A few hours ago, universally-loathed Egyptian President-for-Life Hosni Mubarak delivered his non-resignation speech: a masterpiece of cluelessness. Seeking to blame anyone but himself, Mubarak fired his cabinet and said he would hire another one tomorrow. This did not exactly dispel the impression that Mubarak is a pompous, egotistical dictator who is completely out of touch with the fact that his people all hate his guts a lot more than his cabinet’s.
Rivaling Mubarak in the cluelessness category was Joe Biden, piping in: “Mubarak is no dictator and should not step down.”
Upping the ante in the cluelessness sweepstakes was Hilary Clinton, who presciently announced that the Mubarak regime was “stable.”
John Kerry, another Mubarak supporter, made his bid for world cluelessness champion by saying that the dump-Mubarak movement “isn’t about one person.”
Israel’s Netanyahu – who, as Sharon suggested, is the real ruler of America – vied for king of cluelessness by urging Mubarak to “exercise force, power in the street” and predicting Mubarak would survive. (Does he really think the Egyptian people will put up with Mubarak taking orders to slaughter them from an extremist Israeli PM?!)
But of all the amazingly clueless responses to the Egyptian revolution, perhaps the most subtly clueless of all was the apparently sensible one we heard from just about all the American commentators, from Kerry to Barack Obama: It’s about democracy and economic opportunity and the internet and facebook and consumer goods and mcdonalds and…and…and…
Sometimes a half-truth can be worse than an outright lie. Please bear with me while I explain.
A few days ago, I stumbled upon a copy of Neil Postman’s The End of Education at my local library – one of the few Postman books I hadn’t read – and on returning home, discovered Murad Hoffman’s Islam: The Alternative in the mailbox. Reading them together, I decided they might as well be re-issued in a single volume.
Postman’s book argues that the US educational system is falling apart because “For school to make sense, the young, their parents, and their teachers must have a god to serve, or, even better, several gods. If they have none, school is pointless. Nietzsche’s famous aphorism is relevant here: ‘He who has a why can bear with almost any how.’ This applies as much to learning as to living.” (4)
Postman goes on to point out that all the old, familiar gods have failed. These include: science, technology, progress, fascism, communism, America as moral ideal, consumership, economic utility, and on and on. (He also alludes to the decline of Judaism and Christianity, which left the field open for these new gods.)
Postman then proposes some newer, shinier gods: spaceship earth, man as fallen angel, the American experiment, the law of diversity, and word weavers/world makers. Frankly, I find his post-mortem of the old, dead gods more convincing than his praise of the new ones he has invented.
This is where Murad Hoffman comes in. The former German Ambassador to Algeria (1987-90) and Morocco (1990-94), and a convert to Islam since 1980, Hoffman wrote Islam: The Alternative in two months:
In 1991, while I was in the lush Moroccan oasis of Taroudant, just south of the High Atlas mountains, the idea suddenly struck me that Francis Fukuyama’s notion of the imminent “end of history” was crying out for a strong reply – historically sound, scientifically honest, problem-conscious, and free from apologetics – a reply pointing out that there is an alternative to cultural monotony: Islam – not only as a viable option, but as the only alternative to an Occident that is increasingly troubled by social and ideological crises. Two months later, this book was ready. (vii)
Hoffman is right. We – and Egypt – don’t need more false gods. We need God. And Islam is the best-preserved and straightest, simplest, and most universal approach to the one God. As Hoffman says, he wrote his book for the postmodern Western world “where in the coming century, without a doubt, Islam will become the most vital religion.” (ix) In the end, the revolution in Egypt is about replacing the rule of a man – a modern Pharoah – with the rule of God as laid out in the Islamic tradition.
The revolution in Egypt may involve many lesser gods – economic justice, Palestine, anti-corruption, and the mass loathing of the neo-pharoah Hosni Mubarak. But at the end of the day, it will be an Islamic revolution – one that restores a reason for living and learning to a society wrecked by imperialism and Zionism – or no real revolution at all.