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Kristof’s Islamists and Our Hobgoblins

Last week, I wrote about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s astonishing whitewash of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in which he allowed members of the Islamist party that is on the threshold of taking power to portray themselves as innocent moderates. In Kristof’s version of reality, the Brotherhood, which is the home office of Islamism in the Arab world, is democratic, feminist and non-violent and would never dream of imposing its fundamentalist vision of society on Egypt or anywhere else. Kristof’s effort to make us think the Brotherhood is no threat to secular Egyptians, let alone Israel or the West, was in the New York Times’ tradition of Walter Duranty’s lies about Stalin, Herbert Matthews’ glorification of Fidel Castro and Roger Cohen’s apologia for Iran’s ayatollahs.

But Kristof wasn’t satisfied with merely one column about his dinner with Islamists. During the weekend, he came for seconds, this time to allow members of the Salafis–an even more extreme Islamist party than the Muslim Brotherhood–to also paint themselves as “moderates.” It was much the same as his first column, with the Times writer again concluding that we have nothing to fear and should place our trust in the wisdom of Egyptian voters who have given these two Islamist factions an overwhelming majority in parliament. But this says much more about the unwillingness of Kristof to confront the reality of Islamism than it does about his subjects.

One has to give credit to some of the Islamic activists who Kristof interviewed. They flawlessly played the famous journalist for a sucker. According to his account, the Salafis, whose extremism may scare even the Brotherhood, are harmless seekers of social justice who oppose corruption and don’t wish to break the peace with Israel, let alone infringe on the human and religious rights of Egyptians who don’t share their fervent brand of religion. As Kristof would have it, their talk of an Islamic state or the adoption of sharia or Muslim religious law by the state is no different from the appearance of the phrase “In God We Trust” on American coins. Tell that to the people of Gaza who live under the rule of the Brotherhood’s Hamas protégés.

But you don’t have to have won two Pulitzer Prizes, as Kristof has done, to know this is closer to satire than hard-nosed reporting. These Muslim parties have never made any secret of their intentions of creating an Islamist state. Nor is there a mystery about their attitudes toward Coptic Christians in Egypt, against whom they have inspired pogroms or Israel or Jews, who have been the object of anti-Semitic rabble-rousing by the Islamists in just the last month. At a Brotherhood rally in Cairo, speakers vowed to “kill all the Jews.”

For Kristof, this is nothing to get too worked up about. After all, he argues, Western fears about Arab nationalists in the 1950s and 1960s and Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser “proved overblown, and I think the same is true of anxieties about Islamic parties in Egypt today.”

In fact, fears about Nasser were not “overblown.” Nasser fomented wars throughout the Middle East, and his aggression set in motion the events that led to both the 1956 war between Israel and Egypt as well as the Six-Day War. If his nationalists did not succeed in making good on Nasser’s vow to destroy Israel or to create a pan-Arab state that would take control of the region, monopolize its resources and rout the West, it was not for lack of trying. His incompetence and the fractious, corrupt nature of the Egypt he ruled led to disaster.

By contrast, the Islamists who Kristof believes are just as harmless as Nasser have every intention of learning from his mistakes. Our fears, and those of Egypt’s religious minorities and its Israeli neighbors, is not the product of, as Kristof condescendingly insists, “our own mental hobgoblins,” but are the reasonable conclusions drawn by anyone who isn’t deaf, dumb or blind to what the Brotherhood, the Salafis and Hamas have been telling us about their plans for decades.

Sounding strangely like the most hopeful of neoconservatives, Kristof tell us to merely trust in the power of democracy to moderate these extremists. Though I believe democracy is the only answer for every country, regardless of their culture, it is simply untrue to claim, as he does, that “democracy is a step forward even when voters disappoint us.” Democracy is only a step forward when democrats are elected. When elections produce tyrants and totalitarians, as they have in Egypt and as they once did in Germany, the inevitable result is sorrow.



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