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Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood & Oyster Stew

February 6th, 2011 - 9:55 am

What do you think of these headlines from today’s news?:

If you’re Bruce Riedel, special contributor to the Daily Beast, Brookings Institution intellectual, and advisor to the Obama administration, you think it is just dandy: “Don’t Fear Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood” was the title and the substance of his piece in the Beast. “Many scholars,” Mr. Riedel assures us (but without naming names), believe that “the Brotherhood is the most reasonable face of Islamic politics in the Arab world today.”

I remember that old post-Leibnizian gag: An optimist is someone who believes this is the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist is someone who fears he is right.

History has its caesurae, blessed longueurs when not much happens. This is not one of them. In the Middle East, and perhaps elsewhere, too, it is one of those “interesting times” the Chinese are said to have wished upon their enemies. Over at NRO, David-Pryce Jones draws on an arresting phrase from Karl Marx to describe the situation:

There are moments in history when things could turn out in more ways than one, and the decisions of a very few people, perhaps just a king or a president or a revolutionary, settle the fate of millions for years to come. Karl Marx came up with the phrase “a plastic hour” for this uncomfortable moment when history hangs in the balance. We have a plastic hour right now in the Middle East.

Indeed. What should we hope for? In a word, stability, which is English for “Hosni Mubarak.” As I write, Egypt seems to be listing toward normalcy. The fly in the ointment was buzzing around those headlines I quoted: it’s called the Muslim Brotherhood.

Brief refresher course.  Bruce Riedel tells us that the Brotherhood long ago “renounced” violence.  Andy McCarthy has demonstrated how skeptical one must be about that claim. And even Mr. Riedel can’t bring himself to argue that the Ikhwan (Arabic for “brothers”) has renounced its charter:

Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!

Got it? While the Obama administration oscillates wildly in its posture toward Mubarak, “progressive” pundits assure their readers that those demonstrations in Egypt presage the dawn of freedom, democracy, and (in John Bolton’s ironical formulation) a new “Age of Aquarius.”

Which brings me to one of the most sobering comments I’ve yet read on the “plastic hour” in Egypt.

It is a letter written by the Canadian journalist Salim Mansur to Clarie Berlinski at Ricochet.com (but hat tip to Instapundit, where I found this link). Mansur, who had sent Ms Berlinski his latest column on Egypt, expressed his extreme distress at “the crew in Washington, and in most European capitals. Media is so corrupted by left-leaning thinking,” Mr. Mansur telegraphed, that

there is not much of an analysis to be expected in the media that is now competing with facebook, twitters, etc. The dumbing down of thinking is itself a huge problem the West is facing now as it tries pathetically to undertstand/explain politics and history of other cultures when it no longer has faith in its own civilizational values.  …

I am more convinced now, as I wasn’t when Paul Kennedy wrote about the rise and fall of great powers, that the West has gone over the tipping point in its terminal decline. That intelligent people, or people who claim to be intelligent, (I have in mind the talking heads in the U.S. media such as Chris Matthews or Fareed Zakaria) cannot make the difference between the sham of the Muslim Brotherhood talking about freedom and democracy and the generic thirst in man to be free. These are the people who have like the Bourbons learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They are glibly about to put the Lenins of our time into trains heading for Moscows of our time, they find nothing odd that they are pushing for the Muslim Brotherhood to be taken into governing when everything needs to be done to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out even as one carefully negotiate the long historic transition of Arab societies from tribal autocracy and military dictatorships to representative rule and constitutionally limited government.

The emphasis is mine. Western cheerleaders for the “Arab street” in Egypt remind me of Lewis Carroll’s great work of political philosophy, “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach . . .

You know what happens: “. . . young Oysters hurried up, /
All eager for the treat: / Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, / Their shoes were clean and neat.”

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more–
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row. . . .

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.

Alas, it was ever thus.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

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