Thursday, February 10, 2011

A fascinating study in modern-day colonialism

I read with increasing distaste the outpourings of the esteemed Mr. Kristof of the New York Times. He has travelled all the way to Egypt, because he scorns anyone who dares hold an opinion on a subject without physically being within a radius of (say) 3 km from the epicentre of the, er, subject. ("I also deeply believe in opinions grounded in on-the-ground reporting not just in armchair pontificating." --Mr. Kristof on his Facebook site, 05 Feb 2011) Of course, by this logic, someone who is 71 years old must have a better insight into the first world war than someone who is only 65. And someone who has never been to South Korea cannot possibly know as much about the IMF/Korean crisis of 1997 as a journalist who took a champagne-class flight to Seoul and actually spent three whole weeks in a hotel, walking and talking with the common folk, the bureaucracy and even a couple of old ladies.

Now, the latest from Mr. Kristof is a piece on Mr. Mubarak's much awaited speech where he reiterates a commitment to hand over power to the winner of free and transparent elections in September (

The title itself is not a little tacky: "The Pharaoh Refuses To Go".

The Pharaoh? I can conceive of a segment of the population who think of Egypt as a quaint old land, where they haggle over the prices of carpets, where camels are traded during weddings, where it is considered unacceptable for women to have opinions and whose economy is based on tourists giving the natives baksheesh when shown around the pyramids. But surely, journalists who work at the New York Times have access to Wikipedia and probably a university education behind them?

Compare this to the Civilized World, i.e., the West. Would the obstinacy or, if one is for the President, steadfastness, of Mr. Obama on a given issue be referred to as Chief Conquering Bear digging his heels in? (Reference to Native American history, exactly as the Pharaoh is a reference to Egyptian history) Another cheap trick is to refer to Mr. Putin as a Tsar (97,100 hits on Google, as compared to 507,000 for Mubarak Pharaoh). It recalls to mind a backward Russia, say of the 19th century, and is soothing for lots of people who feel most comfortable with accounts of foreign cultures being inferior and, for good measure, godless. Pandering to the mob is often advantageous.

A form of the ad hominem attack, then, projecting the negative associations of a modern-day pharoah onto Mr. Mubarak.

> This is of course manifestly unacceptable to the Egyptian people.

Rather fetching, how Mr. Kristof feels incumbent upon himself to speak for the Egyptian people. Or does he mean the people with whom he's had an extended conversation on the current political state in Egypt? This must necessarily be a fraction of the masses of people in Tahrir Square in Cairo, which location Mr. Kristof and camera-crew grace with their presence. That, in turn, must be a fraction of the people of Egypt. The claim is manifestly incredible.

> An Arab friend of mine who has met Mubarak many, many times
> describes him as “a stubborn old man,"....

Mr. Kristof has a friend who is an Arab - this open-to-different-cultures thing must be catching on, then. Wonder if this particular friendship predates the current Egyptian crisis. Wonder if the Arab is a non-Egyptian. If a non-Egyptian, then it is akin to referring to "my Catholic White Friend" when discussing a situation in Spain, even if said CWF is from Dublin. And if an Egyptian, then interesting that his (or her) ethnicity should be insisted upon, given that the events unfolding in Egypt are primarily of a political nature.

Someone who has met Mr. Mubarak "many, many times"? Now, Mr. Kristof did not use quote marks, so the "many, many" bit is not a direct quote. And if a direct quote, the one expects an insightful journalist to post the subtle follow-up question, "Er, how many, then? Thrice, eight, eighteen times, every three months for eight years?". Especially questionable as the Arabs do have a system of numbering superior to the stereotypical troll system of "one, two, many".

Again, an ad hominem attack - a stubborn old man, a man who is ga-ga, closed to new ideas, bitter and twisted, desperately hanging on to power because it is the only aphrodisiac.

> Suleiman just spoke as well, praising Mubarak
> and asking the youth of Egypt to go home and
> stop watching satellite television. Only possible
> conclusion: he’s delusional, too.

Mr. Kristof states - with an air of utter conviction - that the President and Vice President of Egypt are both delusional. Where from comes this arrogance? Did he date *all* the girls in his high-school class? Does his gardener back in the US hold a PhD from Moscow University? Do President Obama and the Pope have him on their speed-dials? The ancient Sanskrit proverb, "Vidhya dadati Vinayam" suggests that with wisdom comes humility, so it can't be that.

> It was interesting that Mubarak tried to push
> the nationalism button and blame outside forces
> (meaning the United States) for trying to push him out.

The phrase "Push the nationalism button" appears to suggest that our writer is contemptuous of classical patriotism, as befits a thinker of our age. Yet, the writer, in previous posts has glorified
those ready to die for their country. A little opportunistic, then.

And the extrapolation from "outside forces" to "the United States" suggests that Mr. Kristof's Arab friend is Mr. Mubarak's speech writer. He had probably written "outside forces, i.e. the United States", but Mr. Mubarak didn't know what "i.e." meant, and just skipped that bit.

Long live liberty. And the respectful handling of our ideological opponents.

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