The Faith Angle Forum is a semi-annual conference which brings together a select group of 20 nationally respected journalists with 3-5 distinguished scholars on areas of religion, politics & public life.
“The Islamic Paradox & the Future of the Middle East”
South Beach, Florida
Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow, The Foundation for Defense of Democracy
Jeffrey Goldberg, National Correspondent, The Atlantic/Bloomberg
Michael Cromartie, Vice-President, Ethics & Public Policy Center
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: I would like to call your attention to the fact that 8 years ago we had the two of these gentlemen together on the same topic. There is a gentleman who teaches at Georgetown University, Tom Farr, and Tom was with the State Department for 25 years. He says, ” Michael, that Gerecht- Goldberg dialogue and transcript you had in Key West, I pull it out about once a year and reread it to help me know better what’s going on in the Middle East.” And Tom knows the area. So we thought, why not do it again?
Some things have changed; some things have not. And we did want to start off with the least complicated subject, the Middle East.
A year after that conference, David Brooks wrote a column about these two gentlemen’s dialogue, and I won’t read the whole column from July 20, 2006, but I would mention this. After describing our two speakers and their experience in the region, David wrote this, “Having heard many of their stories, I have this image of Jeffrey Goldberg being kidnapped by some terrorist group and when he’s thrown into the hideout, he finds Marc Gerecht already there schmoozing with the local mullah.”
So these guys have covered this territory for a long time.
I want to mention in your bio also that you will see that Jeffrey Goldberg’s book Prisoners, which is now out in paperback, in the year 2006 was named by The Washington Post and The New York Times, The L.A. Times, and several other magazines and newspapers as the most important book of the year, and it was also recognized that way by Playboy Magazine.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Yes, it was.
MR. CROMARTIE: And in the latest issue of the Washingtonian magazine, you want to know there’s a full feature on Jeffrey in there, where one of the bylines says, “Who died and made Jeffrey Goldberg Moses?”
MR. GOLDBERG: And then it went downhill from there.
MR. CROMARTIE: But the author says nobody in Washington gets bigger “gets” when it comes to news-making interviews. He scored exclusive interviews with both President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. So we’re delighted to have Jeffrey here.
Now, Marc, as I say, his bio is right in front of you. Marc is an experienced hand and he has written several books on this topic. He used to work in the CIA and has been to all these regions. So I give you Marc Gerecht.
REUEL GERECHT: I just want to say it’s a pleasure to be here again. I think the three of us had a lot of fun the last time we did this, and I think it is fair to say that Jeffrey and I later were actually on the single funniest panel in the history of Washington, D.C. That, of course, may not be saying all that much, but we did an event once where we both basically had to stop because we were laughing so hard we couldn’t continue.
MR. CROMARTIE: On this topic?
MR. GOLDBERG: It was about genocide.
MR. GERECHT: It was on this topic actually. And Ken Pollack was also there. It was amazing.
I suppose we should go back in time a little bit to when Jeffrey and I were talking before, and at that time what I suggested was that there was a democratic wave coming to the Middle East, and it was going to come sooner, not later, and that the dominant force in that wave would be Islamic fundamentalists. I thought it likely to be true for a few reasons. First, because Muslim fundamentalists, who at one time had been explicitly, and in some cases still are, hostile to the idea of democracy, had absorbed lots of different western ideas. They hadn’t absorbed them in the manner that westerners might appreciate, but they had absorbed them rather profoundly, and more importantly, the common faithful in the Middle East had absorbed the idea of popular sovereignty and really liked it. Now, that view was, I think, fairly unconventional at the time amongst Middle Eastern cognoscenti. The dominant view was that democracy would come one day in the future and the driving force of democracy, if it ever were to arrive amongst Muslims, would be through the hand of modernizing authoritarian secularists. The primary example of that was Ataturk’s Turkey; that’s where everybody looked. Ataturk had successfully changed and transformed Turkish Muslim society and slowly and surely, through the enlightened authoritarian hand, you would develop a liberal secular democratic ethic that would stick.
I suggested that that was not true, just the opposite was occurring: the more modernizing secular dictators had their way, the more they created a fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalism. The obverse of modernization in the Middle East is Islamic militancy and you always had to keep this in mind. The more modernizing the society, the more fertile ground you would find for Muslim fundamentalists.
I used at that time, I think, a very good example, which is still true: when I was a student at the American University of Cairo in 1980, you couldn’t have found a single woman wearing a veil, not a one. And these were the children of the elite that wanted to keep their daughters fairly close; they didn’t want to send them away to a western school, but they wanted them westernized, and those women were usually stunningly beautiful.
And if you were to go back to that school 15, 20 years later, guess what? You found that probably a quarter to a third of them were veiling. Now, why was it that the same women from the same class, the upper classes, were veiling? Because you would think of all the women who would benefit from the rule of someone like Mubarak and Sadat, it would be these women. I think the answer to that is they were veiling because they were disgusted by their own society and they were actually expressing their own protest against it — that secularism had become, for many Egyptians, even very westernized Egyptians, a dirty word.
Now, let’s race this forward. We saw the explosion of the Arab Spring. I prefer to call it the Great Arab Revolt; actually the first wave of it occurred in Algeria in 1989. It’s not surprising that it would occur in Algeria because Algeria is perhaps the most westernized of Arab countries. It had French occupation from 1830 until 1962. And in the late 1980s, you see the rise of the Islamic Salvation Front, better known under its French initials, FIS, the Front Islamique de Salut. And that was crushed, as we all recall, by the military junta that had this fleeting idea that they would let the people vote, and when they saw that the people voted for fundamentalists, they said bad idea. So they crushed it, and long story made short, a lot of people died in barbaric ways as savage Islamists took on the black ninja forces of the military regime.
We then move forward, and you have another explosion: the Great Arab Revolt. You also, by the way, have the explosion in Iran, but Iran is a somewhat different case because it’s been having these eruptions regularly, first with the revolution, then with Mohammad Khatami in 1997, and then, more massively, with the Green Movement in 2009. In Tunisia and Egypt, the initial explosions were led by young men of no particular religious affiliation or denomination; they did not see themselves as being part of an Islamic militant group or wave. Within a very short time, however, fundamentalists proved triumphant.
Now, that is what I think is going to happen everywhere in the Arab world when people have the chance of a free vote, or even when these votes are sort of curtailed and controlled by the government, as is the case in Morocco or Jordan. You still see fundamentalist parties always proving themselves competitive, if not dominant. And the thing to remember, for those who believe or want to see liberals triumph in the Middle East, is it’s only going to come after fundamentalists open the door and go through first. For liberals, for secularists — and you’ve got to be very careful with those terms in the Middle East because most of the people who are secular aren’t liberals — that day may arrive in the distant future, maybe even the near future…cross your fingers. It’s not going to happen now because they haven’t sufficient traction in their own societies to win. The only people who are likely to win in the beginning are going to be those of a pronounced religious denomination, the faithful: we call them fundamentalists. They themselves might actually also call themselves fundamentalists. Muslim fundamentalists didn’t used to actually use that term, but like in so many different ways, they follow the western model and they start incorporating our own terminology for themselves.
Now, you can see, for example, in both Tunisia and Egypt, the process of westernization is not linear. It can create out-and-out secularists and sometimes it creates real liberals, and what’s happened in both countries is that you have created a sizeable — a sizeable — group of secularist liberals who do not want to have anything to do with a society run by fundamentalists — which, of course, is where the rub comes in, because when the fundamentalists adopted democratic values, they adopted them thinking that — and in some cases I think they’re absolutely right. Iraq is an example of that — the democratic process would create a more virtuous society since most Muslims are good Muslims. Therefore if you allow most good Muslims to vote, they will create a better society, certainly a better society than had existed before.
That was an easy call in Iraq, for example. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who was the man who really kept it going in Iraq and kept the Shiite community from falling into the abyss, said explicitly, in simple Arabic that everybody could understand, that one man, one vote, would guide the day. Now, of course, he liked the idea of one man, one vote because that would guarantee the Shia would be dominant in Iraq and that you wouldn’t have nasty checks and balances on the society. But the notion that you would have a grand ayatollah explicitly say one man, one vote is dominant, that the society has to be governed and ruled by people who went to the ballot box, is a fairly revolutionary statement in the history of Shiism and also in the history of Islam.
That view, the one-man, one-vote, Good-Muslims-will-triumph, is widely shared amongst Muslim fundamentalists now. Very few Muslim fundamentalists will actually now come forward and say explicitly that one man, one vote isn’t, in fact, sacrosanct. It has become, as a son of a grand ayatollah said to me in Najaf, ma’ruf, it has become holy.
So you look forward and you say, all right, we’ve now got Muslim fundamentalists either in a dominant situation or an imminently dominant situation throughout much of the Arab world. I guarantee you, whenever the blood stops running in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood or a concatenation of Islamist groups is going to win at the ballot box. And I suspect they still may get to the ballot box in Syria. It’s difficult to know whenever you have so much violence and bloodshed (and the center of Syrian society has been blown away), what is going to happen. It could transition to some type of military dictatorship again. Certainly, in Syria you have a long track record of that. But even in Syria I think it’s going to be difficult to do that because the whole legitimacy of the dictatorial idea has gone bankrupt in the Middle East. Once upon a time you could have dictatorship, like Nasser’s, which had a large element of legitimacy to it. Military dictators carried this promise of modernity with them, but that’s gone now, it’s finished, it’s toast. So even there I think that democracy – a deeply-felt moral need for elections — still has a chance in Syria, and you’re going to see Islamists win. You’ll see it all over the region if you have free votes.
Now, what are these guys going to go for? What vision do they have? We haven’t really had much of a chance to see that because for the last 2 years things have been so traumatic, so much turmoil in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. I think what they’re inevitably going to go for, and they give you hints of that, is to try to establish a more virtuous society, which, of course, to western ears makes you very nervous, and it should make you very nervous, because politicians who view statecraft as soulcraft have a tendency of engaging in gross abuse. We, of course, have the Bill of Rights, et cetera, et cetera, to check all those too virtuously inclined, but in the Muslim Middle East, the fundamentalists, perhaps most of the faithful, view democracy certainly as a means to improve the soul.
Now, you’ve got to remember, in the Islamic world, unlike the Christian world, orthodoxy is orthopraxy. Muslims really do not care what is inside of your heart. It is for you to determine what is inside of your heart. You are the only one who gets to gauge your relationship with God. It is hubristic for someone else to intervene and worry about your soul. What is important for them is the public square. The public squares must be where virtue is maintained.
So what I think you’re going to see happen — and you’re already beginning to see it happen in Egypt and Tunisia, for example, in their prosecution of journalists — is they will want to try to maintain a more virtuous society, they will want to curtail those who would say insulting things towards the Prophet Muhammad and so forth.
Now, the most important issue for these folks is women. That is the dominant issue in all Islamic fundamentalist debates. And you should recall that when the Islamic Salvation Front rose to prominence in 1989 in Algeria, why did it come into being? It came into being because the military junta had just passed new legislation granting women more social rights. The Islamic Salvation Front, which, by the way, gained the majority of the female vote, found that repellent. FIS became a powerful political force.
You are going to see the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood eventually focus on the female question. They have to. It’s part of their identity. They are going to try to construct a more virtuous society where women move away from the western model. Now, the issue is how coercive are they going to be in their mission civilisatrice. That to me is still unclear. I think the thing to look at, for example, in Egypt is tourism, particularly foreign tourism. That’s going to tell you, I think, how the whole thing rolls out, because what the Brotherhood is going to do — unlike, say, the other Islamists, the Salafists — is to reenact something in traditional Islamic law called the dhimma, which is the Muslim social contract with Jews and Christians (and later Hindus in India), that gives you guaranteed rights as a second-class citizen. A Christian or a Jew in classic Islamic society was called a dhimmi, that is, he was a protected person by contract. You could not kill dhimmis. You could not steal their property. They had the right to live by their own laws so long as they didn’t intrude into the Muslim public space. They were guaranteed by law to have a certain status inside of Islamic society; it was second-class status, but it was guaranteed.
