Times: “Activists marching under the banner of Islam are on the verge … of achieving decisive power across the region”

If you had any doubts that we live in a full-blown Orwellian world, the lead story in today’s New York Times, “Activists in Arab World Vie to Define Islamic State,” should have dispelled them. The Times simply announces, as an established, non-controversial fact, that the democratic revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and other Muslim countries are leading to Islamist (i.e., Islamic) rule, and that the only remaining controversy is not between Islamism and secular democracy, but between different varieties of Islamism. Last winter, the Times and the entire liberal West sang a swelling song of thanks and praise for “freedom” and “democracy” in North Africa, while Islam-critical websites such as VFR kept warning that democratic elections in Muslim countries would automatically mean Islamic rule and the end of any Western notions of democracy. The Islam critics were of course ignored, and the freedom song continued. Now “freedom” has turned out to mean Islam (translation: submission) and the Times accepts and puts its seal on the new reality without a momentary shiver of embarrassment.

In this we see the Orwellian essence of modern liberalism, how liberals move in a radical direction, say, toward Pig Dictatorship (see Orwell’s Animal Farm), while putting a moderate, reassuring face on it, “All animals are equal.” And when the time comes to take off the mask and reveal the radicalism and tyranny that have been the true and fated destination of the exercise all along, there is no shock, there is no admission of a lie, there is no admission of a mistake. No. There is just a bland, “That’s the way it is, folks. Some animals are more equal than others.” And this reversal of all previous assurances is accepted by everyone without dissent or protest. Liberalism doesn’t just produce radicalism and tyranny; it produces mass mindlessness—the death of reason.

From the article:

By force of this year’s Arab revolts and revolutions, activists marching under the banner of Islam are on the verge of a reckoning decades in the making: the prospect of achieving decisive power across the region has unleashed an unprecedented debate over the character of the emerging political orders they are helping to build.

Few question the coming electoral success of religious activists, but as they emerge from the shadows of a long, sometimes bloody struggle with authoritarian and ostensibly secular governments, they are confronting newly urgent questions about how to apply Islamic precepts to more open societies with very concrete needs….

The debates are deep enough that many in the region believe that the most important struggles may no longer occur between Islamists and secularists, but rather among the Islamists themselves, pitting the more puritanical against the more liberal.

“That’s the struggle of the future,” said Azzam Tamimi, a scholar and the author of a biography of a Tunisian Islamist, Rachid Ghannouchi, whose party, Ennahda, is expected to dominate elections next month to choose an assembly to draft a constitution. “The real struggle of the future will be about who is capable of fulfilling the desires of a devout public. It’s going to be about who is Islamist and who is more Islamist, rather than about the secularists and the Islamists.”

- end of initial entry -

Jim Kalb writes:

That’s really bizarre.From what you say it sounds as though there hasn’t been significant editorializing or punditry in the paper about the post-revolutionary direction of events?

LA replies:

I don’t have links at hand, but I know that they initially trumpeted the liberation of secular democratic forces in Tunisia and Egypt and of course Libya, and largely ignored or played down the Islamist angle. Then as the months passed there were more admissions that things were or might be moving in an Islamist direction. And now there’s this flat statement, “It’s Islamism, baby,” as though they had never said the opposite.

Ken Hechtman writes:

Anthony Shadid is one of the people I listen to. If he says this is happening, I guess it is. Last winter I expected then Arab secular left to be better organized and better prepared for the transition. They’re clearly not. I was wrong about that.

If you want a ray of hope, it’s this: the best argument against Islamic law is the experience of it. Every population that’s welcomed Islamists as liberators has very quickly turned on them. I don’t expect Egypt and Tunisia to be different. They might elect the Muslim Brotherhood but they won’t re-elect them.

Do you happen to remember whose byline was on the Times stories of last winter. There are three guys at the Times I trust, Anthony Shadid, Dexter Filkins, and Ed Wong. They’re not perfect but they’re right a lot more often than they’re wrong.

