, 2011

Muslim traditional values voters?

Nicholas Kristof in today's Times, on the success of the Islamist parties in the Egyptian elections, brings up a supremely important point that we Americans seem utterly unaware of: a big part of the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups is in the way they provide real political value to the public long before they even consider getting elected:
[their] offices are social service agencies. Citizens dropped in to ask for blankets for the winter, and the party handed them out — along with campaign brochures. Several people asked for help paying medical bills, and they got it. In the evening, women arrived to take a free class about science.
But then he misinterprets his observations in a way that makes them less useful: 

People don’t vote for Islamic parties because they seek Saudi- or Iranian-style religious repression. Rather, they vote for Islamic parties for the same reason Germans support Christian Democrats or Southerners favor conservative Christians: pious candidates are perceived as reflecting traditional values.
Wrong! Across the ummah from Morocco to Mindanao, Islamist organizations gain political support for reasons precisely opposite to those of the southern Christianists. It is because they do what governments are supposed to do: supplying affordable education and medical care, and helping people cope with poverty, injustice, and environmental stress. It's what the governments themselves generally fail to do in the postcolonial states, and you don't need to bring in piety to understand why the voters, if they get a chance to, approve of it. Kristof's own contacts confirm it:

“The other parties, we just don’t see them,” said Samah Abdulkarim, a 25-year-old teacher who said she is supporting the Salafis. “Or, if we do see them, it’s only during the election season.”

I asked her if the Salafi parties would curb female professionals like herself, and she looked puzzled. No, she said, Salafis are good for women because they help needy women....

“The price of sugar, the price of rice — that’s what voters care about [said another]. If Islamists can deliver on that, they’ll succeed. If not, they’ll be voted out in the next election. We’re not going to end up like Somalia.”

This is why Hamas won the catastrophic 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, not because the people hate peace but because the sclerotic Fatah was doing so little for them, and the Hamas missionaries did a lot. As for the Germans, when they are voting Christian Democrat they may be feeling pious, but they do it only because they know that the CDU/CSU would never be "conservative" enough to threaten the socialism that guarantees the German good life. Indeed, even the British Tories usually know better than to do that, though the current crop may be greedy and foolish enough.

I still love this song, even though the Tories did win.

And what's the matter with Kansas? And Arkansas and Texas and Louisiana and Mississippi and so on? It's weird, isn't it, to think of the Muslim Brotherhood as having anything to teach the Democrats. Maybe we could just learn it from Huey Long?

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