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Rubin Reports

Hope and Change in Egypt; Naiveté and Wishful Thinking in the West

December 1st, 2011 - 5:22 pm

Much of the mass media seems to be saying, to paraphrase John Lennon and Yoko Ono, “All we are saying is give the Muslim Brotherhood a chance.”

There are three arguments supporting this policy that are worth discussing in large part because the Muslim Brotherhood’s advocates don’t have any others.

The first, which one hears everywhere, is that the Muslim Brotherhood is full of factions that are moderate and hip young people who want real democracy.  If this were true, it should be easy to prove. Here are some of the ways to do that:

Who are the leaders of these factions? What is their composition? Where have they put forward alternative positions? What posts do they hold in the movement? Was there a battle among factions on choosing the Brotherhood’s parliamentary or presidential candidates? How have they reinterpreted in a more liberal way Sharia law? Do their opponents in Egypt recognize the existence of these factions? Do those who defected from the Brotherhood say that the movement they formerly thought to be irredeemably radical  has changed?

At the same time, the Brotherhood’s leadership continues to come up, without contradiction in the ranks, with the most extreme, intolerant, and bloodthirsty positions. Even if it were to be established that other factions exist, one would have to show that these factions had some chance of directing policy.

And the young hip people in Turkey’s old fogey Islamist movement have now been running the country for almost a decade, carrying out the work of fundamental transformation in that once secular polity toward being an Islamist state. They are far from finished.

It used to be that public debates depended on the ability of those arguing for a given thesis to provide proof. Now they are conducted by one side simply censoring out the other. Apparently on the question of Muslim Brotherhood moderation, the science is settled.

Incidentally, in countering my view on this point, the BBC interviewer kept referring to a New Statesman article on the Brotherhood which he said showed the group was becoming moderate. Not to my surprise, the author was Fawaz Gerges, a propagandist for the Islamists who has done zero research on the subject.

A second argument, expressed, for example, by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is that we must “hope” for the best. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for the best but that’s not the most effective type of national strategy. In this case, “hope” means doing nothing, saying nothing, and thinking nothing. And we should also remember that hope in the Palestinian Authority’s moderation even as it forms a partnership with Hamas and refuses to negotiate with Israel.

So the problems with hope are: it can paralyze action including efforts to shape the situation; it comes too late, after the new dictators are already in power; and it quickly goes over into being wishful thinking.

It’s also nice if there’s some evidence for having a belief that things will turn out all right. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote that “hope is the thing with feathers.” So is cowardice.

Dickinson wrote of hope:

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land,/And on the strangest sea;/Yet, never, in extremity,/It asked a crumb of me.

Precisely, hope requires you to do nothing. No need for action, confrontation, responsibility, or risk. And some cannot distinguish between the call of that little bird and that of the Sirens, who lured the ships (of state?) onto the rocks where all aboard perished.

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