Into the darkness of the New York Times comments section


Nine hours ago I left a comment (mine is #7) on the New York Times website in response to an article by Anthony Shadid about the Islamist rally earlier in the day in Tahrir Square in Cairo.  In my comment, I linked to a post I wrote a few months ago about how the Muslim Brotherhood had been given a de facto monopoly on opposition by the Mubarak regime that left them well positioned in the short term but, long term, posed a challenge to their ability compete on ideas and maintain their internal cohesion in a more open political environment.

At the time I posted my comment there were only six others before me so I did not have a feel for the flow of partisan response to the article.  Now there are 79 comments so I can see that the vast majority reveal a surprising level of antagonism not only towards the Islamists (which one could have anticipated) but towards the revolution in Egypt and, indeed, the whole movement of popular protests across the region that is known as the Arab Spring.  Here are some of the comments receiving the most reader recommendations:

And you all thought that Egypt, the Middle East and indeed the entire World would be better off after the “Arab Spring”. How naive you all are.  — Dan, Los Angeles

Shades of 1979 …. we have both stagflation and the crumbling of the U.S. position in the Midle East …. Has Obama somehow been channeling the incompetence of Jimmy Carter?  — BD, San Diego

Can the Islamic mob control Egypt? If so, the poor Egyptians won’t know what happened to them when Islamic fundamentalists rule. Say goodbye to any prospects for a mid-east peace, permanently.   — Figaro, Marco Island

“Surprise, surprise, surprise!”  The Moslem Brotherhood, that killed Sadat for daring to cross it, finally flexes its hand, just in time for the election. All the best dictators get into power via a “grass roots” revolution: Stalin, Mao, Khomeni.  Tourists in tank tops, take note. Nothing drives a Islamic fundamentalist nuts more than women who don’t know their place.  — Jake, New York

I dont think I’ll be planning a trip to Egypt, EVER, if they become a religiously consevative country.  — Phenixx, Texas

For all the bleeding heart liberals who were so anti-Mubarek, just take a look at the future of Egypt. Another group radical Islamic fundamentalists are taking over. Good luck with that. You’ll soon all be scratching your heads and wondering what happened as another Middle East country goes from the frying pan into the fire.  — Paul, White Plains

Only a military dictatorship can keep the lid on Egypt.  — Mark Klein, M.D., Oakland

Now you see the true color. Actually democracy/ secularism and islam is like oil and water, they never mix. This because Prophet Mohammed was a preacher, general, trader, statesman, you name it he was everything. So in Islam seperation of church & state never existed. In Islam church is the state. But in our modern time in western civilisation this can not be possible.  — Trevor, Los Angeles

If anywhere in the West tens of thousands of Christianists flooded into the streets demanding the state be Christian it would be condemned worldwide. There are already more then 3 dozen Islamic states, and a dozen other places in the world where Muslims are fighting for an Islamic homeland. There are as many Christians, Buddhists and Hindu’s in the world as Muslims. Hindu’s and Buddhists have no State of their own (India is secular), Christians have the Vatican which is tiny and allows Mosques to be built. Jews have tiny Isreal, which of course the Islamic world does not recognize. If Egpyt allows Islamists to run it’s country it will further antigonize things. The West is ordered to promote diversity and multiculturalism while seeing that the predominently Islam countries do just the opposite.  — Andrew S, Austin

This is another confirmation that Islam is not just another religion ;it is at the essence a totalitarian political ideology that aims to dominate and expand.When Muslims are a minority you find them talking about peace and tolerance and co existence but this rosy picture that they draw dramatically flips when they are a majority.Look at Egypt how Islamic sharia was effectively endorsed to be the main source for the constitution right after the revolution without any regard to diversity and the fact that about 10% of the population are christian copts.The fact that a society endorses a draconian law like Sharia law which manifests the desert harsh values that have existed 1400 yrs ago and to say the least eliminates freedom and basic human rights, right before any chance for people to experience them, can show you how bad of an influence a religion any religion on people’s life when it creeps into the public domain where it should be a matter of a personal choice and nothing more.  — Sam, San Francisco

Why would anyone suggest, approvingly, that a nation of 80+ million should have its ‘lid’ kept on by dictatorship?  In what wider political philosophy can these views make sense?  Ten years ago many Americans asked where were the Arabs advocating nonviolence and calling for freedom and democracy, assuming they weren’t doing it simply because we could not hear them; now we hear them, yet too many of us are content to see dictatorship silence them again.  This is incomprehensible to me.  I understand people are fearful about what the outcome might be of a process they can’t control but that lack of control is the essence of political liberty itself.  Given that support for democracy and greater political participation in the Arab world have been the stated aim (though perhaps not always the intent) of every American administration for decades, for whom did these readers vote in the last election — or, more precisely, in 2004 when Bush was on his crusade to engineer by force what millions of Egyptians achieved by peaceful protest?

But here is the most troubling thing to me of all when I read through the full list of comments: many of them make elemental mistakes about the basic facts of Egyptian life or law, suggesting a thin foundation of knowledge on the subject, yet this appears to have no humbling effect on the vehemence with which they pass judgment on a society so distant from their own experience.  This instinct to act with more righteousness than knowledge is the central challenge of being a global power.  If, say, the Finns know little about the Middle East it is of no great consequence because Finland does not have the power to reshape the region, but the US can intervene in the most intimate aspects of Arab lives — affecting what kind of government they live under, how husbands treat their wives, and what opportunities their children will have — and the only restraint comes from our ability to recognize the limits of our knowledge and experience of the choices they face.

Surely, if the Iraq war taught us anything it is that.


Click here for a related post about the history of CIA involvement in Syria, a perfect illustration of the sort of thing Americans may forget but the people of the region will surely remember.


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