David Brooks, highly paid columnist for the New York Times and defender of Applebee’s salad bars everywhere, has diagnosed the problem with Egypt, and surprise, it turns out to be that the country is full of Egyptians. Egyptians who “lack even the basic mental ingredients” (actual quote!) to manage a transition to democracy, according to David Brooks. Brooks argues that your feelings on Egypt boil down to whether you are silly enough to care about the “process,” you know, respecting elections and all that hippy crap, or if you’re a serious thinker like David who cares about the “substance,” which apparently means that if the people
we non-whites in other countries elect engage in some shady business, then bring on the junta. Except, as Max Read points out, respect for the process, when we’re talking about creating a democracy, is actually pretty substantive, you know?
The whole thing boils down to “Egyptians are too dumb to handle democracy, so let’s be happy they’ve switched from the authoritarians who don’t like us to the ones who do.” It’s racist garbage, from the guy who brought you “Haiti is suffering miserably because voodoo,” and unsurprisingly, Brooks is talking out of his ass when it comes to his analysis of Middle East politics and the supposed inability of “Islamist” governments to actually govern:
So he’s saying, then, that Islamists govern as if they were biologically inferior. And his evidence for this?
It has become clear–in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and elsewhere–that radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government…. We’ve seen that in Algeria, Iran, Palestine and Egypt: real-world, practical ineptitude that leads to the implosion of the governing apparatus.
Now, citing Egypt here is a logical cheat: You can’t really argue, “Of course it’s no surprise that Islamists governed poorly in Egypt–look what happened in Egypt!”
Likewise, it’s hardly fair to cite the example of Palestine, a country under foreign military control, half of which is governed by an unelected (and un-Islamist) government, and the other half subjected to a crippling economic blockade. (Though Hamas actually has a reputation for being very good at delivering social services–L.A. Times, 3/2/06.)Algeria is a very strange example to cite of how Islamist governments are always bad, since Algeria has never had an Islamist government. The army canceled elections in 1992 when it looked like the Islamic Salvation Front was going to win, leading to a bloody civil war.
So Brooks is really citing Turkey and Iran as his evidence that Islamist parties always and everywhere are bad news, and therefore the Egyptian coup was justified. But how much are even these two examples worth, really? In a piece strongly critical of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly centralized rule, the Economist (6/8/13) also had plenty to say about his administration’s successes:
In the past ten years, GDP per person has risen by 43 percent in real terms, exports have increased nearly tenfold and foreign direct investment has leaped. Turkey is now the world’s 17th biggest economy.
Turkey’s robust banks are the envy of their beleaguered Western peers. Although income inequality is worryingly wide, wealth that was once concentrated in the hands of the Istanbul-based elite has spread to the Anatolian hinterland, leading to the rise of a new class of pious and innovative entrepreneurs who are powering growth. Hundreds of new hospitals, roads and schools have dramatically improved the lives of the poor.
That doesn’t really sound like government by the congenitally incompetent, does it?
Iran’s Islamist government has been the focus of a Two-Minute Hate that’s been going on now for 34 years, so it’s harder to find a kind word for it. But Iran’s Human Development Index in 1980, a year after the mullahs took over, was 0.443, well below the world average of 0.561; today it’s 0.742, well above the average of 0.641 and comparable to a developed nation’s stats.
ThinkProgress’ Zack Beauchamp offered something of a defense of Brooks’ column:
That David Brooks column you all hate really isn’t that bad.
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) July 5, 2013
which, you know, isn’t totally wrong. If you remove the thick crust of racial slur from around the rest of the column, what’s left isn’t all that outrageous (or, for that matter, particularly new or interesting, considering it’s coming from a guy who’s paid quite handsomely to pretend to be a public intellectual): yes Morsi and the MB won an election, but they were clearly moving in the direction of taking down the democratic institutions that had put them in power, so there wasn’t much hope of removing them from power short of something like a popular uprising leading to a military overthrow. But saying that Brooks’ column was OK if you ignore all the racism is like saying that Sammy Sosa was a good ballplayer if you ignore all the cheating. For one thing, how do you separate one from the other and, for another, even if you could separate them I’m still not really sure that’s an accurate statement.
Not wanting to be out-bigoted by Brooks, the Wall Street Journal is now openly rooting for the country to be taken over by a military dictator with an urge to make folks disappear:
Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy. If General Sisi merely tries to restore the old Mubarak order, he will eventually suffer Mr. Morsi’s fate.
Yes, my word, what a stroke of luck that would be. Say, just for a larf, I wonder if you took the Chilean population in, say, 1980, calculated the percentage of that population that Pinochet murdered (anywhere from 1500-20,000, but we’ll go with estimates of 3000 and 10,000), and then applied that percentage to a population the size of modern Egypt, what kind of numbers would you be talking about? Why, it turns out that, if Egypt hits the jackpot, they’re looking at anywhere from 22,000 to 75,000 dead lucky duckies! Thanks, Wall Street Journal!