Religious fanaticism in Egyptian and U.S. politics

The Muslim Brotherhood meets Mike Huckabee.

A day or so ago I saw the text of an interview with someone described as one of the “moderates” in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He mostly managed to sound fairly reasonable (with some ambiguity about the status of women), until the topic of Israel came up. There his position was clear: there should be one state encompassing Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, with the future of that state determined democratically.

In English, of course, that means that the Arab majority in that state would get to vote to drive the Jews out, just as Arabs have driven the Jews out of Syria, of Egypt, and of Iraq: all places where the Jewish population long pre-dated the arrival of the Arabs and existed continuously until the late 20th Century. (The Jewish community in Baghdad descended from th exiles brought to Babylon c. 600 B.C., or roughly thirteen centuries before the Arabs expanded from the Arabian Peninsula. Jews had been in Alexandria since Alexander’s time.)

So the “effectual truth,” as Machiavelli would say, of a democratic one-state solution is … ethnic cleansing.

Well, I said to myself, too bad. Let’s hope that the MB has less hold on the Egyptian electorate than it seemed to have as virtually the sole organized opposition to Mubarak. But we certainly can’t rule out the possibility that the current uprising will wind up delivering Egypt into the hands of a bunch of lunatic religious fanatics..

Then, a day later, I saw a story about Mike Huckabee’s latest speech, given in Israel. He said that Jews should be allowed to settle anywhere they want to in the West Bank, on the grounds that God gave them the land. If Palestinians want their own state, he says, it should be carved out of “the vast amount of territory that are in the hands of Muslims” outside Greater Israel.

In English, of course, that means that Israeli Jews get to expel Palestinian Arabs from anywhere the settlers want to squat, and that if the Arabs don’t like it they can leave.

In other words, the “effectual truth” of Huckabee’s position is … ethnic cleansing.

I have great respect for Mike Huckabee, though I disagree with him about almost anything. He’s no Sarah Palin. He’s badly educated, but as far as one can judge from a distance he’s extremely smart, maybe at the Obama level. Also like Obama, Huckabee is personally saner than the average Presidential aspirant. He has some humility, some irony, and a sense of humor, and lacks the outright meanness and delight in the suffering of others that characterize too many high-level politicians.

For all I know, that’s true of the Muslim Brotherhood guy, too. Either one might be fun to have dinner with (not, of course, the proverbial beer). But both are in the grip of religious/political ideologies that make otherwise decent people perfectly capable of advocating ethnic cleansing.

And Huckabee doesn’t have the excuse of coming from a part of the world where such things are considered normal.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

12 thoughts on “Religious fanaticism in Egyptian and U.S. politics”

  1. I would like to be on record as disputing the point about Huckabee’s sanity, intelligence, and lack of meanness.

    On another note, I would like to give voice to a very uncomfortable truth. The term “ethnic cleansing” is really insidious. It seems to me that if disappropriation and forcible relocation of a population is a moral wrong, and more often than not a crime, it may yet be justified if it created conditions that relieved endemic poverty, widespread suffering, and the constant threat of war in which many (hundreds of) thousands are not merely moved, but killed.

  2. “…that means that the Arab majority in that state would get to vote to drive the Jews out, just as Arabs have driven the Jews out of Syria, of Egypt, and of Iraq”.

    And just like the blacks of South Africa drove out all the whites after Apartheid ended. Just because you think all Arabs are a bunch of genocidal bastards doesn’t make it so or that the consequences of such will come to pass. I think we should not just conveniently forget that the Arab Egyptian Army is not firing on protesters, Arab Egyptians are spontaneously cooperating to protect neighborhoods from lawlessness and only recently witnessed thousands of Arabs band together to protect Coptic Christians from terrorists. But I guess this does not count for much.

    Can you please give the people of the Middle East, Jew and Arab alike some credit.

  3. . . . Now this is interesting. It’s amusing how otherwise reasonable people can turn into paranoid, tribalistic fear-mongers. But then, I’ve seen Alan Dershowitz, so it’s not so surprising.

