Commentary Magazine


Kristof’s Dinner With Islamists

The New York Times has a long history of publishing disingenuous articles and columns that whitewashed totalitarians and tyrants. It’s not easy to top Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning lies about Stalin and the terror famine in the Ukraine which took the lives of millions; Herbert Matthews’s portrayal of Fidel Castro as a democrat freedom-fighter; or, more recently, Roger Cohen’s attempt to depict the Islamist regime in Iran as unthreatening philo-Semites who were not oppressing that country’s tiny Jewish remnant. And it must be said that as bad as it was, Nicholas Kristof’s column today depicting members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as just an updated Middle Eastern version of “Ozzie and Harriet,” falls short of those epic frauds.

But we can’t say that Kristof isn’t trying hard to equal their feats of dishonesty. His column, an unabashed effort to depict the Islamist group that gave birth to Hamas as liberal, open-minded peace-loving people who just want democracy and prosperity for Egypt is very much in the Times tradition of trying to convince Americans there was no need to worry about totalitarian movements. Its lack of context and truth about the openly-stated intentions of a movement that has been the inspiration for a generation of Islamic terror is disturbing.

According to Kristof’s hosts, the Brotherhood is a feminist, democratic and non-violent movement that wouldn’t think of imposing its views on its fellow citizens or breaking the peace treaty with Israel. Like the Russian communists depicted by Duranty and the Cubans Mathews wrote about, they see themselves as revolutionaries in the tradition of George Washington, not the Ayatollah Khomeini. The entire history of the Muslim Brotherhood is steeped in rejection of Western-style democracy, yet a commitment to an ideological and religious war on the West goes unmentioned in Kristof’s column. So, too, does its equally strong tradition in promoting the vilest anti-Semitism and exporting it to the rest of the globe.

Kristof listens and transcribes meekly when his Brotherhood hosts tell him with a straight face all they care about is jobs. He takes their vague promises of good behavior at face value and concludes by actually comparing their Islamist resurgence in Egypt and their struggle to power to the travails of the early American republic after the Battle of Yorktown. But in order to believe that you have to discard every available piece of evidence about Brotherhood beliefs and actions in the last 30 years, because they helped inspire the assassination of Anwar Sadat for the sin of making peace with Israel.

But to Kristof, as with other Western pilgrims who sit at the feet or at the dinner table with such people, the goal is not to enlighten his readers about the true nature of his hosts. One senses that even in this absurd column Kristof knows he’s being played for a sucker. But he doesn’t care, because his objective isn’t so much to make us like the Brotherhood as it is to cause us to ignore it. As he writes, “A bit of nervousness is fine, but let’s not overdo the hand-wringing — or lose perspective.”

In fact, perspective is the one thing he wishes Americans to avoid when thinking about the Muslim Brotherhood. Like Duranty, Matthews and Cohen, Kristof wants us to pretend that its rise is not a clear and present threat to the stability and peace of the Middle East, because to do so is to recognize the inevitability of conflict. In fact, it is no more democratic than the Islamists thugs who now rule in Iran, something that is motivating the Egyptian Army to stay involved in the country’s government lest they find themselves living in a new Islamic republic.

Americans should be good and scared about the most populous Arab country falling under the sway of a violent and extreme movement that is ideologically committed to struggle against the West. They should also worry about the willingness of what remains one of our leading newspapers to print the sort of dishonest journalism Kristof has produced from Egypt.