“Our tragedy is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it… the basest of all things is to be afraid.” – William Faulkner
The radical Right appears to be in concert about how they see the events in the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East unfolding. Cal Thomas’ recent column appears to be the latest attempt by ultra-conservatives to dispel any happy outcomes, short of 100% American-style democracies, as repressed Muslims under autocratic rulers push to oust those dictators that have tortured dissenters and tucked huge amounts of their national treasury into personnel Swiss bank accounts for decades.
Mr. Thomas would have us believe that there are no similarities between the Egyptian uprising and the American colonial revolts. I’ve heard this from several on the right myself in blog exchanges. It dawned on me eventually that if most Americans take this view to heart then how can the Right establish their talking point about what we are really seeing is a Muslim movement to overthrow freedom loving people everywhere?
Let’s see – oppressed people, outraged over control of their rights to assemble peaceably to protest actions of an autocratic ruler and to have some control over their economic well-being. How are these two facts not a part of both Egypt today and the British colonials in early America?
Then again, the super-patriots that listen to the likes of Cal Thomas, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin have an anti-intellectual bias toward people whose knowledge of real American history is not appreciated. Their understanding of the American Revolution and the era that followed it eliminates all those sensitive issues like how only white male property owners could vote, that some founding fathers were not Christians and the war fought by many to sustain the institution of slavery.
The differences that Cal alludes to between Egypt and America are of course cultural ones that he tries to portray as the more significant factor that we should be very concerned about. For Cal and the Right, white Anglo men fighting for their freedom and “endowed by their creator” are somehow greater than the olive-skinned, 3rd world types that crowded Tahrir Square in Cairo and other major cities in Egypt. Egyptian freedom fighters are instead viewed by the Right to have similarities between them and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and those jihadist cave dwellers in the Tora Bora Mountain Range.
This Big Lie that continues to grow every time there is some little shake-up in the middle east furthers what Islamophobists like Glenn Beck portrays as a Muslim restoration of an old caliphate that once controlled a large portion of the Middle East, Africa and even a part of Western Europe back in the 13th century.
Keeping this image before the American public’s consciousness allows the Right to obsess over Islamic sleeper cells waiting in the ready for the call from the Master Imam to overthrow our democracy. And so it naturally follows that they would make foreboding claims about the outcome as Arab dictatorships fall, leaving these countries open to terrorists control. Warning us about the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to inject itself in to any newly formed Egyptian government has to be perpetuated in this dark form.
“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Naturally the traditional animosity that exists between Jews and most Muslims is a legitimate concern for everyone but the fact that Egypt has co-existed with the state of Israel for thirty something years will weigh-in as a stabilizing factor, provided the West gets fully involved to the extent it legally can and enable this democratic uprising to find form in stable institutions that help implement representative government. The totalitarian states that are crumbling under these people-protests have been self-serving and it will take a concerted efforts by established democratic institutions to enable a successful transition from oligarch rule to one that represents broad views of the people.
Despite Cal Thomas’ suggestions to the contrary, most young Egyptians today have no real connection for organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood that first came into existence long before they were born. The factors that effected the political unrest a few short weeks ago were not jihadist extremism or even religious in nature. The 40% of young males unemployed in Egypt were the force behind a revolution that not only sought to get rid of the corrupt Mubarak regime but wanted jobs and affordable food for their families. They were not part of a conspiracy to re-instate some ancient caliphate that Glenn Beck is hysterically promulgating on his FOX broadcast.
It is not remarkable that a 2009 Pew World poll Cal Thomas uses to support his jihadist phobia shows that “64 percent of Egyptians view the Muslim Brotherhood positively, while only 16 percent have negative views. Sixty-nine percent think the Brotherhood favors democracy. Just 22 percent say the members are too extreme and not really democratic.” What does he expect in a land where their autocratic ruler, Mubarak, has aligned himself with Western interests who traditionally side with a common adversary – Israel, and who have a military presence in close proximity to them?