    In English, of course, that means that the Arab majority in that state would get to vote to drive the Jews out, just as Arabs have driven the Jews out of Syria, of Egypt, and of Iraq: all places where the Jewish population long pre-dated the arrival of the Arabs and existed continuously until the late 20th Century.

    Yeah, how dare there be a country determined by democratic vote without regard for ethnic status! Honestly, did you even read this to yourself as you wrote it?

    I could also point out that the mass expulsions didn’t happen until after Israel carved themselves a little state out of Mandatory Palestine in the wake of a blatantly unfair division of it, in the name of establishing a state for a particular ethnic-religious group, after decades of in-migration into the middle of the native population in the hopes of turning it into the promised land for a particular ethnoreligious group – but I don’t believe tit-for-tat should be the rule in ethnic cleansing affairs, and the Arab states were just as wrong to target their Jewish populations as the Israelis were to expel theirs.

    So the “effectual truth,” as Machiavelli would say, of a democratic one-state solution is … ethnic cleansing.

    No, the effectual truth is apartheid, hopefully followed by civil rights and other protest movements, then a single state without ethnic favoritism. That’s the ideal, and assuming the Israelis don’t drive/expel/pressure most of the West Bank Palestinian population out, that’s what it will hopefully be. And that’s not a bad thing, anymore than it was a bad thing for apartheid-era South Africa to come to an end. You’re just blind to it because of your ethno-religious prejudice.

  4. The above Brett is, of course, not me. Anyway, it should be noted that the move that creates that Arab majority in “Israel” is the insistence on considering Israel together with large, populous territories outside it. Arabs are, in Israel, an enfranchised minority, and much more free in Israel than they are in the rest of the Middle east.

    And, Kork, maybe the blacks didn’t drive whites out of South Africa, but the problem you face is that the Arabs, (Muslims, specifically, though they happen to be Arab Muslims, the “Muslim” part is why they cared about the “Jew” part.) HAVE driven Jews out of the territories they control. To a large extent, Christians, too; I had neighbors back in Michigan who were Jordanian Christians who’d fled persecution, and they certainly were Arabs. So this isn’t a hypothetical, there’s real world evidence of it.

    The other Brett seems determined to ignore this, too.

    Now, I don’t think Israel should expel Palestinians from the East bank and Gaza, to be resettled elsewhere. OTOH, if the rest of the Middle east weren’t so, shall we say, unfond of Palestinians, they might permit them to voluntarily relocate, rather than keeping them trapped in what were to be temporary refugee camps. But keeping them trapped there does serve a purpose, for countries which really don’t like Israel, and which don’t want to have to enter again into open warfare with that country in order to inflict pain on it. The problems of the Palestinians in Gaza aren’t just the result of Israeli decisions, you know.

    But Huckabee? Meh, can’t stand the guy.

  5. On the other hand, the current policies of the Israeli government seem destined to result in a unitary state including the Israel, the West Bank and possibly Gaza; it is nice to see Yisrael Beiteinu and the Muslim Brotherhood making common cause.

  6. agree with the above: your presumption that there will be ethnic cleansing of jews by arabs is nothing but a guess. Since the Israeli government has done its best to annihilate the palestinians, your guess may be right, and one wouldn’t be too surprised if the Palestinians chose to respond in kind. But it’s ridiculous of you to suggest they would do it on ethnic grounds, rather than simply taking some payback for their decades of suffering.

  7. The comparisons with South Africa are not apposite. The Freedom Charter of the African National Congress begins by stating “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white” and calls for the equality of all national groups in the country. The Palestinian National Charter of 1968 begins by declaring “Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people“, denies that Jews have any historical or religious ties with the area, and denies that there is any such thing as Jewish nationality.

