Friday, July 5, 2013

Brooks: Mental equipment

David Brooks writes:
The debate on Egypt—I mean the debate in Washington, obviously, not anything they're talking about in Egypt, which could hardly be of an intellectual heft to interest my readers—is essentially between two different worldviews: those who believe in constitutional government and those who hate Muslims.
Constitutionalists say the main thing is that there is a constitution and that there has been an election* and that the government has the support of the people, as has been confirmed over and over.** Democratic institutions and the rule of law are tender plants that need loving care, indirect sunlight. Give them too much coup*** and they could drown.
*Although in point of fact the election (May 2012 for Parliament, June for the presidency) wasn't under the constitution (the following December).
**A poll last March found 82% in favor of the return of the military to power!
*** [sic]. Brooks seems to have decided that coup is a mass noun: "those who would destroy them through armed coup".
"O my brother! How are the poll numbers?"

Radical as the Muslim Brotherhood is, they argue, the realities of having to govern are certain to tame them; nothing concentrates the mind as well as trying to collect taxes from people in veils. Once they start campaigning for the next round, they're bound to start paying more attention to what the voters want, like naming post offices and killing health insurance legislation.
Muslim-haters, on the other hand, claim that the members of the Muslim Brotherhood reject democracy along with freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and war on Iran. From their standpoint, the Brothers are just too crazy to be permitted to have any power; they have to be kept out, whatever it takes.
The latter clearly have it right,  insofar as we've learned over the past few months that the radical Muslims of Iran****, Turkey*****, and Gaza******just can't run a government. They have a weird apocalyptic******* ideology, and worship death. "Dying for God is sublime," they ululate, a sentiment that sounds pretty wacky to Christians steeped in the rational and well-behaved history of their own faith. Imagine a bunch of death-cultists filling potholes or inspecting imported meat! These handsome but unstable, fatalistic desert warriors in their white robes and camel saddles, addressing each other as "O brothers" and keeping their women locked in their tents, are incapable of getting anything done under the assumption that Allah will provide and if not it is Kismet.
They may have the commitment and the determination, but they just haven't got the mental equipment. They will inevitably go for big government programs, undisciplined schools, and a misunderstanding of the role of religion in political thinking, as established by Augustine in his struggle against the Donatists. 
The Obama administration, naturally, has handled the whole thing pretty badly. I can't imagine why Ambassador Anne Patterson hasn't been ruder to President Morsi; I mean, I know I'm always telling people to be civil but you know I mean to people who practice more decorous religions. Her courtesy has just made Egyptians mad at her which in turn makes the United States look bad.
Actually, the US can't do anything at all about Egypt, though I'll certainly give them lots of advice on how to do it. The only real leverage point is at the level of ideas, and the benighted Egyptians can't absorb any: mental equipment matters, you know. 
***Survived since 1979.

****Prime minister in office since 2003. I'm not saying I'd be voting for him, but he has certainly been able to run a government.
Erdoğan has been widely considered to be one of the most influential Turkish leaders of the Republican era since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Under his premiership, the country continued to grow economically and consolidate its position as a regional power with global ambitions. (Wikipedia)
******In power since 2006 under concentration-camp conditions imposed by Israel.
In January and February 2011, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) conducted an assessment of the effects of the measures to ease the access restrictions.[39] They concluded that they did not result in a significant improvement in people’s livelihoods.[39] They found that the "pivotal nature of the remaining restrictions" and the effects of three years of strict blockade prevented a significant improvement in livelihoods and called on Israel to fully abolish the blockade including removing restrictions on the import of construction materials and the exports of goods, and to lift the general ban on the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank via Israel in order to comply with what they described as international humanitarian and human rights law obligations.[39] (Wikipedia)
*******Refers to some Shiites, who have no influence in Turkey, Gaza, or Egypt. They are associated with former president Ahmadinejad, now powerless and never as powerful as he wanted people to think.
Fanatics. Note how they're so absorbed in their devotions they don't even notice that there are some women in the group. (Or maybe they're not actually fanatics, Brooksy.) CBC.
Note: It's always something of an embarrassment when Brooks takes a position that seems superficially not so different from one's own. I do sort of agree that "we" should "accept" the "coup" in Egypt, though more on the grounds that Carlyle had for agreeing that Margaret Fuller was right to accept the universe: "Gad!" he said, "She'd better!"

My mistake, as I've tried to suggest elsewhere, and the Egyptian army's, was to suppose that the Revolution was over already and the Morsi constitution would serve. Brooks's mistake is well summarized by Atrios:
Update: In Brooks's list of countries proving that Islamist governments cannot govern I omitted Algeria, which would have been the funniest of all, since it has never had anything remotely like one: the army moved before the Islamists won the election. H/t Jim Naureckas at FAIR. 

No comments:

Post a Comment