I think the Muslim Brotherhood is going to try to extend the dhimma, for example, to European tourists. So tourists can come down to Egypt and they can wear their bikinis and they can drink alcohol, and they can do all those things that are permissible to non-Muslims in a non-Muslim society. For example, Islamic law allows non-Muslims to drink. Khomeini issued a very famous fatwa in 1982 where he said Armenians can have grapes and grow alcohol and drink — they’re not Muslims. He demonstrated quite clearly that he was not a modernist. He was still a trained scholar of the law. Radical Islamists want to intrude into almost everything, as Marxists do; radical Islamists can willfully ignore Islamic law. Khomeini went the other way. He actually said, to the surprise and disappointment many of his more radical followers, “No, Armenians can drink as much as they want.” Of course, that allowed Armenians to become very wealthy inside of the Islamic Republic since they started selling booze to Muslims in a big way. So it was a great day to be an Armenian in Iran.
That is what I expect to see happen, a new dhimma arrangement. So the Egyptians are going to have this area where foreigners come in and behave as they do, more or less, at home. That’s great news actually because that means there is some moral elasticity possible and that you’re going to have a debate among fundamentalists about this exception. The worst case scenario is that you would have Salafists triumph, and the Salafists, for example, have said clearly that they would get rid of all these foreigner hotels, they would shut down the casinos, and they would replace the money that would be gained through tourism — which, of course, is one of the primary means for Egypt to make hard currency — with basket weaving.
The Salafists, really, do not think about economics much at all; they are strictly thinking about virtue and the holy law. The Muslim Brotherhood is a much more complicated creature; it is thinking about economics. The Muslim Brotherhood just might be distorted and bent by economic reality. I think there is a tendency in the West to view people as too exclusively economic — that we do things really, in the end, for our economic self-interest. That optic isn’t helpful, I think, in the Islamic world, where economics obviously do matter, but other issues can come to the forefront much more quickly and much more passionately. And the Brotherhood, I think, is going to be fairly dogged in its attempt to create a more virtuous society, aiming first and foremost at women; schools, too, by the way, will come next. The pushback will be whether they can maintain that in the face of political failure, which, of course, is likely because if you get into office in a place like Egypt, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.
So the issue will be the next election. Now, I actually think those elections will occur –repeatedly. I don’t think you’re going to have one vote, one time. I think the notion of elections is now built in morally in Egypt and Tunisia. Now, whether liberals and secularists in Egypt can rally enough strength to win an election, we’ll have to see. It’s possible. The thing to remember about Egypt is it has been westernized for a long time, and as I said before, one side of westernization creates people who look sort of like us, and the other side of westernization creates Muslim fundamentalists; they go hand-in-hand. In Egypt, it’s a fairly large number on both sides. In Tunisia, it’s a fairly large number. And in Algeria, it’s also obviously a fairly large number on both sides.
So it is possible that you will see pushback, a successful rallying of secular forces. Morsi, by the way, in Egypt, barely won the election. It helped a lot that he’s as boring as driftwood. I think if you had a little bit more charismatic Islamist candidate, he would have done much, much better. I think you would have seen something like 60 or 70 percent of the vote going for that gentleman.
But Egyptian liberals, Egyptian secularists, like Tunisian liberalists and Tunisian secularists, always appear confident that they can carry the day, that they can rally, that their own society has within it the means to get them elected. That they, not the fundamentalists, are the truer expression of their national identity. They may be with time. But I’m skeptical. I think first you’re going to have to see the fundamentalists come to power… and cock things up. And then I think the secularists and the liberals have some chance of gaining ground. It will still likely be difficult for them because of the profound faith and religious culture of the lower classes. But among Muslims, fundamentalists don’t own God.
Now, the other issue, because it’s an important issue at least in the West, which people will pay attention to, is that if we didn’t know it already — and I think we can say this is going to disturb Jeffrey maybe just a little — the peace process, which was dead as a doornail before, is now completely dead as a doornail. It’s not going anywhere. Muslim fundamentalists have always found the whole idea of the peace process just morally revolting. Their idea of peace between Israelis and Palestinians for them is that there is only one state: it’s Palestinian and it’s Muslim.
You have to understand the Muslim fundamentalist religious narrative on Israel. Israel is a negation of the Koran. We’re not talking about small, little issues here. The entire Jewish narrative is a negation of the foundational story of the Islamic faith. Moses is a Muslim. The great Jewish prophets are all Muslim; they are not Jews. Thus the notion that you have a narrative for the creation of Israel based on people who are in fact Muslim is a contradiction. Muslims are very logical folks. Why is it that even secular Muslims tend to refuse to answer positively when you ask them, “Will you recognize the Jewish state?” They may say that “Israel” has a right to this and that, but they don’t say “the Jewish state.” The reason they don’t say “the Jewish state” is because it, in fact, negates their Bible. You’ve got to remember, the Koran is the literal word of God.
So the notion that as Islamic fundamentalists grow in influence, that you’re going to have concurrently a renewed peace process is, I think, to put it very politely, delusional. The first issue that has to be settled is amongst Muslims themselves. This always has been the issue.
President Obama gave a very ahistorical but valuable reference, even though he didn’t know what he was talking about, when he gave the Cairo speech. He talked about Cairo University and Al-Azhar religious center, which was Shiite and then became Sunni — I liked it better when it was Shiite, by the way. It’s one of the oldest religious centers in the Islamic world, and he said there was this great harmony between Cairo University and Al-Azhar, and we can, from the West, learn from that harmony. I have no idea what the man was talking about. The real truth of Cairo University and Al-Azhar is they’ve been at each other’s throats. This tension has often led to violence. People have died. Now, that is the real story of western integration, the intellectual arrival of the West in the Middle East. It’s not an easy process.
MR. GOLDBERG: I have to agree with you on that.
MR. GERECHT: No, I think you might agree on that. No, no —
MR. GOLDBERG: I’ll speak for myself in a minute, though it’s easier if you do it.
MR. GERECHT: The whole issue of Israel and the Jews is going to be an extremely touchy one. If you thought it was a touchy one back when the Arab secular dictators would sort of make the motions in the direction of the peace process, but always, like Mubarak, backstab it when no one was looking; now there is not going to be any pretense. This is an important part of their identity as faithful Muslims. They are going to be very, very reluctant to give it up. Until you have the battle amongst Muslims — and that’s the real issue — then you cannot have the other battle. First you have to have a battle amongst Muslims — then you can talk about the Jews being integrated into the Muslim world. It’s just not going to happen the other way round.
But I’ll end this on an optimistic note. A lot of folks, particularly on the American Right, get really depressed when you talk about Islam. It happens on the Left, too, except the Left is more discreet about it, I think; they don’t say it as publicly. They’re depressed privately. The Right tends to express their depression more publicly. I guess that’s just the new motif for the Right. But you shouldn’t be depressed because evolution really does happen.
And you can use Iran as a model here — and I think it’s a worthwhile model: it wasn’t all that long ago in Iran when the revolution created what I call the largest death-wish society that the Islamic world had seen in modern times. You really did have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of young men who lived to die in the Iran-Iraq War. They saw their own personal salvation in that conflict. You had profound intellectuals who really did believe in the Islamic revolution, who believed in the notion of clerical guidance, who believed in the institutions that were set up by Khomeini.
Fast-forward, you now probably have only one great cleric in Iran, Mohammed Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who believes in Khomeini’s clerical dictatorship. He was the spiritual father, so-called, of Ahmadinejad; he is actually a great cleric, a phenomenal cleric, a first-rate mind, who believes and says openly that democracy is nonsense. When the Islamic revolution was formed, it had a theocratic basis, but it also had a democratic basis. And what has happened in Iran is that the theocracy has had to crush repeatedly the growing, powerful, democratic forces within society. You cannot find beyond Mesbah Yazdi a single great intellectual mind in Iran that will argue in favor of theocracy, not a one. They have all gone the other way. If you take two of my favorite examples, first, a fellow by the name of Saeed Hajjarian, who was one of the founders of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, a truly mean, nasty man. He started reading Samuel Huntington. Boom. He transformed himself and he became the architect of Mohammad Khatami’s election campaign in 1997. The Ministry of Intelligence later shot him in the head, but he survived. Shot through, but transformed.
MR. GOLDBERG: More optimism.
MR. GERECHT: And Akbar Ganji, who is a very pronounced liberal, at one time was a member of the Revolutionary Guards, and perhaps, too, the Ministry of Intelligence. He, too, was once a very dark man. He, too, has been transformed. I cannot enumerate all of the great intellectuals and clerics within the Islamic Republic who have been transformed by theocratic dictatorship. We do not know in a more democratic system — it’s going to be probably an authoritarian, majoritarian democracy that we’re likely to see in the new Middle East — how long it will take for this transformation to occur, but we know the transformation is likely, and that’s what we have to wait for. We have to be patient.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Thank you, Marc. Jeffrey, I imagine you have a few things to say.
MR. GOLDBERG: Just a few. It’s interesting. I thought I would disagree with more. I only disagree with 34 different points Reuel made.
But I think first I have to acknowledge that he was right 7 or 8 years ago. I don’t think I took a position on this question, but he definitely took a position that something was coming. He was sort of the Tony in West Side Story of the Arab Spring.
And you did feel it.
I think when you actually applied yourself in the mid-2000s to the question, you had a suspended disbelief if you thought that Mubarak and people like Mubarak would last forever, but there you have it, Reuel called it early.
On your last point about optimism — I’m only going to make a couple of points because I want to go to this conversation, and I’m really just reacting to things that Reuel talked about — on the last point about being optimistic, I think we had that part of the conversation 8 years ago here or in Key West or wherever we were, and optimism is easy when you have a 1,000-year timeline. Two hundred years from now it’s going to be a lot better, and you point out all of these wonderful changes that are taking place in Iran, and maybe the Iran of today is a better place than the Iran of 1982, but you’re still looking at a country that is horribly oppressive to religious minorities, to women, that threatens to destabilize the entire region, is the primary sponsor of state terror in the world, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This is what I want to get to, the theory of pass-through, or I don’t know what you would call it, the theory that in order for the Muslim world to transit to democracy, it has to make its way through a period of fundamentalism, just as it went through the pan-Arabism, just as it went through socialism; it’s now going through Islamism.
Reuel often holds up the Iranian regime as a kind of an ephemeral phenomenon. This is proof for him of the argument that the best thing that could happen to a Muslim society is that it goes through a period of Muslim fundamentalist rule because Muslim fundamentalist rule after a while will fail because these sorts of religious leaders are not equipped for the modern world, they’re not equipped to run an economy. But the problem is, how long does that journey take?
Morsi is having some problems in Egypt and I read a whole spate of commentaries saying that the Muslim Brotherhood has a year or two left in Egypt, and I think that’s completely mistaken, and I look to Iran and say we’re 3 decades or more into this experiment. The experiment has transmogrified, but we’re still in the middle of this, and there is no particular sign of it ending. We saw in 2009 that there was a Green Revolution, and we saw how it failed, we saw how the regime put it down. There is no sign that that regime is going to change in any sort of radical way.
So I think one of the areas in which we differ is the idea that the societies must pass through this period of Islamist rule. I still think that there is a way to build the bypass, and I’ll get to that in a second.
