Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Watching elephants write op-ed pieces

Don't look now, but Thomas Friedman has locked on a new idiotic metaphor. None of us can predict the title of his next book, but I'll bet a good bookie can give you decent odds on Watching Elephants Fly. Tell 'em I sent you.
Flying elephants--if he wore a mustache, wouldn't he look a little like--OMG!

Watching elephants fly is a trope for coming across a totally unexpected story (like, "Amazingly, it took more than six months!"). Friedman uses it in particular as a description of how he felt [jump]
coming across last spring's Egyptian Revolution (which he calls "uprising").
If you didn’t see it coming, what makes you think you know where it’s going? That’s why the smartest thing now is to just shut up and take notes.
If you do, the first thing you’ll write is that the Islamist parties — the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al Nour Party — just crushed the secular liberals, who actually sparked the rebellion here, in the free Egyptian parliamentary elections, winning some 65 percent of the seats.
Well, no, actually, you won't; that wouldn't really be shutting up. If you were really shutting up then your notes would say that, in preliminary results before the third round, the Freedom and Justice party, associated with the MB, won about 45% of the seats (constituting less than 40% of the vote), and is within sight of an absolute majority once the third round votes are tallied, while Al-Nour came in second with about 25%, with the other Salafist, liberal, and other parties trailing a long way behind. To say that the "Islamist parties" together "crushed the secular liberals" is to claim that you know something that in fact you do not know, namely that Freedom and Justice and Al-Nour constitute a coalition, which representatives of the Freedom and Justice party have consistently and convincingly denied.
Indeed, [party leader Esam el-Erian] seemed to regard the Salafis as unsophisticated upstarts compared with the 80-year-old Brotherhood. He sought to explain the Salafis’ popularity the way some liberal analysts have tried to explain movements like the Brotherhood — in terms of social class.
While the Egyptian elite was “divided,” Mr. Erian said, the Brotherhood — dominated by doctors, engineers and professionals preaching virtue and discipline — appealed to the upper-middle and lower-middle classes. The Salafis, he said, appealed to “the lower classes, the marginalized, the people who are always out of the scene.”
If the new government addressed the problem of poverty, Mr. Erian said, it could help diminish the Salafis’ appeal.
This isn't the first time I've raised this subject, but it's pretty important, especially when grand panjandrums like Friedman are so unable to grasp it. Muslim Brotherhood–type organizations, of which the Egyptian MB is itself the fons et origo, are not "Islamist parties", if that expression means anything at all; they are associations of religious Muslims banding together to do good works, as their Prophet has commanded.

If an MB-sponsored party wins an election, it is because the voters associate it with those good works--with services (including schools and clinics) that the "secular" governments fail to provide in any adequate degree; voters speculate that a government run by a Muslim party do the job better than the current government does, and on the whole it's hard to see why they should be wrong about that. As a matter of fact, you might say that they deserve to win the election.

The revolutionary "elite" is out there talking about newspapers and trials while the MB is talking about food and water and teachers and doctors. The brave and lovely youth of Tahrir Square deserved, no doubt, to win the Revolution, and they did, but if they want to win an election they will have to organize in the first place, and then show the people something.

Don't be afraid of the MB! Don't even be afraid of the Salafists! Let them creep under the tent walls and see what it's like inside, let them debate, let them contemplate the differences between life with and without the cash that comes from accepting the Camp David accords. To quote my beloved John Dewey, "The cure for the ailments of democracy is more democracy."

In fact, we ought to learn from them. Democrats have been letting voters down of late, laying off government workers and cutting back services, and people know that with a reasonably progressive tax system of the type we used to have it wouldn't be happening.  Of course they may not come out en masse to vote against us, they may as likely stay home ("Don't vote, they're all dickheads!"), but that's how the Republicans win!

Ted Lewis (1892-1971) was born Theodore Leopold Friedman--you don't suppose there's a connection?

This is really remarkably wacky.

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