If I may indulge in some big picture speculation, this might be the beginning of the end of the Unholy Alliance. [LA replies: I gather Mr. Hechtman means the Alliance of Islam and the Left.] We had a good run for ten years but our differences are starting to matter more than our common interests. A few years ago a Muslim Brotherhood friend warned me this would happen. She used an odd metaphor for a Muslim Brotherhood type and so it always stuck with me. She said “We’re not married here. We’re just dating. At some point we’re going to go our separate ways.”

Dimitri K. writes:

I read the article and I have a slightly different opinion from yours. There is no contradiction. The Times is openly sympathetic to Islamic rule, and does not try to hide it. I would even say that they advertise the Turkish model as the example for us, though not saying it openly. I don’t know why people still think that Times is promoting liberal values. Actually, the name “liberal” is misleading. They are no more liberals than Arab revolutionaries; they need freedom from current rules only to change those rules and impose new non-liberal order.

LA replies:

Dimitri said: “There is no contradiction. The Times is openly sympathetic to Islamic rule, and does not try to hide it.”

Ok, I’ve done a bit of searching at VFR and found a few relevant items. From what I’ve found so far, I’d say it’s a mixed picture. On one hand, The Times has steadily tried to present a positive picture of the Muslim Brotherhood, which would back up Dimitri’s point. On the other hand, The Times has presented the MB as pro-democracy and not “really” Islamist, which would back up my point.

For example, here is the beginning of a VFR entry from last February 11:

The true gen on the Egyptian Brotherhood

Are you interested in learning what the Muslim Brotherhood really stands for and what it really seeks? Yesterday’s New York Times has just the thing for you, an op-ed column by a member of the guiding council of the Muslim Brotherhood, Essam el-Errian, entitled “What the Muslim Brothers Want.” At lunch with a friend, I saw the piece and eagerly read it aloud, hungry for true knowledge about the Brothers from an authoritative source. El-Errian proceeded to inform us that the Brotherhood wants “liberation and democracy,” “reform and progress,” “gradual reform,” “advocating for the disenfranchised classes,” “reform and rights for all: not just for the Muslim Brotherhood, not just for Muslims, but for all Egyptians,” “liberty,” “immediate reform,” “the granting of freedoms to all and the transition toward democracy,” “steady, gradual reform,” and “a new beginning rooted in justice and progress.”

El-Errian furthermore assured us that “We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.”

George W. Bush will be so happy! He’s been proved right. True Islam is compatible with democracy, just as he said.

The entire column consisted of nothing but such blandly empty and blatantly false words. It contained no reference to the Brotherhood’s actual Islamic agenda to destroy all human government and create a worldwide Islamic state under the rule of Allah. You might have thought that the Times’ editors would have told el-Errian that in order for them to publish the piece, it had to contain at least some hint, some tiny tidbit, of true information about the Brotherhood’s real doctrines and goals, otherwise it would seem like nothing but the rankest propaganda, no one would believe it, the Brotherhood would be exposed as obvious liars, and the Times’ own credibility would be damaged. But no. The Times shamelessly published the below piece, which could be fairly described as taqiyya with pedal to the metal.

[End of Feb. 11 excerpt]

Now, from February 18 at VFR, here is an excerpt from an article by Andrew Bostom at American Thinker about what the Muslim Brotherhood really stands for and how the U.S. media including the Times presents their beliefs:

Nearly a decade later, Esposito’s distorted, malignant assessment of Qaradawi has become standard fare regurgitated by both the mainstream media and the next generation of Esposito-like pseudo-academics these journalists seek out for comment. Witness the New York Times coverage of Qaradawi’s Tahrir Square oration. Consistent with the unchallenged Esposito-indoctrinated narrative, we are told that the cleric’s speech, ” … struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching.” This assertion is followed by a reiteration that “scholars”—doubtless, of Esposito’s ilk—” … who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy.”

And now, from March 4, here is an entry that

(a) quotes the Washington Post saying that the Obama administration was

preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region’s politics;

(b) quotes David Brooks in the Times writing:

[I]t seems clear that many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them…. underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people.