Let me just talk for one minute about what we’re actually dealing with. And I think Reuel is exactly right: the framework here is women. If you want to understand Egypt today, look at the response of the Muslim Brotherhood to the U.N. declaration on the rights of women last week. It was an astonishing response, astonishingly impolitic for a government that needs American and IMF money. The U.N. declaration, from our perspective a rather banal document, comes out against, and very non-controversially against, spousal rape, but even the anodyne statement decrying spousal rape was much too much for the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who believe that the wife is not the partner; they believe that the husband is the guardian. As the guardian of the wife, he has certain rights, which includes access to sex whenever he wants it. So the idea that the U.N. would come out and denounce spousal rape is absurd to the Muslim Brotherhood because in their theology of sex, if you will, there is no such thing as spousal rape, it’s an impossibility. There are eight or nine other points that they raised about the status of women, all of which should send a chill down your spine. So it is about women.
And actually, I’ll tell you a moderately funny story. A couple of years ago in Egypt I spent some time with Morsi before he became president, and he was not then that likely to become president, but he is actually more charismatic than Reuel says. For those of you who saw his recent interview in TIME Magazine where he spent just paragraphs talking about Planet of the Apes, you’ll see that he has a kind of — if that counts as charisma — a strange charisma —
But he’s not bland; he’s an interesting thinker. He’s completely out of his mind from my perspective, but he’s an interesting thinker, and he’s a wily guy.
When I was meeting with him, this was when the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, was promising that they would not run a candidate for president in the Egyptian election, and, of course, many of our colleagues in the American press said, “See? We told you the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t interested in gaining power.” And then people like us — and here I think we’re in agreement — would say, “Read what the Muslim Brotherhood says about its society, about its role, and you’ll come to a different conclusion.” But people in our profession tend to believe the Muslim Brotherhood when it tells us that they’re moderate.
In any case, the conversation went as follows: we had a sort of a typical lead-up conversation about temporal politics, and I said, “Could you ever imagine a situation in which the Muslim Brotherhood would support a woman for the presidency of Egypt?” and he responded, “There are no women running for the president of Egypt.” And I said, “No, I’m asking a theoretical question —
— can you imagine a situation in which you could support a woman running for president?” And he said, “Well, which woman? Tell me the name.”
I said, “I don’t have a name. I’m asking you on general principle, is there anything in the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological make-up that would prevent you from supporting a woman for president?” and he said, “This is a nonsense question. I can’t answer such nonsense questions.” So I shifted and I said, “Could you imagine a situation in which you would support a Christian for president of Egypt?” and he said, “Which Christian?”
And I said, “A Christian woman, I don’t know.”
I was trying to think. Afterwards I thought I should have said, “I don’t know, Kelly Clarkson.” I don’t know, some Christian woman.
I was just trying to think of the first Christian woman who came to mind. I don’t even know if Kelly Clarkson is Christian. But I don’t know, that really stuck with me.
And so, obviously, he was playing it as carefully as he could possibly play it without actually saying the truth, which is, “What are you, an idiot? We’re not going to make a woman president of our country, and we’re certainly not going to make a Christian.” And in fact, the 2007 Muslim Brotherhood Platform — when the Muslim Brotherhood having a platform was entirely theoretical because Mubarak was still in power — actually specifically talks about the impossibility of a Christian becoming leader of Egypt.
So I think we’re in agreement about what we’re dealing with. I tend to be less fatalist than Reuel in the following sense: I don’t think we have to necessarily pass through this long dark period of Muslim fundamentalist rule in many of these countries. In some places it’s already too late, and you see the hold that this sort of ideology has on society.
One parenthetical: I don’t actually also see the bikini example as sort of the dispositive example of how to judge the society. I agree with you, that Salafists would ban the bikinis in favor of basket weaving, but the issue to me is not whether the Egyptian government is smart enough to understand that the IMF is telling them it needs hard currency and that they could segregate certain beaches and keep Egyptians off these beaches entirely and have infidel women wearing bikinis in order to get their hard currency. That seems like a practical response. It has nothing to do with how the millions and millions and millions of Egyptian women under this government are going to be actually treated, and that’s what actually should matter.
I do tend to think — and I guess I’m just more of an optimist than Reuel is — that there are certain small-scale models for avoiding this bypass, because that’s what we’re talking about now. There is no doubt in my mind that we’re moving toward an extended period of Muslim fundamentalist domination of many, if not most, of the governments of the Middle East and the greater Middle East. This is the historical trend. We’re also seeing — and this is what makes it so violent and dangerous, and the violence that we’ve seen so far is nothing compared to what we could see — the unraveling of the Sykes-Picot arrangement of 100 years ago when the British and the French decided what the borders of the Middle East would look like. So at the same time you have the rise of very powerful political Muslim fundamentalist forces you’re going to see the possible unraveling of all the borders.
I was thinking when Reuel was suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood will eventually emerge as the victor in Syria and will become the dominant party of Syria that I wouldn’t disagree if I thought that Syria was going to be in existence in a year or two or three. There might be five or six different fiefdoms, countries, within the borders of what is Syria today. It might be a bit like what Lebanon was in the ’80s, which is to say a Druze stronghold, an Alawite stronghold, Sunni strongholds, Kurdish strongholds, obviously. So I don’t think there is going to be a unitary government, which, of course, is a separate but not unrelated problem to what we’re talking about today.
The model that I have in mind — and I have to be very careful here; I’m in a sort of a weird position at the moment because I have a long profile of the King of Jordan coming out in next month’s Atlantic —
MR. GERECHT: (Making a snoring sound.)
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s a free country still, you don’t have to read it.
And we have differing opinions about the plucky little king, but —
It’s going to be in The Atlantic. It’s actually posting tonight, but there are some interesting things that he said about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood crescent across the Middle East that I think are interesting. And I think in the king, without going into too many specifics, and in many of the Gulf states, you see a possible alternative — I haven’t found the right word for it — the detour. You’re trying to build a bypass around the inevitable transition to Islamist rule, and I think in Jordan they might have settled on something. It’s easier to do in a monarchy, weirdly, because the monarchies in the Middle East have more credibility with their people than the dethroned dictators, secular dictators, so-called elected presidents, like Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt — but the king, so far has devised a way, through the gradual introduction of some democratic reforms, to convince his people that the Muslim Brotherhood is not the right path. He wants to devolve power over time, or so he says, and he wants a parliament that will hire and fire the prime minister so he can be elevated to more of a symbolic monarchy in some ways, and so far, so good, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We don’t yet know if he will last in power, but he’s done a much better job of doing this.
He has never failed to waste an opportunity to explain to his people in blunt terms what the Muslim Brotherhood actually wants as opposed to what it says it wants. He has repeatedly held up Syria and Egypt as examples of “you don’t want our country to become like this, and if you empower the Muslim Brotherhood through the ballot box, you stand a large chance of turning our very peaceful and tranquil country” — relative to the region obviously – “into a Syrian disaster, into an Egyptian disaster.” And he has used his intelligence service very cleverly to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood party, the Islamic Action Front, by setting up divisions within it. They’ve done a lot of noble stuff and a lot of down-and-dirty stuff, but so far at least he has worked and he has managed to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood.
He believes his mission to be to teach his people how to be democratic in the following sense: how to form parties built around ideas rather than form parties built along religious or tribal identification. That is a job that he has barely begun doing, and there is no sense yet of whether he will actually succeed. If it succeeds, then the future belongs to secular-minded or at least non-fundamentalist Muslims in Jordan. If he doesn’t succeed, then Jordan will probably eventually go the way of Egypt and the way that Syria seems to be heading, some combination of civil war and Muslim fundamentalist rule. So there are pathways.
And this brings me to a final point that I want to make about the American role, which Reuel didn’t talk about that much, I think in part because he’s a bit of a fatalist, which is to say that if you approach the Middle East as a fatalist, you say, “Well, this is what it’s going to be and so we might as well just go along for the ride, and they’ll figure out what to do.” He might be right in the following sense: one of the things that we’ve learned over the last 10 years is that just because we want Muslims to behave a certain way because we think that that way is in their best interest doesn’t mean that Muslims are going to go do that thing that we want them to do. That period of condescension is over.
And so our ability to influence is limited, but one of the things that we can do is stand up for our own values. We should do that for two reasons. One is, frankly, the moral reason, which is that people who take the fatalist line — and I’m not talking about Reuel here — but people who take the fatalist line consign hundreds of millions of women to a really horrible fate for 5 or 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years. They simply say, “This is the way these societies are and there is nothing we can do about it, so we’re just going to acquiesce to this.” When you acquiesce to Muslim Brotherhood rule — or worse, some sort of Salafist rule — what you’re also acquiescing to is the persecution of minorities. You’re obviously acquiescing to a level of vitriolic anti-Semitism that has true consequences for the future safety of the state of Israel, you’re acquiescing to a level of anti-Christianism that manifests itself extremely violently, you’re acquiescing even more than what happens to Christians and Jews in these societies or around these societies, and you’re acquiescing to the persecution of Muslim minorities, of what the Muslim Brotherhood to Salafist mainstream views as apostate Muslims. So you would rather be almost, I think, a Jew in Pakistan than you would be an Ahmadi Muslim. There is no hatred like the hatred for the apostate.
And so by acquiescing to this and saying, well, the Muslim fundamentalists are going to be running things for the next 20, 30, 40 years, so we’ll just have to deal with them as they are and have as constructive a relationship as possible — that, by the way, parenthetically, has a naive component because one of the core values of the Muslim Brotherhood, and certainly in every party to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood, is dire opposition to the American idea and to the American presence in the Middle East and to American culture. So our relations with Egypt are fine until the check doesn’t clear. So there is the simple moral case for pressuring these governments to think carefully about the way they treat women and the way they treat minorities.
I also do think within the parameters of the realistic that short-term there are some gains to be made by actually identifying ourselves with the secular or secular-minded — there is no true secularism — but the secular-minded in these countries by buttressing them. I don’t know that the King of Jordan is right. I don’t know if some of these societies are ready to form democratic systems the way we have a democratic system.
By the way, one of the funny things I’ll mention is that the king, like many western-educated, western-minded reformers in the Middle East, they’ll just split that way, has an overly beneficent view of American democracy where he thinks that our democracy is really functioning well. It’s sort of charming in a way. But there are things we can do within the context — and this is frankly an internationalist pitch — that we can do to strengthen those forces in places like Egypt that do not want a long period of Muslim fundamentalist rule through training, through education, through advocacy for them in the human rights realm. We do have some influence and we do have some power.
And here is the final and important point: by doing this, we get on the right side of history now.
Because I do agree that eventually — and I don’t know if this is 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, decades, decades down the road — eventually Muslim fundamentalist rule will fail for various reasons.
One of the problems with the Muslim Brotherhood is that it doesn’t have a reasonable grasp of the modern world. If you can’t deal with the modern world as it actually is, you are not going to function in the community of nations, you’re not going to have a well-functioning economy. The issue of tourism in Egypt is right now really almost a purely theoretical issue, whether they have bikinis or not, now to go to the beach. There are a lot of beaches in the world.
MR. GERECHT: Four Seasons Cairo, about $85 a day. It’s a great time to go, a great time.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yes, yes, yes. I stayed at the Four Seasons. It’s like The Shining. You walk down the hall and there are no humans anywhere.
And you’ve got to ask the question, why is the Four Seasons keeping this place open?
MR. GERECHT: For you.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yes, that’s right. “Oh, look, Gerecht is back.”
