“Islamists…lack the mental equipment to govern,” New York Times columnist David Brooks writes today (7/5/13). “Incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam.”
Now, Brooks has been known to cite eugenicist Steve Sailer on “white fertility rates” (12/7/04; Extra!, 4/05). But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that rather than making a racist argument, he’s simply appearing to be racist as a metaphor (as when he wrote recently that interracial marriage was producing a “nation of mutts”–6/27/13).
So he’s saying, then, that Islamists govern as if they were biologically inferior. And his evidence for this?
It has become clear–in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and elsewhere–that radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government…. We’ve seen that in Algeria, Iran, Palestine and Egypt: real-world, practical ineptitude that leads to the implosion of the governing apparatus.
Now, citing Egypt here is a logical cheat: You can’t really argue, “Of course it’s no surprise that Islamists governed poorly in Egypt–look what happened in Egypt!”
Likewise, it’s hardly fair to cite the example of Palestine, a country under foreign military control, half of which is governed by an unelected (and un-Islamist) government, and the other half subjected to a crippling economic blockade. (Though Hamas actually has a reputation for being very good at delivering social services–L.A. Times, 3/2/06.)
Algeria is a very strange example to cite of how Islamist governments are always bad, since Algeria has never had an Islamist government. The army canceled elections in 1992 when it looked like the Islamic Salvation Front was going to win, leading to a bloody civil war.
So Brooks is really citing Turkey and Iran as his evidence that Islamist parties always and everywhere are bad news, and therefore the Egyptian coup was justified. But how much are even these two examples worth, really? In a piece strongly critical of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly centralized rule, the Economist (6/8/13) also had plenty to say about his administration’s successes:
In the past ten years, GDP per person has risen by 43 percent in real terms, exports have increased nearly tenfold and foreign direct investment has leaped. Turkey is now the world’s 17th biggest economy.
Turkey’s robust banks are the envy of their beleaguered Western peers. Although income inequality is worryingly wide, wealth that was once concentrated in the hands of the Istanbul-based elite has spread to the Anatolian hinterland, leading to the rise of a new class of pious and innovative entrepreneurs who are powering growth. Hundreds of new hospitals, roads and schools have dramatically improved the lives of the poor.
That doesn’t really sound like government by the congenitally incompetent, does it?
Iran’s Islamist government has been the focus of a Two-Minute Hate that’s been going on now for 34 years, so it’s harder to find a kind word for it. But Iran’s Human Development Index in 1980, a year after the mullahs took over, was 0.443, well below the world average of 0.561; today it’s 0.742, well above the average of 0.641 and comparable to a developed nation’s stats.
But Brooks doesn’t really know anything about Turkey or Iran, any more than he knows about Applebee’s. He’s just trying to make the point, consistent with his conservative ideology, that democracy is all right so long as the wrong sort of people don’t get elected:
Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process.
Brooks also comments on U.S. policy options:
In reality, the U.S. has no ability to influence political events in Egypt in any important way. The only real leverage point is at the level of ideas.
Not mentioned: the $1.3 billion in military aid that Washington sends to Egypt. Because why would you want to mention that?
You were hoping for informed, nuanced commentary on the politics of a Middle Eastern society? David Brooks lacks the mental equipment.