    I would add that

    (a) The record of Jews being able to live in countries outside the Middle East without being arbitrarily kicked out is, ahem, not exactly spotless. Indeed, as I understand it, many Arabs see Zionism as an enterprise where Europeans imposed a Jewish homeland on Arab territory in order to spare themselves living alongside Jews in Europe.

    (b) Lebanon is not doing very well at creating a country where Sunni Muslims, Shi‘ite Muslims, and Christians live together peacefully. Based on that data point, I am not very optimistic about how a Jewish minority would fare in an officially-multireligious Palestine.

  8. Mark, in the case of Huckabee I think that you’re making the mistake of assuming that somebody is a decent person just because they’re not actually foaming at the mouth, or shrieking ‘KIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLL!’ on TV.

    Here’s something from Salon, courtesy of Mahablog:

    ‘Huckabee: Egypt protests “threaten the world”‘

    “[T]he events of the past few days in Egypt have created a very tenuous situation, not just for Egypt, not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world, and the destabilization of that nation has the potential of cascading across the globe.”

    ‘According to another Israeli newspaper, Huckabee also told the Knesset, “the situation could threaten the world and all those who seek peace and security.”‘

    In the end, Huckabee is just as hard-core rightwing on foreign policy as the most ‘kill them all and call it democracy’ neo-con.

  9. Religion is an amphetamine for the psychopathological…

    Yes Mark you are on the mark:
    Fundamentally all fundamentalists are the same.
    And there is no creature on Earth, more vile, dangerous, or out of balance, than a armed human being following God’s orders.

    Fortunately for the Cosmos, Einstein’s speed limit prevents their diaspora beyond our solar system.
    Unfortunately for mankind, we’ve got a planet full of these monsters.

  10. At this point, I’m afraid that ethnic cleansing is the only possible solution to this situation. The history of antagonistic ethnic groups managing to come together and build a functional nation is pretty slim. India might be an example, but they had a couple of centuries of occupation by the British to forge an identity of Not-British that they could unify under. Africa has been an ethnic disaster. The Chinese population in SE Asia is an uneasy minority. Belgium isn’t looking so hot. Sri Lanka, anyone? Canada seems to be the shining beacon of hope, for what that’s worth.

    Ethnic cleansing is ugly and evil, but it works. Kosovo is much healthier with most of the Serbs having decamped. Most people aren’t aware of it, but one of the elements of the postwar stability in Europe is that the late 1940s saw perhaps the largest exercise in ethnic cleansing ever. Germans, probably around 8 million of them, were ejected from all of the states of eastern Europe, including the large swathes of Poland that were annexed.

    The hatred in the Middle East has reached the point that I don’t think cohabitation will ever be possible. The current Israeli government seems determined to ensure it. I have a sick feeling that the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will be the home of one ethnic group, and one ethnic group only. That’s what Middle East peace is going to look like.

  11. While I’m not as familiar with the history of India as I’d like to be, my recollection is that the history I was taught said the Indian sub-continent was a real mess following partition. The matter is still unsettled, because Kashmir is a point of contention between India and Pakistan. There was also the Pakistan-Bangladesh problem too.

    So I don’t see India as any sort of shining example of post-ethnic unity, either.

  12. “But both are in the grip of religious/political ideologies”

    How do square the circle of religious dogma here, if you are willing (as you always talk about) to be tolerant of religion? The bottom line is that both sides have their holy books telling them that God has told them to engage in that ethnic cleansing. You can squirm a bit and try to talk about interpretations and different times and such like, but this is one where the dogmatists are not lying. They have literal words telling them what to do, and to refuse to take them at face value is to deny that very tolerance of religion, to tell them they are wrong and that you have a better view of what God wants than that they do.

    Now my squaring the circle is, of course, simple — I regard both sides, and all religions, as nutcases undeserving of any respect. But you don’t want to go there, you want to accept that these people are entitled to believe in what they think God has told them, and that the rest of us owe that belief respect.
    I’m not trying to be pissy here, I’m being deadly serious — having constructed your own personal trilemma of theodicy, how do you imagine it can be solved?

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