So that’s a purely theoretical notion, but it will fail, I believe, over time, and we can, for once, as America, say to the many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who genuinely want their societies to be liberal in the way that our society is liberal, we could say to them now, “We are your friends. We are supporting you. We’re not invading anyone, but we are with you.” And eventually the rest of the Muslim world, or many, many people within the Muslim world — and again it might be decades, it might be after we’re long gone — will say, “Look, the Americans finally lined up with the people, and they finally lined up with their own values and they lined up with the idea of freedom.” And again you’re not wrong, patience is what’s needed, but I don’t think patience equals fatalism. And I’ll end there.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. I’ve got several already on the list. But I want to give Reuel a moment just to reply quickly and then we’ll get to the people on the list.
MR. GOLDBERG: Why did you do that snoozy sound when I mentioned the King of Jordan?
MR. GERECHT: Because I cannot believe you brought up the Hashemites as an example. King Abdullah rules through one reason: he rules because of the General Intelligence Directorate. If it were not for it and the blue rooms where he takes the individuals he doesn’t like and treats them in very unkind ways, the monarchy would go down.
MR. GOLDBERG: I actually disagree.
MR. GERECHT: The monarchy is in horrendous shape.
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s not in horrendous shape.
MR. GERECHT: It is becoming a wholly-owned subdivision of the Saudi monarchy. You now are actually having not just Palestinians, who are really beginning to hate the king, which didn’t used to be the case. The Palestinian percentage in Jordan may be as high as 80 percent, it’s definitely 70 percent. If it were not for the —
MR. GOLDBERG: In his bed, it’s 50 percent.
MR. GERECHT: If it were not for the teeny-weeny slice of the East Bankers who maintain this sort of Iraq-style overlordship over the Palestinians, I think the Hashemites would be in deep doo-doo, if it were not for the subventions of the Saudis, if it were not for the extraordinary accomplishments of the Intelligence Directorate and also CIA subventions for the Intelligence Directorate.
MR. GOLDBERG: Now, look, I’ll give you that. I’ll give you that he’s in power — well, first of all, you neglected to mention the Israelis, who have a vested interest in keeping him.
MR. GERECHT: The Israelis, too.
MR. GOLDBERG: But after spending weeks there over the last 4 or 5 months, I would say that while the bloom is off the rose, the romance is gone between the people and the king, but what he has going for him more than anything else is the condition of the rest of the region. This is one of the things.
You talk about the monarchy being in horrendous shape. The opposition in Jordan has not been able to muster more than 2,500, 3,000 people to a demonstration. There is a reason for that, and it’s not just the Intelligence Service. The reason is that Jordanians now fear the instability and violence that they see to their north, and they fear the chaos of Egypt, and they certainly loathe the chaos that they see to their east in Anbar Province. They fear and loathe that much more than they dislike their king, and so the —
MR. GERECHT: That used to be said during the Iraq War. There were some very embarrassing articles written by very famous journalists. I’ll not enumerate them right now, I’ll do it later —
MR. CROMARTIE: Are any in this room?
MR. GERECHT: None is in this room.
— where they said, “Oh, the model of Iraq, all its troubles, it’s set back democracy for ages in the Middle East. Egypt, in particular, is never going to go the democratic way because they can see the troubles in Iraq.” Boom. Less than 5 years later it’s rolling. I would be very skeptical of that argument. I think the only thing that King Abdullah has truly accomplished is he now can use the subjunctive when he conjugates Arabic verbs. He didn’t used to be able to do that. In fact, he didn’t handle the present or past tense all that well.
MR. CROMARTIE: Give us an example.
MR. GERECHT: Oh, he couldn’t say “yakuuna” — to be; he actually now puts the “a” at the end of it. He didn’t know his own language, he really didn’t. He was a product of English, not Arabic. I would just say this: I think the trajectory of fundamentalism in Jordan has gone only one way, it’s about like that [points straight up], and that is what you should expect.
Jordan is not that much different from other states in the region. Wherever you have an authoritarian state engaged in the practices that authoritarian states must use, Islamic fundamentalism grows. The Hashemites have done wonders. They’ve been able to stay in power under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, so I would never say the Hashemites are toast because they have always been able to pull the rabbit out of the hat, but I would just say that the terrible practices that King Hussein and now his son engaged in — financial practices, corruption, nepotism, the blue rooms, all these other things — they’re beginning to finally come down and the Hashemite monarchy is losing the support of not just the Palestinians, who are absolutely critical to this whole thing, but they’re also beginning to lose the support of East Bankers. The only thing that holds them in power is the East Banker fear of the Palestinians. That’s the primary thing that holds them in power.
Now, I’ll just say a couple of little things. I thought Jeffrey was beginning to engage in a certain nostalgia that again is becoming more common in the United States and also in Europe, as you begin to see the difficulties of the Great Arab Revolt. You see the political agenda is becoming clearer. It’s still not clear yet, but it will become clearer, and I guarantee you —
MR. GOLDBERG: What, my agenda or the Arab agenda?
MR. GERECHT: Arab.
MR. GOLDBERG: Not that they’re different.
MR. GERECHT: No, your agenda is good. It will become more depressing. Listen, minorities in the Middle East have had a really bad time for the last 150 years. One of the downsides of westernization, creating the nation state in the Middle East, was actually it reduced the guarantees of minorities. The minorities actually had a better time under the Ottoman Empire because as long as they would cede the public square, they were guaranteed their own security within their own communities. The introduction of nationalism, where everybody becomes a citizen, actually diminished that position for them.
The only other thing here is on women’s issues, and Jeffrey’s remark on bikinis, that’s absolutely true, but the objective is compromise. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, they don’t have any place where they engage in this sort of infidel compromise. If Egypt actually can and Tunisia can create places where foreign women can come in, it is a significant compromise. It is something that shows that the regime isn’t as dogmatic as other Islamists are elsewhere, and that’s what you want to see; you want to see the little tiny shreds of pragmatism that actually can grow and have repercussions elsewhere in society.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. I have Carl Cannon, you’re first.
CARL CANNON, RealClearPolitics.com: Yes. I actually have a question for each gentleman, and they’re different questions, but they’re quick. Jeff, you said that one of the things that’s going on there — and you’ve written about this — is the disintegration of the existing borders, the collapse of those countries that were driven up. And my question to you is, if that process happens, when do the Kurds get a homeland? Because that seems to me to be a real one recognized by a country of their own.
And, Reuel, you mentioned — and I think most people here are aware of it — how dominant women’s issues are in this whole Islamic story of theirs. And I guess my question is, not to be cynical, but to really examine, it’s so extreme from our standpoint. My question is, is that really the organizing principle, or is Islam, itself, a pretext for really continuing subjugation of women and keeping women in a place — and it’s really just an excuse — and that the real goal is oppressing women?
MR. GERECHT: No, I don’t think the real goal is this — we have come so far from where we were in the West, and I was going to tweak Jeffrey a bit. One of the things that I always find interesting when I listen to westerners talk about the Islamic world is they tend to have a bit of amnesia of how bad modernity was in the West. Modernity is a bitch; it’s lethal. The West is built on only one thing: blood. We grew out of a sea of blood. Until the Treaty of Augsburg in 1555, the Germans killed one-third of their population as the Protestants and Catholics went after each other — one-third of the population, and that’s just one example. You can go through all of Europe, and the body count just rises and rises and rises. I actually suspect Muslims will do better.
I think when it comes to women, it is tradition that counts most. The ethical structures that they have that are incorporated into the faith and local cultures are built upon female honor, and so I don’t think you can separate the faith from this issue. It is deeply, deeply intertwined. And there is something that you have to say about Muslim societies wherever you find them, and there are great variations. If you go from Morocco all the way to Indonesia, there are great variations as to how Muslims order themselves, but the one thing you can say is they have created very stable family structures. You may not like that family structure, but it’s quite profound.
Bob Kaplan had a very astute observation when he was observing the ghettos of Brazil and Latin America, and then he went to observe the ghettos and the shantytowns of the Muslim world — and there are horrendous ones in the Muslim world — but what he noted — and he’s quite right — is that the family structure was actually much more solid in the horrendous poverty-stricken areas of the Muslim world; it held. The Muslim family structure, which is at the core of their identity, does definitely put the woman in an inferior second-class position, there is absolutely no doubt about it, but it has been a model which has sustained itself. What is happening is that we — the West — have introduced new ideas, and they — Muslims in the Middle East — are accepting them. It’s not a case of imperialism; this is where people like Edward Said just lose it. It’s not imperialists who bring in western culture; it’s they –the Muslims of the Middle East — who adopt the culture and like it. There are many aspects of Western culture that they wanted. But at the same time, it causes a great deal of internal friction, it’s corrosive to the traditional order. And I think what we have to be careful of is that when they hear us talk, what they — fundamentalists and Muslims of faith — hear us saying is that, “All right, we’re going to have a democracy, and according to the way you want it: if you, secularists, win, you win; if I — a Muslim fundamentalist — win, you still win, too.” Democracy works for us so long as the culture of Western secularism is triumphant.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Jeffrey?
MR. GOLDBERG: The Kurds will get a state when they figure out how to make the Jews their enemy. At least they’ll get attention for their cause, but the poor schmucks picked the wrong enemy. They would get on the cover of The New York Times Magazine if they just figured out a way to get Israel pissed off at them.
The chances are actually good. One of the things that we undervalue obviously about the Iraq War, and I just had an extended e-mail conversation with the Prime Minister of Kurdistan about this, is that the Kurds were freed by the Americans from the threat of further genocide at the hands of Saddam Hussein. They were already on a positive trajectory because of the no fly zone — I’m talking about just the Iraqi Kurds. Right now they are in better shape than they’ve ever been. They still pay lip service, at least, to the idea of an Arab-dominated unitary Iraq, but they’re fighting tremendously with the central government over their oil. They were going to cut a side deal with Turkey.
Kurdish kids — this is interesting — don’t learn Arabic anymore in their schools. These are citizens of Iraq, yes. Millions now who just don’t know Arabic, the language of the rest of the country. It is moving in that direction. Obviously, Kurds and other ethnic minorities that have been stateless because they’ve been dominated by an Arab Muslim Sunni majority, or in serious cases, Alawis minority, do have some opportunities here, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if Iraqi Kurdistan, at least, figures out a way to break free. And I think in Syria, we’ll have a de facto Kurdish quasi-independent mountain readout or something because I think that’s the way Syria is going; it’s going to break apart, there’s a good chance of that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay, Amy Sullivan.
AMY SULLIVAN, National Journal: I wanted to push back against the idea that secularization and westernization of a Muslim country will almost always lead to fundamentalist rule. I think it’s not surprising when you have the secularization of a culture that there will be things about the opposite approach like the Muslim Brotherhood that will appeal to people, but it doesn’t have to be necessarily the only answer. Your example, that the women at the University of Cairo may decide that as their form of protest they’ll start veiling themselves, doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to go all the way to embracing the theology and the cultural goals of the Muslim Brotherhood. That said, I wonder how difficult it is and how much evidence there is that there is any sort of middle ground movement in a place like Egypt or that the Muslim Brotherhood would allow something like that to emerge where you would have a vehicle for protesting some of the excesses of westernization without actually moving all the way to the Muslim Brotherhood’s positions.
MR. GERECHT: Well, I think the best model on this is probably Turkey, and Ataturk was an astonishing enlightened dictator. What he did — one, just changing the language…people tend to ignore that issue, but that is the most fundamental change I think you can do. One day you have the Ottoman script, which is a variation of the Arabic script, and then, boom, you’re using a Latin script is a truly shocking achievement and was an incredibly successful maneuver on his part to reorient Turks from the Islamic world towards Europe. Ataturk was very explicit in saying that there is only one civilization in the world, and that civilization is European. That would never be said in the Arab world. Yet, it’s also been quite clear that you could not just shear off 600 years of history, and the Justice and Development Party is returning those 600 years of history to the Turks.