And (c) quotes Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post writing:

Now that revolutions are sweeping the Middle East and everyone is a convert to George W. Bush’s freedom agenda…

So we have a mixture of left-liberals presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as believers in liberal democracy and pluralism, and of neocons declaring that the Mideast revolutions in general were leading to liberal democracy and pluralism. Even if The Times was sympathetic to Islamic rule, it was presenting Islamic rule as being in conformity with liberal values. So Dimitri’s statement that The Times (at least earlier in 2011) was being openly sympathetic to the imposition of non-liberal values on Muslim countries is incorrect, at least according to the materials I have found. Perhaps there are other Times articles from the same period that back up Dimitri’s description.

October 1

John Dempsey writes:

Here’s how a well-read, leftist correspondent recently summed up his position on the matter of the “Arab spring”:

“You know how I feel about the majority of Arab rebels these days. I think they are mostly democrats and I’m not as concerned as you are about a few supposed transient Qaeda freedom fighters or a constitution that gives a shout out to Sharia law.”

So he denies that the majority of the rebels are dominant Islamists. He even denies that al Qaeda are Islamist revolutionaries. Then he goes on to deny that the institution of Sharia law is even worthy of our concern.

In other words, reality doesn’t matter. Not even to someone who is a highly-educated historian.

LA replies:

Notice how “Qaeda freedom fighters” become “a few supposed transient Qaeda freedom fighters.” How does he know that they’re “supposed”? How does he know that they’re “transient”? He doesn’t know this. But with those adjectives he makes reality go away. The same with his describing a constitution that makes sharia the supreme authority of the country as a mere “shout out” to sharia. How does he know that it’s a mere “shout out” and not what it says it is—the institution of Islamic law as the supreme law of the land? He doesn’t know this. He just asserts it, as though it were already known to be the case, and so not open to further discussion.

LA to Jim Kalb:
Do my replies to you and to Dimitri satisfactorily answer your question?

Jim Kalb replies:

From the stuff you’ve posted, it looks like the Times, in line with their general approach to things, has been persistently and somewhat mindlessly optimistic as to likely developments and the people involved. I don’t know if I’d call that Orwellian exactly. It does lead to distortion and incoherence when they report events, all in defense of a dominant party and its ideology. So the effect is rather similar.

What I’d say is that they are acting like secular journalists who are Conscious Of Their Responsibility. People in that position have to make instant sense of every possible event among every kind of people everywhere in the world, otherwise they couldn’t put out the morning edition, and they have to do so in a way that gives practical guidance to decisionmakers.

To do that they need a story line that applies automatically to everything. Once they have the story line they’re going to resist changing it, because then their world would fall into chaos, and this world during their lifetime is all that exists for them. In addition, they’d be unable to perform their function of providing a usable account of events for officials, concerned citizens, people who want to be part of what’s happening, etc.

The story line is that contemporary liberalism, which is the view that motivates and justifies the dominant tendencies in present-day government and intellectual life, fully realizes what’s right and just and fulfilling. That makes it the natural way to look at things. It’s not that hard a problem, so on general everybody’s going to settle into it as the way to go. Anything else would be weird, and you shouldn’t assume weirdness, so events should be interpreted as part of that process.

Views like Islam are also attempts to realize what’s right and just and fulfilling. It follows that Islam’s most intelligent, insightful, disinterested, and committed adherents are going to realize that their tradition is really just a particular way of approximating contemporary liberalism, so there’s no conflict. Ditto for the masses of Muslims. They can’t have a special ideological ax to grind, because they’re the masses and ideology is something for special interests, so they’re just trying to pursue in their own way the normal human goals fully realized in liberalism. There’s no way to keep the fundamental identity between Islam and liberalism a secret, since we have TV, Internet, etc. Now, so in the coming years people are going to realize it more and more.

