Protesters against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo on July 3, 2013. (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
I’ve been tougher on David Brooks than most, stretching back years—decades—so I was glad to see the great Amy Davidson of The New Yorker call a spud a spud, labeling Brooks’ now infamous column at The New York Times about (inherently) mentally weak Egyptians “disgraceful.” He had opened the column suggesting that Islamists lacked the brain power to provide any “substance” there but ended up tagging Egyptians as a whole with that slur.
Of course, he fully backed the coup. Just one bit from Davidson:
Maybe Brooks didn’t mean it the way it sounds—the way it is written, in plain language. The echo here is less Kipling than it is Al Campanis, who in 1987 said that blacks in baseball didn’t have the “necessities” for managerial jobs. What Brooks can’t claim is that it’s unfair to take his words amiss. Those two sentences are unsalvageable, and if they don’t convey what Brooks believes then he should take them back and apologize.
If you’ve seen an apology—or any sort of explanation from Brooks—let me know. I think his next column is due tonight so we’ll see if he reacts there. I could fill a few pages with negative commentary from across the web but let’s look at the larger issue.
Admittedly, it’s been hard from the start to issue a firm opinion on the coup in Egypt, as principles (democracy) have clashed with real grievances from a very large number of the populace (including many “liberals” and “secularists” and young people and the poor). Unlike many of my colleagues, I’ve raised objections from the start on Twitter and at my blog while also holding off an ultimate judgement. Unlike, say, the Wall Street Journal, which declared in an editorial that Egypt should be so lucky--if it got it's own Pinochet.
One thing that was easy: to critique the performance of many in the media, who either went along with the “this-is-not-a-real-coup” meme for quite a while or pictured the huge crowds in Tahrir Square as representing nearly all Egyptians. They acted as if this was not a military coup but more like a “coup-coup-ca-choo” as the Beatles might have warbled. Fortunately, as days passed, “coup” did find its way into most accounts, even if highly qualified at times.
I had to laugh at Thomas Friedman’s artful label putting it all together in a few syllables: “popular uprising/military coup.” He even opens a paragraph, “A few weeks ago, I sat in a teahouse in Cairo interviewing….” Classic Friedman.
Of course, events day-by-day have thrown a bit of cold water on all this, from shutting down news outlets and imprisoning poltiical opponents to large pro-Morsi protests—and yesterday’s massacre of protesters, with at least fifty-one dead, and new warnings of an all-out “civil war.” So we’ll see if David Brooks, and others, express any second thoughts. (Update: Brooks' new column out, with no comment on the criticism, let alone an apology.)
For now here’s a NYT op-ed today which claims that most Egyptians indeed backed the coup—but arguing against the military action and raising strong warnings. And Robert Kagan, yes, comes out strongly against the coup in a Washington Post op-ed and calls for a funding cutoff. The Post’s editorial also hit the coup. Of course, this is balanced, at the Post, by various punditry, including a rabid pro-coup (and anti-Obama) piece from Marc Thiessen, but the whole the Post opinion page has been strongly anti-coup.
Check out Bob Dreyfuss for live updates on the situation in Egypt.