You can’t force-feed Muslims. That has been the pattern since World War II. That the modernizing autocrats, be they presidents for life or kings, would force-feed Muslims and create little westerners, except in the Middle East. It didn’t work. If there is going to be change, that change has to be organic. You cannot import Belgian or Swiss constitutions and western legal codes and expect them to have traction in those societies and be accepted as legitimate. I think you have to have all of that done organically. That’s why it’s a great mistake that the Middle East went so profoundly in the direction of military dictatorship after World War II, that path towards modernity cut off the organic evolution that you actually saw occurring in the late 19th century. So I think unless you have that organic growth, enforced secularism always produces a significant growth in the religious identity and extraordinarily fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalism.
MR. GOLDBERG: But you’re not talking about enforced secularism, right? I would only say that based on what I know of the Muslim Brotherhood, the answer is no, they are not interested in creating space for actual powerful dissenting voices that are Islamist-lite or however you might want to put it. They know their country and they understand that the power, especially outside the city, is with them. I’ve had two years of debates about the Muslim Brotherhood on this, and I always remind people that there is a great desire — and now I’m being anti-nostalgia, anti-sentimental, anti-whatever Reuel was talking about — there is a great desire to imagine that they’re like us. I’m talking about the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood or the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. It comforts us, it makes us feel like we’re all alike and we all want the same things, and every president, no matter what party, has to always say, “Well, we all want the same things.” Well, no, they actually want something different. I’ll read it to you, the creed of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s very simple: “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” It’s not from the DNC, you know.
It’s admirably straightforward, but what they’ve done is they’ve adopted the tactics of political parties, which is to say that the little Etch-A-Sketch thing never hurts and a little bit of subterfuge and a little bit of marketing, but they are what they are. And to quote Erdogan, who I think is just a more clever version of Morsi, I think that Erdogan —
MR. CROMARTIE: Who is that?
MR. GOLDBERG: The Prime Minister of Turkey. People refer to him as a soft Islamist, but ultimately he is moving his country in a direction that obviously a lot of secular Turks find very disagreeable. He is the one who said, when he was still Mayor of Istanbul, I think, “Democracy is like a train, you ride it until you get to your stop and then you get off.” I think we see that. Turkey has more journalists in jail than almost any other country in the world at this point, and I think we understand where his loyalty is. And so I don’t think that these parties, once they gain power, are very interested in having a multiplicity of real voices, and that’s just my take on that.
MR. GERECHT: Can I just add one quick thing on that? People need to pay close attention to what the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists write, and you must take it seriously. I think there is a tendency in the West, one, because it’s hard to read that stuff, it’s actually not easy.
MR. GOLDBERG: You mean in a pleasant light.
MR. GERECHT: It’s not pleasant to read. My friend, Ian Buruma, was trying to understand Tariq Ramadan and some other European Islamists, and he asked me, “What should I read?” I gave him a whole list of books to read, and he came back to me two or three weeks later almost in tears, and he says, “God, this stuff is awful.” It’s tough to read, it’s not fun.
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, look, if you buy books like those written in the style of Yousef Qaradawi, who is one of the main Muslim Brotherhood-style thinkers in the Sunni world — get their books on the organization of family life and read the sections about when it’s permissible and when it’s not to beat your wife. It’s there. It’s just all there. You’re right, it’s not fun to read: “Don’t leave a mark. Explain to her while you’re beating her how she created the situation in which it was necessary to have this beating.” It’s ugly.
MR. GERECHT: I saw Qaradawi reduce Richard Holbrooke to tears. That’s not an easy thing to do.
MR. GOLDBERG: Only Susan Rice could do that.
MR. GERECHT: Yes.
MR. CROMARTIE: Paul Edwards?
PAUL EDWARDS, Deseret News: You gave us the Islamist narrative about the Jews. What is the narrative about the Copts in Egypt? How do they frame that? And I actually have two, they’re quite different. The second question is, do the Emirates provide any sort of model for cosmopolitanism within the Arab world?
MR. GOLDBERG: You do the first, I’ll do the second.
MR. GERECHT: That’s a good question on the Copts. The Copts are tricky because the Copts are such an old community; they are the first Egyptians. I would answer in two ways. I think within the Islamist movements in Egypt it’s divided. There are those that look upon the Copts in the traditional way that Muslims look upon a Christian minority, and that is, they are a part of the woodwork and they’re an accepted part of the community within restrictions.
MR. GOLDBERG: As long as they know their place.
MR. GERECHT: Right. You’ve got to remember, it’s the public square. So that group, I don’t think you have to worry about too much. They’re not nice by any western standard, but they’re not lethal.
There are then those, like the Salafists, who don’t have a traditional attitude towards the Copts, who actually look at the Copt presence as being insidious, as being a means for western culture to penetrate into Egypt. And that’s historically not untrue because the minorities, and particularly the Christian communities, have usually been the cutting edge of westernization. And there it gets harsher. I would say that the first view is likely to prove predominant.
But to be honest, when I was a student in Egypt in the 1970s and early 1980s, if I would go over to the American Embassy back then, the lines would extend forever and almost everybody in them were Copts.
MR. CROMARTIE: What did they want?
MR. GERECHT: To leave. They wanted to go to America. This has been the pattern of religious minorities in the Middle East for 150 years. I hate to say it because I love the complex cosmopolitan culture of the Middle East, which was vastly more cosmopolitan than the culture of Europe. It’s dying, if not dead. We will see within our lifetimes probably the end of the great Christian minority communities of the Middle East. The Jewish communities died out. The Christian communities, in all probability, will, too.
MR. GOLDBERG: One very quick point on that, which comes back to something that Reuel said. I’m not actually that much of an optimist on the peace process. One of the reasons I’m not actually that much of an optimist on the peace process is precisely this trend. The Middle East is an inhospitable place for ethnic and religious minorities. The idea that the Middle East can absorb a Jewish national state that demands equality within the framework of the Middle East is too much for some people to bear. In other words, the Middle East conflict is both unique in some ways, but it’s also very much a part of the pattern. You can understand something about Arab Sunni majority opinion concerning Israel by looking at the way Copts are treated in Egypt, the way Kurds are treated in Iraq, the way blacks were treated in Sudan before South Sudan broke off, and so on. No minority, ethnic, religious, otherwise, has an easy time in the Middle East. There is a real desire for purification and a desire for dominance in the culture, and there is just no way around it.
Very quickly, your first question. I am comfortable holding up Jordan as a possible small-scale model, even though Mr. Anti-Monarchy over here doesn’t agree with me.
I’m not prepared to hold up the UAE. It’s a family with a flag and a lot of American weaponry. These are countries whose the citizen base is 600,000, 700,000, the population is mostly foreign workers. They are afloat on a sea of oil and they can buy so much with that oil, including a level of quiet, that you can’t buy in most countries. It’s a nice place to go shopping and obviously Saudis like to go over there to not be in Saudi Arabia for a few days. These are enjoyable places in some ways, but they’re not really a model for anything.
MR. GERECHT: I would say one quick point. I think Vali Nasr made an astute point in his book on the Forces of Fortune. I think the UAE actually helped make Islamic fundamentalism chic in that you had very religious people become very, very wealthy and they had the means to convey through television and advertising a wealth associated with a new vibrant Islamic identity. It wasn’t a western identity; it was a vibrant Islamic identity. So that is a significant contribution, I think, of the Gulf sheikdoms. Beyond that, I think they have no redeeming virtues and no applicability whatsoever to anywhere else in the Middle East.
MR. CROMARTIE: Sally Quinn, you’re next.
SALLY QUINN, The Washington Post: I am interested in the Egyptian opposition and what’s wrong with them. We all know that Morsi is an uninteresting, sort of boring pedestrian character who probably would not have gotten elected if the opposition hadn’t been divided. I was particularly interested that when John Kerry went to Egypt, that ElBaradei refused to meet with him and some of the other opposition leaders. And I don’t get it. It just seems to me that if they would pull themselves together, they might be able to do something. The idea that they wouldn’t even meet with the Secretary of State just seemed to me really self-destructive given the fact that Morsi doesn’t have that kind of charismatic personality or really that kind of following.
MR. GERECHT: I would agree with everything you just said. I think it was a pretty stupid move, but I think it was expected.
MR. CROMARTIE: That he not meet?
MR. GERECHT: Yes, that they wouldn’t do that. ElBaradei, he’s got issues. But I think they were reacting to the slow way the administration responded to the Egyptian rebellion, the protests, and they mistakenly held a grudge on that issue.
All of the opposition which is under the age of 25 suffers from the problem that all people under the age of 25 suffer from; they’re usually fairly stupid.
That doesn’t set the Egyptians apart.
But they don’t have any practice, they don’t have any tradition. The one thing you can say about Egypt under Mubarak, as under Sadat, under Nasser, you don’t really get any lessons in civic virtues. So I suspect they will get better. It’s going to take time, but I think they’ll get better, and they’ll learn to identify those things that are really important to them and calm themselves about those issues now that they get quite passionate about and really aren’t that relevant.
MS. QUINN: But aren’t they the sort of future of secularism?
MR. GERECHT: Yes.
MS. QUINN: So if they pull together, they might be able to overwhelm the —
MR. GERECHT: I don’t think they’ll be able to —
MR. GOLDBERG: You’re assuming that the majority of Egyptians are secular-minded.
MR. GERECHT: Yes. I don’t think they’ll —
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s a very, very, very religious country. The Muslim Brotherhood is a very, very organized and very tough party.
MS. QUINN: Are they more Salafists than they are —
MR. GOLDBERG: When you said the Egyptian opposition, you can go two ways with that.
MS. QUINN: Right.
MR. GOLDBERG: There is opposition to the right as well as to the left. The Muslim Brotherhood has a 60-year jump in organizing, and these secularists — the Google kids, the Facebook revolution — that was chimerical. They opened the square, they did, but they don’t have the numbers or the support, and people look at them as they look at foreigners; they’re not in the mainstream in that society.
MR. GERECHT: That’s the biggest problem that the secular liberal crowd, however one wants to slice it, has always had in the Middle East: how do they make themselves authentic? Because they are obviously an import, their ideas are imported. So how do you take an imported idea, root it in the ground, and become authentic so someone can’t attack you for essentially being a conveyor, a vehicle, for foreign ideas? It’s a real problem, and it’s one that Muslim secularists, liberals, have not been able yet, I think, to successfully deal with.
MR. CROMARTIE: Doyle McManus, you’re up next. Then Fred Barnes, Brit Hume and Rob Gifford, John Siniff, Tim Dalrymple, and Jon Ward.
MR. GOLDBERG: What about women? This is like a Muslim Brotherhood meeting.
MR. CROMARTIE: Doyle McManus?
DOYLE McMANUS, Los Angeles Times: Reuel, to paraphrase you ruthlessly, I think I heard you say, look, the peace process is not going to result in Islamists or Muslim believers embracing the state of Israel because that’s theologically impossible. Okay. But two things. Number one, are you raising the bar too high for any peace process? And second, is the correct inference from what you said, so forget about it until the Islamic world completes this debate because otherwise the peace process can’t really have any utility? And, of course, I would like Jeff to respond to that because he’s written passionately and brilliantly about the various utilities of the peace process, but I would also like Jeff to answer the question, as our modern Moses, so was Moses a Muslim or a Jew?
MR. GERECHT: Well, I’ll let Jeffrey take the bulk of this one. I’ll just say I think Palestinians should vote. Let the Palestinians decide by —
MR. McMANUS: In which state?
MR. GERECHT: Both. You don’t get to separate it. That’s a misnomer. Let them vote. So let’s see who wins in elections between Fatah and Hamas, and then let’s see whether either one really wants to have an agreement with Israel and let them vote about it, but don’t fall back to that traditional American response, which is, “Ooh, elections.” I was in the State Department on the day the election returns came back, and a certain very —
MR. GOLDBERG: The 2006 Hamas election.