Responsible journalists should do what they can to forward the process. They should encourage change, since change is generally for the better, be open to Muslims and Muslim views, since at bottom we all end up in the same place and openness makes the progression easier, and above all fight prejudice and misunderstanding, the view that the Other is other in the extraordinarily radical sense that he’s not at bottom a contemporary liberal. Because if that were so he wouldn’t be a human being at all, since contemporary liberalism is the true and perfect and obvious expression of humanity. That would be crazy and irrational. It’s the sort of thing Republicans and conservative Christians think. It would mean that Auschwitz or something like it is a good idea. Why do you think the Times should push such a view?

LA replies:

Since, as you put it, liberals must always be positive about Islam, under your analysis there cannot be that dramatic Orwellian reversal I spoke of, in which the liberals announce, “It’s not secular democracy and pluralism, it’s Islamism. It’s ALWAYS been Islamism!”

Unless … unless they can paint Islamism AS secular democracy and pluralism, or at least as substantially in tune with secular democracy and pluralism. And that in effect is what they are doing in this article.

Which is even more Orwellian than I had imagined …

LA continues:

It’s as though, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, instead of making peace with Eurasia and declaring war on Eastasia and announcing, “We are at war with Eastasia, we’ve ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia,” the government announced, “Eurasia IS Eastasia, Eurasia has ALWAYS been Eastasia.”

Jim Kalb replies:

Well, democracy and pluralism haven’t been perfectly realized anywhere. Norway has Breivik, we have the Republicans and Christian fundies, the Arabs have their equivalents to contend with. It’s all a process. The fact Iran turned out as it did doesn’t mean we should have kept supporting the Shah. There’s always a new generation coming up and if you’re progressive you have faith in the future.

LA replies:

You make it all sound so reasonable.

Tim W. writes:

Isn’t this just the 2011 version of the left’s political cover for Communism during the Cold War? Whenever a Communist movement was attempting to seize power somewhere, the left would assure us it wasn’t really Communist. Oh, there may be a few Communists here and there, but Mao or Castro or Ho are really just agrarian reformers with a broad coalition seeking to remove the oppressive status quo, unify the nation, or whatever. Once the movement took power and proved indeed to be Communist, liberals never apologized for their “error.” They just matter-of-factly reported the triumph and called upon the West to accept the Communist victory and get over our inordinate fear of Communism.

Now that Islam is the major international threat, the left provides cover for Islamists when they’re seeking power and then calls upon us to accept it once they win. If Eskimos started crashing planes into skyscrapers, fomenting revolutions, and seizing power in various nations, the left would coin the word “Eskimophobia” and begin providing political cover for their activities. It’s just what leftists do.

Aditya B. writes:

Mr. Dempsey’s leftist correspondent wrote:

“You know how I feel about the majority of Arab rebels these days. I think they are mostly democrats and I’m not as concerned as you are about a few supposed transient Qaeda freedom fighters or a constitution that gives a shout out to Sharia law.”

Calling the broken device that conceived this thought a “mind” is being too charitable.

The utter poverty of their thought and their shameless flippancy is disgusting.

These people live in a large, prosperous nation, protected by two oceans and the most awesome war-machine ever known, and therefore don’t trouble themselves to learn about the world outside their comfortable little bubble. In their parochialism they blindly and blithely assume that things like “democracy” and “freedom” mean the same thing to Muslims that they do to a white Westerner.

“Democracy” is the one-way ticket to impose Sharia. “Freedom” is the freedom to kick dhimmis around.

I don’t think that liberals are being Orwellian. I think it’s much worse. I think that a vast majority of the West doesn’t appreciate how hard their ancestors had to struggle in order to create the Western world. They assume that “democracy” is like a McDonald’s; same happy, crappy meal world-wide! They further fail to grasp the Muslim mentality with its single-minded focus on “honor” and “shame” which is nothing more than an obsession with naked power.

I don’t know if such people can ever be educated. They are so close-minded and so comfortable in their cocoon, that all our efforts are persuasion will yield only yawns and guffaws.

October 2

Robert B. writes:

I just read your exchange with James Kalb—great stuff. I hope you and he continue to engage one another like this. Genuinely top notch.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 30, 2011 04:50 PM | Send

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