In the lap-top of the gods 4

Our view of the upheaval in Egypt, how the new technologies of personal communication have played a vital part in its causes as well as its spontaneous organization, is endorsed by Victor Davis Hanson, who writes in a must-read article at PajamasMedia:

So what’s the matter with Egypt? The same thing that is the matter with most of the modern Middle East: in the post-industrial world, its hundreds of millions now are vicariously exposed to the affluence and freedom of the West via satellite television, cell phones, the Internet, DVDs, and social networks.

And they become angry that, in contrast to what they see and hear from abroad, their own lives are unusually miserable in the most elemental sense. Of course … their corrupt government is in some part a reification of themselves, who in their daily lives see the world in terms of gender apartheid, tribalism, religious intolerance, conspiracies, fundamentalism, and statism that are incompatible with a modern, successful, capitalist democracy.

Instant global communications have brought the reality home to the miserable of the Middle East in a way state-run newspapers and state-censored television never could even had they wished.

In reaction, amid this volatile new communications revolution, the Saddams, the Mubaraks, the Saudi royals, the North African strongmen, and all the other “kings” and “fathers” and “leaders” found an effective enough antidote: The Jews were behind all sorts of plots to emasculate Arab Muslims. And the United States and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain were stealing precious resources that robbed proud Middle Easterners of their heritage and future. Better yet, there was always a Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, or, for the more high-brow, a Jimmy Carter to offer a useful exegesis of American conspiracy, oil-mongery, or Zionist infiltration into the West Wing that “proved” Middle East misery was most certainly not self-induced. … The more we promised to pressure Israel, the more we could ignore the misery of Cairo, and the more a thieving Mubarak could perpetuate it.

He concludes for the moment as we do, though with slightly less optimism:

Watch it play out with encouragement for those who oppose both Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood — hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

Even if the Egyptian revolution is aborted now, how long will the despots be able to resist the transformative power of the new technologies?

It’s in the lap-top of the gods, so to speak.

Hanson does not believe, any more than we do, that if America “lets” Mubarak go, an Islamic fanatic will take his place as happened in Iran when Jimmy Carter abandoned the Shah and welcomed the Ayatollah Khomeini – with what appalling results to this day we know all too well.  True, the dangerous Muslim Brotherhood strains to take power in Egypt, but has no Khomeini-like figure ready to implement instant oppression. Besides which, the causes in Egypt are different. The world has moved on since the Iranian revolution.

It is this new world which is making the prison-walls of the Arab states crack and crumble.

It may burst the Islamic theocracies too.

It may render all religion obsolete.

  • C. Gee

    There has been a lot of hand-wringing over at the Spectator (UK) blogosphere at what the West (the USA) should do in the Egyptian uprising: support strongmen who can give “stability”, but oppress the people, or allow self-determination (elections), even if that means Islam or some other form of despotism. This is a perfect exhibition of the thinking that makes USA foreign policy a tool of the despots.

    Why is the USA not in there with its own stooges, putting a face on and shaping the uprising and giving content to the cries for “freedom”. Why has it not found pro-American, pro-capitalist, secular men and women to lead a true opposition to tyranny? Why is it sitting back waiting for a Nobel peace prize-winner or Islamists to claim leadership of what is now an amorphous protest against the old regime? Soon enough, the uprising will be given direction. Anti-American socialist secular forces will interpret “freedom” to mean equality and state control of the economy: an Arab Chavez will emerge. Nationalist forces – army preferred – will interpret “freedom” as more frequent managed elections: another Nasser/Mubarak. Islamic forces will interpret “freedom” as freedom from the infidel and colonialist culture (including the human and civil rights culture). Are these ideas of “freedom” to be recognized as legitimate expressions of a nation’s “self-determination”? Are their exponents to be recognized as legitimate leaders? The USA will be back supporting a strongman ally, or “reaching out” to, or warring with a strongman enemy.

    At some point, the West has to accept that foreign policy has nothing to with leftist promotion of “self-determination” but everything to do with promoting liberal democratic politics. It should be acknowledged that it is the West (more specifically the Anglophone world) that has discovered and implemented universally applicable principles of good governance: limited, elected government, individual freedoms (civil rights) protected by law, equal administration of the law. Meaningful freedom is possible only under good governance. The foreign policy of the USA should be guided by the promotion of good governance, and interference is the only means by which to do it: covert, overt, by muscle or bribery (as circumstances dictate) and always by cultural imperialism (Coca-cola, laptops and free speech). If strongmen are to be persuaded to liberalize, if the world’s nasties are to be cleared up, it will take direct pressure by an America fully convinced of its superiority, its determined championship of the right. No more pretense at the equal validity of tribalism, tyranny, kleptocracy, theocracy, one-party rule, or any other horrible arrangement of national self-determination.

    In short, a coherent foreign policy is possible only when the post-national leftist ideologues shut up. Welcome back, neo-cons.

  • Frank

    The Atheist Conservative article “For Better of for Worse” contained the following link:

    Here’s an excerpt from the article with some polling data of Egyptian citizens,

    “According to a recent Pew poll, they are extremely radical even in comparison to Jordan or Lebanon. When asked whether they preferred “Islamists” or “modernizers,” the score was 59% to 27% in favor of the Islamists. In addition, 20 percent said they liked al-Qaeda; 30 percent, Hezbollah; 49 percent, Hamas. And this was at a time that their government daily propagandized against these groups.

    How about religious views? Egyptian Muslims said the following: 82 percent want adulterers punished with stoning; 77 percent want robbers to be whipped and have their hands amputated; 84 percent favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.”

    Given these poll results do you really think they will form a freedom loving democratic government? Say hello to Iran_2.

    • Jillian Becker

      Frank – how likely is it that Egyptians tell the truth to pollsters?

  • Ralph

    When I was as nine or ten years old a protestant minister told me ” the truth shall make you free”. When I was nineteen or twenty years old I realized Christianity wasn’t the truth. We didn’t have the internet, but we had books and were capable of independent thought. A new generation has the power of global exchange of information and free thought over the internet that I didn’t have when I was young. I hope they use this power wisely.