It would be like asking Americans to disregard their fear of Castro’s intentions when he was providing land bases for Soviet missals back in 1962. Or if China established ties with Canada and built military bases along our shared border. To act shocked that Egyptians would find some affinity for a group who shares their fears and suspicions is amateurish of one trying to convince us he has better insights into the complexities of the recent developments in the Middle East.
“I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master.” Thomas Jefferson
Does Mr. Thomas really expect so-called American patriots to seriously side with an autocratic ruler who tortures his people to keep them in check just because it serves our self-interests? Could any “freedom-loving” American really associate himself with the thought of spreading freedom if we only reserve it for people who really, really like us? Do many people still feel it’s America’s job to use it’s military might to insure that democracy occurs in cultures so different from our own? The answer might be yes to all three of these by those who have locked into their overwhelming fear of the Islamic religion.
The real kicker here is Cal’s attempt to show a connection between the religion of the Egyptian people and a negative influence on any potential government that may form. To Mr. Thomas, the fear that people would allow their religious beliefs to influence their leaders seems threatening. He cites the Pew poll again where “48 percent of Egyptians say that Islam plays a large role in politics in Egypt and 85 percent say Islam’s influence in politics is positive.” But using numbers like this doesn’t necessarily mean what Cal would have you think it means. Americans too have an attachment to their religion and how it is aligns with their votes.
A recent Gallup poll showed some 58% of Americans were satisfied with the influence of religion here and as many wanted more to influence this nation as those who wanted less, 29%, while 39% wanting to keep it where we are now; with nearly 80% of Americans classifying themselves as Christians. It should be noted the 29% for “more influence” is a 5% increase from the previous year and the 29% for “less influence” is a decrease from a year ago. Clearly religion is woven into the political fabric of these countries as it is with most. To feign shock and dismay about this fact is to simply be naive and out of touch with reality.
“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” – John Steinbeck
What is it really that seems to bother the right if Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and other Arab countries overthrow their dictatorial regimes and form a government similar to western style democracies; democracies that may not be pro-American but become dedicated anyway to stabilizing relations with the West and our ally Israel? Could it be that their fear and dread is that they will lose that element of control that comes from creating bogey men they use in a timely manner at elections to impact the outcomes in their favor?
When the Berlin wall fell and “godless communism” was no longer viewed as the menace it had been, the ultra conservative, religious right in this country lost it’s ability to manipulate many voters to elect people of their ilk who they assured would protect everyone from this menace. That “power” was regained after 9/11 and has been exploited with as much, if not more vigor than the anti-communist scare ever was. The Red scare has been replaced with the Dread scare of Islamophobia and the notion that all Muslims are out to take our freedoms by force.
“Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self-interest.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
It’s not that democratic revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other places scare the Right as much as it is the concept of democracies period. The Right’s dread of democracies is spelled out in Walter Williams’ column today who sees them as products of rabble-rousers and need to be eschewed. Rule by the majority is feared over the rule of smaller groups elected to represent the larger population – the Republican form of government. It should be understood democracies are the fore-bearers of Republics and democratic principles are the mainstay of representative government.
But they are both of the same cloth and to denigrate one over the other is to drag both down into the ideological abyss of extremists on both sides. Decrying democracies because they are perceived as a threat to stability is a petty argument that works more to demean the word Democrat over the word Republican. It plays into the political divisiveness of politics today as does the fear-mongering by right-wing extremists to keep Islam represented as the evil du jour so ultra-conservatives pundits and politicians can work the crowds to their advantage
In the eyes of many on the Right, unless these Muslim efforts to democratize their politics promote only American capitalist self-interests, then all else is “socialism” and jihadist terrorists spreading ancient caliphates to control the world. The tool of pre-emption that the Bush/Cheney gang used in Iraq remains a tool of first resort for these people because if any Arab democracies form that don’t allow the U.S. corporate/military complex to expand at will, then wealthy christian interests will be stifled. And THAT would be the biggest fear for Cal Thomas and his band of righteous marauders.