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For 84 years, Time Magazine has named a “Person of the Year” (formerly, “Man of the Year”) in the waning days of December, ostensibly to highlight the single individual or group of people who had the greatest impact on the news over the previous 12 months. Many times, the selection has been controversial. Sometimes, obscure. But through the decades, the magazine has usually been in the ballpark when it comes to nominating a personality whose actions or achievements impacted history in big way.
For 2011, Time has designated “The Protestor” as the Person of the Year. The choice is not controversial in the sense that protests around the world didn’t dominate headlines and capture the imagination of many in the west. And the selection certainly isn’t as obscure as some other years when the magazine appeared to be trying to please a particular constituency or pressure group.
No, this selection can simply be described as dishonest and delusional.
It is dishonest because the reasoning given by the magazine for the selection is fraught with omissions, exaggerations, and an obfuscation of the facts that makes it clear where the magazine’s sympathies lie. And it is delusional because of its refusal to confront the consequences of the protests and how they have the potential to remake the world in a way that would be inimical to human freedom and the peace of the planet.
On one level — the level Time made an editorial decision to highlight — the basic ingredients of protests in the Arab world, Russia, and even the US hearkened us to recall past mass movements that brought civil rights to African Americans, helped send countless of Indochinese to the slaughterhouse by “ending” the Vietnam War, undid Communism, and overthrew oppressive governments in places like the Philippines and several ex-Soviet Republics.
But that picture is incomplete and ultimately, untrue. At work underneath the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria are much darker forces than those represented by the fresh faced kids with cell phones and Twitter accounts who organized demonstrations and eventually succeeded in bringing down oppressive governments (and will soon do so elsewhere).The youth are the faces of the “Arab Spring” that Time has chosen to highlight — educated, full of positive energy and enthusiasm to bring freedom and “democracy” to places where those words had no meaning previously.
But the kids are hardly the whole story and, in fact, are in danger of ending up being a footnote to this period in history. Those dark forces, represented by radical, revolutionary Islamism, have hijacked the revolutions in the Arab world thanks to their superior organization, fervent ideological beliefs, and a willingness to use or threaten violence to get their way. Even some liberal secularists are wondering what they have wrought while displaying an almost childlike faith in democracy. One feminist in Tunisia, horrified that the Islamists won the recent election, remarked, “They want to change Tunisia according to their vision, but Tunisia will change them.” It isn’t her fault that she suffers from a failure of imagination; that the chances of her prediction coming true are close to zero as long as the mass of true believing Muslims can be turned out every election to vote for those who their holy men tell them are devout followers of Mohamed and should run the country.
The writer of the Time story on the Person of the Year, Kurt Anderson, bends over backward to portray the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the new Islamist government in Tunisia as “moderate.” He certainly has a curious definition of who or what is “moderate” when it comes to Islamism.
In both Egypt and Tunisia, the freely elected new parliaments will be dominated by Islamists – sweet-talking moderates who secularists worry won’t stay that way. But as Tantawy of the Muslim Brotherhood told me, “It’s not just liberals vs. the Brotherhood now. The Islamists disagree among themselves.” To me, the mainstream Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia don’t appear much more fanatically religious than, say, Pat Robertson-esque Evangelicals in the U.S., and unlike the Republican hard-liners, they sound committed to a national consensus that includes secular liberals.
This isn’t just wrong — it’s evil. Is there any doubt about the Muslim Brotherhood’s intentions toward Israel and the Jews? Just who is it that Pat Robertson wants to murder? Just what people do evangelicals want to commit genocide against? Perhaps Mr. Anderson can point us to any example where Islamists have ever made common cause with “secular liberals” and wish to include them in a “national consensus”? Rather than just spouting nonsensical wishful thinking, Mr. Anderson should enlighten us with facts, not fancy.
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