A Lesson from Egypt for American Politics

A wise president puts into effect policies that work.

A smart president sees his policies aren’t working and changes them.

An Egyptian president says the Israelis ate my homework

This American president says that the Japanese earthquake ate my economy

--Barry Rubin, The Article You’re Reading Right Now

Recently, the Egyptian minister of agriculture blamed the fact that some exported food products were infected with bacteria and killed almost 50 European consumers on an Israeli plot. The deputy prime minister explained that Muslim-Christian strife in Egypt (i.e, Muslim extremists attacking Christians) is fomented by Israel. Internal conflict is generally blamed on the triumvirate of Israel, America, and Saudi Arabia.

But if the minister of agriculture spoke about bad quality control, perhaps the problem could be fixed. If the deputy prime minister criticized Islamic and Islamist incitement, the violence might be halted. No such luck.

Conspiracy theories and scapegoating are central to the Arabic-speaking world’s debates. But there are many lessons for the West from that malady. Unfortunately, the wrong lesson has been drawn: Let’s copy them!

Most obviously, dictatorial regimes use scapegoating to turn their people’s enmity toward others and create dependence on themselves. Radical movements also use scapegoating and conspiracy theories to muster mass support.

But there’s another important factor that gets less attention: If external saboteurs are responsible for a problem, nothing has to be done to fix it. In other words, all you have to do is wipe the offenders’ country off the map and the problem would go away. You don’t need to improve agricultural inspections or to teach Egyptian Muslims to respect Christians; you just have to make a speech denouncing the “real enemy.”

Twenty or thirty years ago, most would have said that this kind of behavior would go away as enlightenment and education spread. But it has gotten worse, spread more than ever to the West, and is now being extended by “education” in the form of school indoctrination.

Years ago, the literature on analyzing the problems of the modern Third World focused on development studies. The question was how a country needed to change in order to become advanced, democratic, and enjoy high living standards. Various specific remedies were prescribed: more education, import-substitution, fostering free enterprise, government-backed infrastructure projects, and so on. In short, action and changing attitudes were required to achieve success.

Then along came various Marxists, radical nationalists, and political con men (Barack Obama’s father was one of them) who argued that underdevelopment wasn’t a malady based on long history, social backwardness, and bad policies but rather was a crime perpetrated by the West. In this vision, what was needed was to confiscate domestic wealth from private hands and -- even more important -- battle the evil West’s exploitation. One solution was a form of global welfarism, endless payments from the West to make up for its imperialism. New crimes were also invented (global warming—whether or not that is a real phenomenon it is ridiculous to make it the basis for transfer payments) to demand reparations.

Literally millions of people have died or suffered because they were run over while going down this wrong road. Note that the countries that have done the best in recent years — India, China, South Korea, for example — threw this scapegoating notion into the garbage basket. Those that continue to whine rather than work to fix their problems are becoming basket cases

I’ve been told directly by an Arab friend who had been to China the following story that he claims is true:

Arab visitor: “How do you Chinese deal with the fact that you suffered so much from foreign invasion and imperialism?”

Chinese official: “We got over it.”

Israel’s Bureau of Statistics reported recently that Israeli cows produced an average of 10.2 kg. of milk in 2009, outperforming cows in the U.S. (9.3 kg. per cow), Japan (7.5), the EU (6.1) and Australia (5,6).

So the equivalent of what’s happening in the understanding of underdevelopment would be if the EU leaders complained that Israel and the United States were sabotaging their cows rather than deciding to study the methods used by these countries, improving their own practices, or even buying some of the — if you’ll excuse the expression — cash cows for themselves.

But there’s more: conspiracy theories have conquered large parts of the West in another way. The key word here is “racism,” though there are others like “Islamophobia.” Rather than analyze the actual cause of issues, these conspiracy theories are being tossed around.