A reality check on who Time Magazine is romanticizing.
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.
What will Mr. Anderson write when the jails in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world where Islamists are set to dominate start filling up with those "secular liberals" or those who oppose the Islamists' radical agenda? Perhaps he could also list the secular liberals that Republicans have arrested and thrown in jail.
To compare evangelical Christians to radical, violent, genocidal fundamentalist Muslims is not only dishonest, but a base smear -- a knowing, deliberate falsification, carefully thought out and written to equate barbarism with civilization, fanaticism with piety, and genocide with political disagreement in a democratic context.
That one paragraph represents everything that is wrong with the writer, with Time, and with the whole cockamamie notion that the "Arab Spring" has been anything but an unmitigated disaster -- a slide toward an oppression darker, meaner, and more deadly to human liberty than anything dreamed by Mubarak, Gadaffi, Saleh, or their henchmen. For in the Islamists' wildest dreams, they never imagined that those seeking democratic freedoms would become their unwitting allies and hand them the keys to the castle. To believe that their bloodthirsty rhetoric these past decades -- not only against the Jews but also those "secular liberals" who are far too western for their tastes -- is "just talk" is to practice a profound and catastrophic self-delusion.
We have heard this "moderate" Islamist tune before in Iran when the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in 1979. Then it was the Carter administration who assured us that once the revolution settled down, Iran would be a model democratic state.
How's that working out?
But the author, who bragged in the article that he put up in his house one of the demonstrators for a couple of weeks, saves his most hagiographic musings for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In the U.S., three acute and overlapping money crises - tanked economy, systemic financial recklessness, gigantic public debt - along with ongoing revelations of double dealing by banks, new state laws making certain public-employee-union demands illegal and the refusal of Congress to consider even slightly higher taxes on the very highest incomes mobilized Occupy Wall Street and its millions of supporters.
"Millions of supporters?" One would think that a "mass movement" would have, well, mass. This week saw the most ambitious planned Occupy protest to date; an attempt to shut down every port on the West Coast between San Diego and Alaska.
How did they do? Actually, they came up fantastically short. Protestors managed to once again, shut down the Port of Oakland -- again by threatening violence that scared workers away. But the Guardian reports:
Attempts to shut down other west coast ports, however, were less successful. The Port of Seattle said there had been "minimum impact to cargo movement", although seattlepi.com said around 100 protesters had prevented traffic from entering during the afternoon.
Similarly, in Vancouver about 100 protesters delayed between 40 and 50 trucks, but the port did not close.
The Wall Street Journal reported that in Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Portland, a hundred to three hundred protestors slowed activity at some of the terminals but the ports were largely unaffected.
So where are the "millions of supporters"? This kind of exaggeration by the press has been par for the course throughout the lifespan of the Occupy movement. No one is arguing that the OWS criticisms aren't resonating with millions of Americans on some level. But millions of Americans also reject the attempts by the Occupy movement to ignite envy and hatred of those who are successful and drive the economy with their innovation and entrepreneurship. Historically, Americans have rejected class warfare as a means to gain political power or affect change. Why should anyone believe we will start now?
But beyond the Marxist rhetoric, and like the real drivers of the revolutions in the Arab world, there are other forces at work in the Occupy movement that seek an overthrow of the existing order beyond punishing a few bankers and soaking the rich for more tax money. The revolutionaries who see nothing wrong with costing working people paychecks or destroying jobs are hell bent on using the misdirected idealism and anger of the Occupy protestors to achieve other, more radical ends. And like the "Arab Spring," the Occupy idealists will realize too late that their movement has been co-opted by those who do not share their vision of the future.
"The Protestor" as Time's Person of the Year may be the feel-good choice for the mainstream press. But the reality of what these protestors have accomplished may end up causing most of us to rue the day the press fell in love with the idea that meaningful change can be accomplished with a cell phone and a Facebook account when coming face to face with evil men with evil designs.
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