MR. GERECHT: Yes. A certain very senior State Department official, who will go unmentioned, was shocked — shocked — that Hamas had done so well. And I looked at him and I said, “You must be kidding.” And that’s also not to say that Fatah — let’s be honest, Fatah is not exactly what you would call a liberal secular organization. But I think the key is let them vote; don’t try to find some dictatorial cheat, don’t try to find a successor to Abbas and say, “All right, now we’ll work it out.” Don’t do those things that we’ve done in the past. Let them vote, and if they vote against, they vote against. And I suspect in a free vote, they will vote against, but maybe not. But that’s the answer, and until that happens, until the Muslims themselves work it out, until the Palestinians work it out, then I would do nothing at all with the peace process.
MR. CROMARTIE: Jeffrey?
MR. GOLDBERG: That would be a mistake, not to do anything. I think you’re right, I think you set the bar too high when you say, well, until Islam changes, we can’t do anything — that’s defeatist and fatalistic. I don’t disagree. Look, the reason that the peace process collapsed in 2000 was a very, very simple elemental atavistic kind of idea. Yasir Arafat could not recognize that the Temple Mount was Jewish, which is not to say that it’s not also now Muslim, but they couldn’t recognize it. Bill Clinton — and it’s in his memoirs — he looked at him and he said, “Look, everybody knows it’s the Temple Mount. What are you talking about?”
But Reuel is right, Islam is a relatively recent religion that made up for its newness by grafting onto the past and saying that everything that happened in the past that you thought was Jewish and Christian is actually Muslim, and so that has an archeological and geographic quality to it as well. So it fell apart on Jerusalem.
So the answer, because there won’t be a peace deal over Jerusalem, which is really the most difficult final status issue, the answer to that is, well, let’s not talk about anything, I think. And what you can do is you can create some conditions on the ground that ready the ground for the day when something different happens. And obviously, I think that for Israel’s sake, if it wants to maintain its status as a Jewish majority democracy, it has to figure out how to disengage itself from the lives of the Palestinians of the West Bank. The way not to do that is to continue to build settlements that entangle Israel more in the lives of these Palestinians. To say that is not to say Israel should pull out right away from the West Bank unilaterally, if necessary; it’s to say don’t make the situation worse. You can say the same thing to the Palestinians: don’t sell your people, in schools and elsewhere, stories and lies that perpetuate the conflict. That’s a more difficult one in the sense that it’s very, very hard to get a Palestinian to acknowledge — a Palestinian leader or intellectual — a Jewish connection to any of that land, because if you do that, you blow up the entire Palestinian narrative, which is that Zionism is a colonial imposition rather than a story about a group of people coming back to the place that they once were. But there are things that both sides can do.
And so I tend to think that Reuel is right, that you’re not going to get Muslims to suddenly say, “Well, you know what? A Jewish state, not such a bad idea.” On the other hand, you can create conditions on the ground that lower the temperature and that at least hold out the possibility for an eventual deal.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Fred.
FRED BARNES, The Weekly Standard: Reuel, I wanted to follow up with you about Christians being gone from the Middle East. My question is, how does this happen? Is it self-deportation? Are they driven out? And is one reason it can’t happen in Egypt just because there are so many of them? But there are a lot in Syria, too, and Lebanon.
MR. GERECHT: Emigration is the primary way. It’s a slow process. The communities have been emigrating for quite some time. You don’t really know the real numbers in the Middle East. Everybody lies about percentages in the Middle East.
MR. CROMARTIE: Why?
MR. GOLDBERG: No good census in most places.
MR. GERECHT: Everybody is extremely sensitive about the issue of who’s the majority, who’s the minority. There were Iraqi Sunnis who profoundly believed that they were over 50 percent of population when they were really around 20 percent of the population. You want to believe your numbers are greater than they are, and you want to believe that the other guy, his numbers are a lot less. So I don’t know whether the Copts are still 10 percent of the population. They might be 15 percent of the population. My guess would be that a significant number of Copts have left the country. It’s harder now. Once upon a time, for example, if you were a Lebanese Christian, you went into a French consulate, and they would more or less give you a visa just like that, but the French don’t do that anymore. So the escape valves for the Christian minorities in the Middle East have become fewer, but the trajectory of this is fairly clear.
I’m hopeful the Syrian Christians don’t get hit with what the Alawis are going to get hit with because the Syrian Christians, for the most part, have been sympathetic to the Assad regime for very understandable reasons: because the regime was a minority heretical Shiite community lording it over the Sunnis. And so therefore the Christians align themselves with another minority, and their position was pretty sound because historically, everybody who was a minority community, has feared the Sunnis. Well, now the Sunnis are having their revenge, and I would not be surprised if we see 100- to 200,000 Alawis die — that’s plus what we’ve seen die already. I think that’s not a high figure; it could be worse than that. You can sit down and pray that the Christians don’t get hit with that fury, too.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Brit, you’re up next.
BRIT HUME, Fox News: Jeffrey, you had an interesting thesis last night at dinner about the state of play between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu and the issue of Iran and a nuclear weapon. I would like to hear you on it again and I would certainly like to hear Reuel’s response to it.
MR. GOLDBERG: I can’t remember what I said.
MR. HUME: Did you write it down anywhere?
MR. GOLDBERG: Was it good? Was it smart? It would stipulate that I said something smart on Iran?
MR. HUME: Yes. It was striking.
MR. GOLDBERG: Wow.
MR. HUME: Well, basically what you said was that Netanyahu has now sort of decided he’s going to trust President Obama —
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, he’s got no choice. Yes, yes. He’s got no choice. The interesting thing about the relationship at the moment is that Netanyahu was in the driver’s seat for much of last year in the sense that — Obama would never acknowledge — nobody would — that Netanyahu had the power to subvert his election or derail his election campaign by launching a unilateral strike on Iran, but that threat was there. In part because of that and in part because I think Obama genuinely worries about a nuclear Iran, Obama, over the last couple of years, has taken some pretty decisive steps, not only rhetorically, although the rhetoric is important, but on sanctions and some other issues — sabotage — in part to make sure that the Israelis were on the same page and weren’t going to go do something precipitous. It’s always interesting when they have these P5+1 meetings, and they’ve had four of them between the Iranians and the western powers. Wendy Sherman, the State Department official who does them, she leaves these P5+1 and goes to Jerusalem to tell Netanyahu what happened just to sort of say, “This is what we’re doing, calm down, don’t worry about it.”
Netanyahu gave Obama a great gift in September when he went to the U.N. and he said, “You know what, I’m looking at the numbers and it seems like we have another 6 to 9 months before they reach the 240 kilograms of medium-enriched uranium that they need to go to breakout.” That was a huge favor to Obama, but now that Obama has run his last campaign, he’s free to do what he wants, and so now he has more power to tell Netanyahu, “Look, this is the way it’s going to go, and you really don’t have much room here.” So Netanyahu, to a degree that no Israeli prime minister has ever done, has basically subcontracted out the security of his country to the Americans, which is really a profound moment because it’s — I find this so interesting, analytically — and I don’t want to go on at length, but Israeli defense — is this what we were talking about or was it something different?
MR. HUME: Yes.
MR. GOLDBERG: Oh, good.
MR. HUME: I was trying to get to the profound moment.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yeah.
I’m going to drop it on you right now. Israeli defense national security strategy has been built for the last 40 years on two pillars. One is maintain Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East; never let an adversary gain hold of a nuclear weapon — sort of the Auschwitz directive, right? Never let anybody who says they’re going to kill you get the means to kill you. And the second is never get on the bad side of an American president because you need the American president for all the things that Israel needs an American president for. Here you have this conflict. They ran up against each other, and I really see it as basic as they had a staring contest and Netanyahu blinked in September and now he is, from his perspective, paying the consequence for it.
I happen to trust Obama more on this question than I guess Netanyahu does. You know that Obama is serious when he says he means to stop Iran, with the obvious caveat that America has promised to stop other rogue regimes from getting hold of nuclear weapons and has failed — Pakistan and North Korea — so we’re 0 for 2. Israelis say, of course, that they’re 2 for 2 because they stopped Iraq and they stopped Syria. All that said, it really is in Obama’s hands now. We don’t know, it might be too late for Israel to do something operationally. Certainly Obama has the means to put more pressure on Netanyahu, now that he’s free of election worries, not to do something, and so we’re heading into a very, very interesting phase.
MR. CROMARTIE: We’ll get Reuel’s comment on that. I just want to comment that I need to let you all know that Jeffrey is leaving later today to cover President Obama in the Middle East, and so he has to leave later this afternoon. Will you be able to talk to him about this point?
MR. GOLDBERG: Talk to who?
MR. CROMARTIE: Mr. President.
MR. GOLDBERG: Oh, yes, because I’m going to get within 3 miles of him.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay.
MR. GOLDBERG: Brit knows very well, presidential trips are almost — you’re always filled with regret as soon as you go on them.
MR. HUME: You travel near the President but not with him.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yes, you travel near.
MR. GERECHT: The Obama administration, the most intelligent thing it did with Israel, I think, was when State, the CIA and the Pentagon sent a team over to Israel to talk to their military and intelligence folks about the Iranian nuclear program. They did it with the explicit intention to undermine Netanyahu and Barak because they knew, quite understandably, that the Israeli military and Israeli intelligence were incredibly nervous about bombing the Iranian nuclear sites. So the team went over there and they reinforced the nervousness. They also did something quite thoughtful in that they shared a lot of information and they discussed in a very collegial way the whole effort, and I think it actually robbed Netanyahu and Barak of their own support structure within their own military and their intelligence service. It was a good chess stroke.
I think the Israelis, like all liberal democracies, have a really hard time going to war. They also have the little issue that they only have 5,000-pound bombs and they have 70 airplanes. No matter how you cut it, it’s just not good — they probably only get one wave depending on what the Hezbollah does. It’s just bad arithmetic and very bad physics. So I don’t think the Americans have to do much to discourage the Israelis.
The real issue is whether Obama — does he really mean it? And I’m skeptical of that. I’m more skeptical than Jeffrey is. I don’t really think the President wants to get involved in a third war, which could turn out to be the most significant of all three wars we’ve been in. I just don’t think he wants to do that. I think it would seriously reverse his whole approach to the region and his understanding of the Islamic world. It would have significant impact upon the defense budget, et cetera, et cetera, and also his choices of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Hagel. I don’t think that those indicate a particularly aggressive stance on his part.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Rob.
ROB GIFFORD, The Economist: I’m sorry to live up to stereotypes and talk about the invisible hand and not the invisible God, but I wanted to — also, I cover China, so hearing the Muslim Brotherhood and their sort of agenda — Xi Jinping, the new president of China, has just stood up and said, “Economic development is our main priority.” And so that’s sort of one thing we haven’t got into.
And aside from basket weaving and tourism, where is, say, the Egyptian economy? How important is it in terms of just lifting those millions of people out of poverty, and how does that feed into, obviously, the politics of the region? And specifically, as a non-expert looking at it, you would always see that the Muslim Brotherhood, the people in their poverty always rallied to the Muslim Brotherhood to oppose Mubarak. Well, what happens when the Muslim Brotherhood are in power and those people are still poor. Who do they rally to and how does that affect the dynamics in the slums of Cairo?
MR. GOLDBERG: Very quickly, just a quick point. Poverty has a very bright future in Egypt, obviously, and because poverty has a very bright future in Egypt, it calls into question the Muslim Brotherhood’s future in Egypt. This is what obviously would dislodge them, if anything. Egypt is plum out of money, as you know. Since the Arab Spring of 2 years ago, I think there is — I saw some number — 2-1/2 million new babies. There are just so many surplus males in the working population that revolution is inevitable. This is why, of course, there is a certain analysis that holds that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t actually want power this quickly because they know enough about economics to know that you’ve got to have some jobs or else you’re going to get thrown out.
So the real question becomes, what happens when the people revolt against the Muslim Brotherhood rule, assuming that the trajectory stays the same? Will the Muslim Brotherhood figure out a way to stay in power through force or will they actually move out of power? I think they will try to stay through force, but Reuel can answer the question about what they’re actually trying to do to build their economy.
MR. GERECHT: I think it’s too soon to tell. Certainly the Muslim Brotherhood has made sounds that they would like to go on the path of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, which, broke with the Kemalist regime’s very state-controlled command economy. The Justice and Development Party has advocated much more free enterprise, and the great growth of free enterprise in central Turkey was driven largely by people of faith. The FIS was sort of going in that direction in Algeria, they made noises about it; but the Muslim Brotherhood is more comfortable historically with a more socialist approach to the economy, so it’s going to be something to watch to see where they go. But I don’t think they can do anything within the timeframe that is open to them.
I will just say this: I think the Brotherhood is in a better position to withstand turbulent times than anyone else is in Egypt because they are so culturally attuned to Egyptians, to the common man, that they are more likely to be able to remain popular in difficult times. That’s not to say that they can’t be overturned; I think they could be. But I would not expect to see the Muslim Brotherhood evanesce rapidly if Egypt were to go bankrupt.
MR. CROMARTIE: I think you have a follow-up, Rob.
MR. GIFFORD: Yes. I’m just interested because the hopelessness that fed the Arab Spring seems to continue. I was based in Shanghai when the Arab Spring happened and there were these calls on overseas Chinese websites to say go down to People’s Square and start a Chinese Spring, and so we all trooped down there and the western reporters were there and the Chinese police were there, and the people of Shanghai were too busy shopping to join the revolution —
— and that was the story we all wrote, and it is extraordinary. And obviously China is a whole different world from the Middle East, but there is a sort of hope in China, for all the dreadfulness that goes on, and it seems that that hope is just, still two years on, totally lacking, and the poverty continues. You’re really saying they’re going to be able to maintain power and support when the jobs continue not to come?
MR. GERECHT: As I said, I think they’ll be able to do a better job of that than many people think.
MR. CROMARTIE: Why?
MR. GERECHT: Because of the power of culture and the distance that the secular liberal crowd is from most Egyptians. Now, again, I think they can be seriously hurt and they could be overturned. There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood could lose an election, that you could see faithful Egyptians vote against them in large numbers, but that may not be a quick process. It may not be what we’re accustomed to, where the economy goes badly and, boom, you’re out with the next election. You may discover that they have a bit more attraction in their own society.
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s also pretty easy for the Muslim Brotherhood government if the economy goes south to pull a Castro and argue that, “Well, this is a conspiracy of the West and the IMF to screw us proud Muslims, and we’ll stand together or they’ll vanquish us.” That’s calling on the power of culture, calling on the power of paranoia, which is a huge factor in Egyptian culture. So it’s perfectly plausible that they can stay in power without using guns.
MR. GERECHT: And also I’ll just say that there is a certain elasticity out there that people tend to ignore, that the black economy, even though things are absolutely awful, is often sufficient to keep people going when you think the numbers just don’t add up. I think there will be a bit of that in Egypt, that people are used to making do with so little that there may be a pretty long fuse on this, longer than what we would expect.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. John Siniff.
JOHN SINIFF, USA Today: Serendipitously, I follow Rob’s question because I had the same thought, that, when did economics become kind of a bit-player in the region? It seems to me the underpinning of U.S. foreign policy for so long has at least to some degree been on economics, and when you look at the vacuum like the Sadrists in Iraq as a way of gaining power and influence through basically feeding the people, infrastructure, things the government doesn’t do very well in the Middle East — I’m wondering going forward, that being the case, if economics has become to a degree a bit-player, how should that redirect U.S. foreign policy and our limitless resources in dealing with the region?
MR. GERECHT: Well, that’s a good question. On Egypt, the United States obviously doesn’t have as much money as it used to. I would still say that given the amount that foreign aid takes, you could give an awful lot of money, and it’s not really all that much money. But that’s hard to sometimes get through in Congress. Yes, I think you need to condition aid. You don’t want to give aid blindly, and I think in the case of Egypt, I certainly would shift the historic American priority on weaponry.
I’m not a very great believer in the military industrial complex except in the Middle East, and I think the United States has had a fairly egregious policy, with some exceptions, to use military goods as an economic aid tool — and also because it creates very strong relationships, so we like to believe, between militaries, and you make the American taxpayer pay for the tanks you send to Egypt. I think that ought to stop. I can’t think of a single scenario where the Egyptian military getting new weaponry either benefits the United States or benefits the Egyptian people. It never made a lot of sense, and it really doesn’t make sense now.
MR. CROMARTIE: Does anybody listen to you on that point?
MR. GERECHT: Well, in our little Egypt Group, we try. I don’t know. I think there is some headway there. I think people do realize that the Egyptian military is not necessarily our friend, and in addition to that, you really don’t want to create a situation whereby you’re essentially giving weaponry to the Muslim Brotherhood. So I think conditioned aid is the key. I think the United States ought to be generous, but it can’t be a blank check. Obviously, if the Muslim Brotherhood acts in certain ways, you don’t want to give them money.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Tim Dalrymple.
TIMOTHY DALRYMPLE, Patheos.com: I write largely about American Christianity and especially evangelicalism, so this is a bit outside my wheelhouse, but it strikes me that American evangelicals have spoken, I would say, with a pretty cohesive voice on the issue of support for Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not so much on issues like women’s rights in the Muslim world. And so this is a question really for both of you: if you could see American Christians, and evangelicals in particular, engage with the Middle East in different ways, what would you like to see?
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s funny you say that. We were talking about this at dinner a little bit last night. As an outsider — I represent the third small branch of monotheism —
— the wee little small branch. As an outsider, I look at the condition of Christians — not just the Middle East, but across the Muslim world from Nigeria to Pakistan — and I’m sort of flummoxed by the lack of Christian interest in the condition of their spiritual brethren. We were talking last night of the outright persecution, the burning of churches, the stealing of property, the killing of people, the false charges of blasphemy, the whole range of things, it’s astonishing. And I haven’t gotten a reasonable explanation yet for why Christian churches in America don’t spend more time lobbying, advocating, arguing, pressuring this government to do more for Christians in places like this. I just never understood it.
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, you’ll have an answer by the time this session is over.
MR. GOLDBERG: I’m sure I will.
MR. CROMARTIE: I have it for you.
MR. GOLDBERG: Do you want to share?
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, the founding of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was rooted in evangelical concern about persecution and human rights abuses around the world, and that was signed in the late ’90s by President Clinton. That commission has done its best to try to highlight these things, and there are pockets of friends like Nina Shea and Paul Marshall and others around the country who are constantly raising this. But you’re right, though, in relation to the amount of persecution and the amount of noise being made —
MR. GOLDBERG: In relationship to the number of Christians in America.
MR. CROMARTIE: Right. So we’re glad that Dr. Keller is here to put that in his next sermon. If he would like to comment, we would be glad to hear it. But, anyway, there is a movement, but you’re right, Jeffrey, it’s not like there are 20,000 Christians in front of embassies in Washington protesting like there should be. That’s on the record. Reuel, did you want to comment on that?
MR. GERECHT: It’s a very tricky question. If there is to be a productive reaction, I think you have to make Muslims feel guilty, and that’s not as hard as it sounds because when you do have these types of anti-Christian explosions in the Middle East and you do have anti-Christian persecution, you can easily say that these are anti-Islamic. There is a tradition inside of Islam that guarantees what we would call basic human rights, certainly protection of life and property. So that’s where I would go with those criticisms.
I would be very careful in trying to not set it up as a clash of civilizations. That’s where I think you need to be a bit careful. And you want to try to instill guilt. Guilt is good. Make people feel guilty.
MR. CROMARTIE: On this point, Peter Boyer, on guilt?
PETER BOYER, Fox News: But that guilt trip thing hasn’t worked out so well in stopping terrorism, which is also anti.
MR. GERECHT: It’s worked out — it actually has had an effect, it’s just that the tolerance level is a lot higher than we would like to see it. For example, let’s look at Iraq. The Sunni capacity to see Shiites suffer is very large, but, without a doubt, when the Arab Sunni world began seeing Shiite mosques being blown up by Sunnis, when they saw Shiite women and children — women and children are always a good thing to focus on — being blown to pieces by Sunni holy warriors, it had a significant effect. It took time, it took much more time than one would like, but it did have an effect, you just have to keep the focus on it. But there is no doubt about it, the response that you find in the Middle East to these issues isn’t rapid.
MR. GOLDBERG: And by the way, this is not uniform across the Muslim world. In Jordan, for instance — and uncannily I’ve become the spokesman for the Hashemite court —
— you have in Jordan, in Morocco, in many monarchies, you have a kind of acceptance and tolerance for Christians that you don’t have in many other places, and even in Turkey. This is why, going back to what Reuel said about the Ottomans — Erdogan is a terrible anti-Semite, but he has this Ottoman approach to his Jews, which is to say that those Jews I don’t like, but these Jews who live here, they are part of the Ottoman mosaic, and so I’m going to protect them, and Christianity has the same status. So, you do find a range of responses.
MR. GERECHT: In Jordan they just hate Shiites, they don’t hate Christians.
MR. GOLDBERG: I don’t know why you hate Jordan so much. I just don’t understand.
MR. CROMARTIE: Tim Keller, this comment on evangelicals and persecution and why there might be a lack of rising concern about fellow Christians who are being persecuted, do you have any —
DR. TIMOTHY KELLER, Redeemer Presbyterian Church: Obviously evangelicals are Protestants, and an awful lot of the persecuted Christians are very, very old Christian communities that are not Protestant and they’re not even Catholic; they are various forms of older Christian communities before even the split between the East and West. That’s part of it. In other words, evangelicals are very relational. They get around the world and they see people and they talk to people, and they don’t mix.
The other thing I was just saying to Peter was that what I like about what Reuel said was I wouldn’t actually say guilt, but the point is the way you change somebody’s opinion is you find something in their own belief system to use against them. You don’t just beat on them and say, “You’re primitive and we’re enlightened.” You have to go inside and say, “What do you already believe? Wait a minute, you’re not being true to your own beliefs,” and you use that against them. That’s powerful, but just beating on them gets nowhere, and I think that’s another way I would put it rather than just say make them feel guilty, but —
MR. GERECHT: I don’t know. In Saturday school, the rabbi always just said guilt —
— but you know more about that than I do.
MR. GOLDBERG: I know much more about guilt.
MR. CROMARTIE: Jon Ward?
JON WARD, The Huffington Post: I would just observe about American evangelicals that they seem far more energized about support for Israel than raising this issue of persecution of Christians.
MR. GOLDBERG: Because that has a direct theological component as opposed to just humanitarian? Is that what you mean?
MR. WARD: I just think it’s ironic that there is so little —
MR. GOLDBERG: Certainly historically ironic, right?
MR. WARD: Yes. One more aside, I really liked your use of the phrase “culturally attuned” and “cultural power” because the GOP in the U.S. — I’m a political reporter — the GOP in the U.S. right now is adrift, everybody is talking about tactics and strategy and whether they should change positions. I think they’re just not culturally attuned to a large part of the country. I think it’s interesting to observe in this context the power of culture in the political sphere, I think that’s really a compelling idea.
My questions are twofold. One, I wanted to clarify what you said, Reuel, about Ahmadinejad’s mentor. You said he was the lone voice standing up for —
MR. GERECHT: No, I said he was really the only first-rate mind that still defends a clerical dictatorship, that’s all. The rest of the intellectual community in Iran, both lay and clerical, has gone the other way.
MR. WARD: Okay, because you used the term “theocracy,” which I thought fundamentalism was in favor of, but —
MR. GERECHT: Well, no. Sunni fundamentalism actually isn’t necessarily in favor of theocracy. That’s the Shiite tradition.
MR. WARD: Okay. And then my other question would be more theological, which may not be best for this setting, but it comes off of your comment about how Muslims do not focus on the heart but on the public square. A simple question, why is that? I’ve never heard that, and maybe that’s a sign of my ignorance, but I find it very interesting.
MR. GERECHT: That’s a very good question. Islam is like Judaism, it’s very theologically weak. There isn’t a great deal of time and effort spent on theology. It’s about the law. And Islam focuses on the law. The law is where it’s at, and as I said, orthodoxy is orthopraxy, it’s how you practice the law, and the notion that another man can intrude into another man’s mind and know his soul is just for the most part, with the exception of some Sufis, a fairly foreign concept in Islam, certainly traditional Islam. So the objective for salvation is one where you personally have to deal with the Almighty directly — and that’s between you and the Almighty. It’s not really anyone else’s business. And if you’re bad, then the Almighty is going to, come Judgment Day, exact a terrible price. But all the state can do and all the state should do is maintain the public square so public morality — the mores of society — follows the primary Islamic commandments, you might say, but the concern about the soul, the Christian use of soul, is for the most part, historically fairly rare in Islam. When you do see it, it has to do with the Sufi tradition, which, by the way, is highly influenced by Christianity. But for your traditional Sunni-Shiite clerical discussion, the soul just doesn’t come in there very much; it is about the law.
MR. WARD: And obeying it.
MR. GERECHT: And obeying it.
MR. WARD: And they believe the state can enforce that obedience.
MR. GERECHT: Well, for the public square, yes. That’s where I gave the example of Khomeini in ’82 when the real Iranian revolutionaries were very westernized. They wanted to say, no, Armenians can’t drink either; drinking is bad, but Khomeini said, no, they’re Christians, they can drink — the whole notion of what they call in the Koran khamr, covering your mind, does not apply to non-Muslims: they can drink whatever they want, they can grow grapes. So he followed a very classical understanding of the law. The law says that Muslims may not drink, but Christians may do what they want, they just can’t intrude into Muslim life; they can’t bring their booze with them into the public square.
MR. CROMARTIE: Jeffrey, I think you probably have a comment on this.
MR. GOLDBERG: I was remembering I was in the Serena Hotel in Quetta in Pakistan years ago, and Quetta makes Islamabad look like Tel Aviv or something. It’s a tough place, but there is a little sign in your room, a special number to call. It says, “Liquor is available for non-Muslims only. Call whatever,” and they’ll come to your room and they’ll bring you a bottle of gin. And the Muslim will touch it, bring it to you, sell it to you, but won’t drink it — well, not in front of you, obviously.
But, no, on this broader question, I think Reuel answered it well. You have to remember in Islam there is no “render unto Caesar” concept; there is no separation, so it’s all politics in a kind of way. The idea of political Islam is almost a redundancy. And so I think you’re right, it’s much more similar to Judaism in some ways in terms of the legal code. You certainly have people in Israel now more than ever who are trying to impose more of that legal code onto society, but Israel is an example of a state built around a faith community that nevertheless kept religious law mainly out of the public square. It’s being pushed in, and in the Muslim world you just see a far more advanced version of that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Jeffrey, I think before I call on David, this is an important time for you to tell us the story you told last night about visiting the Islamic seminary. While we’re talking about theology, I think it’s important.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yes. Yes. It’s an interesting story because it sort of goes to the contradictions of how certain people who you don’t think could live with you could actually live with you in certain circumstances. This was years ago. Reuel remembers this because we were both traveling at the same time. This was in Pakistan in ’99. There was this madrassa near Peshawar that had graduated Mullah Omar and other main figures in the Taliban, and I decided I wanted to go become a student there, an
Affirmative Action Program I was hoping for.
And so I presented myself — this was before Danny Pearl, so we all were wandering around Pakistan like idiots. Actually, I was on that trip when I first met Danny, I think. And I went to this madrassa, 6,000 students, it’s a big place, and really sort of Taliban army, sort of a feeder school to the Taliban in Afghanistan, mostly Pashtun kids from Afghanistan, and I wormed my way into a meeting with Sami ul Haq, the head of the seminary. And I told him that I just wanted to learn what you’re teaching and what you were doing.
MR. CROMARTIE: Did you tell him you were a journalist?
MR. GOLDBERG: Yes, of course, New York Times Magazine at the time. And he was very open to it, and we were chatting and sort of getting to know each other, and he sort of conspiratorially looked at me and he said, “You know, the real problem isn’t between you Christians and us Muslims, it’s the Jews.”
And I had to make that decision that came naturally. I said, “Well, I’m Jewish,” and he looked at me and he said, “Well, you are most welcome here.”
I don’t derive too many lessons from that. There is one important lesson, which is the safest place you can be is in the home of a terrorist, because when you’re in the home, you’re the guest. When you leave and you go back out on the street, it’s a little dicey because of the overwhelming sense of hospitality. But, I think the dominant lesson from that period was the role of fantasy and paranoia in the creation of thinking.
We were talking last night again about another kind of aspect, and we always forget this, but when we have rational-based discussions about Egypt, we forget that we have a set of facts that don’t correspond to the set of facts possessed by the Muslim Brotherhood. And we were talking for a minute about the Hamas Charter, and again this goes back to Reuel’s point about actually going and reading the things that these people write and say and looking at their speeches and trying to understand, even though it can be highly unpleasant because it does not conform to this American notion that we’re all alike, there is no difference between us and we all want the same things, happy children and a safe nice house.
And in reading the Hamas Charter, there are obviously horrific parts of it, but there are also some inadvertently amusing parts. One of them is the statement of fact that Islam is confronting a worldwide conspiracy that’s run by the Jews, but includes as its components the Free Masons and the Rotary Club.
This is something that’s deeply held, and I brought this up because I read it and this was when the late Sheikh Yassin was still alive I went to him and we were talking about something else, and I looked at him and I said, “By the way, the Rotary Club? What?” I remember I got a $50 scholarship in high school from the Rotary Club in my town; they didn’t seem bent on world domination. And he said, “This is proof that the Rotary Club is very powerful because you are bringing it up to deny that it’s very powerful.”
And I thought this is not a guy built for success in the modern fact-based world. That’s the problem that you’re dealing with in Egypt; we’re having one conversation at them and they’re having another conversation back, and they think the world is organized in a certain way: anti-Semitism is a socialism of fools. They don’t have a grasp on reality as it actually is, and that makes it very hard to actually have a useful conversation with them because they think that there is a global conspiracy designed to destroy their way of life.
MR. GERECHT: Just a quick comment on that. There is a phrase in Persian which is always important to remember, and it’s called pusht-e pardeh, which means things that happen behind the curtain, and that’s the way that Muslims have always seen power. The power, they have no access to it. It occurred amongst the elite behind the curtains, and God knows what happened there, and so it was a natural breeding ground for conspiracy.
I don’t say many kind things about the Islamic revolution in Iran, but one thing I can say is that they have become more responsible — that is, the Iranians now blame themselves for much of what’s gone wrong, and that’s an important achievement. You can actually see this also in the Arab world. It’s not as advanced because they have only recently become more responsible for themselves, but in Iran they talk about it all the time. They talk about the idea of masuliyat, of responsibility, that we cannot blame the Americans, we cannot blame the English, we have to blame ourselves for what we’ve done. That is an incredibly important step, and it’s the first step to getting away from the conspiracies and the conspiracy-mongering, which Jeffrey very well put it, just debilitates society.
MR. CROMARTIE: I do regret that we don’t have a Muslim journalist here. I apologize. I should have found one because what then, Jeffrey or Reuel, would that person possibly say to everything you’ve just said?
MR. GOLDBERG: It depends on the journalist. There is no monolith here.
MR. CROMARTIE: There is no monolith. Okay. Is that your experience?
MR. GERECHT: Well, yes. After the revolution, Bazargan, the first Prime Minister of Iran, wrote a very, very good book about conspiracy and the problems of conspiracy. They are aware of it, but it’s just one of those surreal things. You can go and have a very wonderful dinner in Egypt with the Egyptian elite, or you just pick your Arab country, and then all of a sudden you touch a subject, and it just rockets into the land of the surreal, and you are wondering, “Am I still with the same people?” and the answer is, yes, you are.
MR. GOLDBERG: Yes.
MR. CROMARTIE: You’ve had that experience?
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, many times. But just one final point. It’s on the issue of conspiracy. The truth is we think of ourselves as benign and we’re not trying to push an agenda on anyone, but I remember it’s a good exercise to try to look at the world the way the fundamentalist looks at it. And I had this experience once, it was when the Taliban was still in power in Afghanistan — and they’re not going to be in power again for another 2 years at least, probably. I was having lunch with the then foreign minister, Muttawakil. Do you remember him?
MR. GERECHT: Oh, yes.
MR. GOLDBERG: And he was interesting because he had spent like 8 days in New York once, so he was a worldly guy.
And he was running through the conspiracies and the usual sort of western inflected stuff — the Free Masons, and the licentiousness and everything — and his critiques of America were mainly crazy, but he made a couple of good observations of America: “You objectify women, you put them in pictures in underwear on billboards. Would you like your daughter to be there?” And I was like, “I get your point.” And then he said two things — and the last one is the most amazing one — he said, “Look at the inferiority of your culture. You take your old people, who you should venerate, and you put them in warehouses, you segregate them in buildings for old people and you never visit them and then they die alone.” And I said, “Okay, I get where you’re coming from.” And then he said, “And the most shocking thing is you worship your dogs. You walk outside with your dog each morning and you bend down to pick up their crap and put it in bags, and the dog is the master of the human” — and dogs have a bad reputation in Islam because the prophet didn’t like them. And I thought, yes, that’s really true, that’s actually really true. I get that one.
But in other words, it is really worth listening too. You don’t have to buy into the Masonic protocols of the Elders of Zion piece of this to understand how they could see things that we do that are perfectly banal to us as threatening a certain way of life. And so when we say the point about Egypt and secular parties, one of the items the Muslim Brotherhood objected to last week in the U.N. declaration was the declaration calls for equal inheritance rights between men and women — the daughters should inherit just the way sons inherit. To us it’s sort of like, why is that a discussion? The Muslim Brotherhood finds it objectionable, but the important thing to note is that there is no party in Egypt that wants to reform Egypt’s laws to make equitable inheritance laws; the inheritance laws are weighted toward the sons, and nobody wants to change that. So we sometimes forget that secularism is not our definition of secularism.
MR. GERECHT: I would just recommend very quickly, I think the book is still available — my good friend Peter Theroux, Paul’s younger brother, wrote a phenomenal book on Saudi Arabia — it is also the funniest book ever written on Saudi Arabia; it may be the only funny book ever written on Saudi Arabia — called Sandstorm. What Peter does in that, like no one else I’ve ever seen, is to reverse angles of observation. So one moment you’re seeing Americans as Saudis would see them, and then Americans looking at Saudis, and he goes back and forth like that, and it is just brutally funny, and it’s brutally honest, and I recommend it highly. It helps you see the world through their lens, and that is, as Jeffrey said, a highly commendable thing to do.
MR. CROMARTIE: David Bornstein, I think you’ll be having our last question, so the pressure is on.
DAVID BORNSTEIN, The New York Times: Well, this has been wonderfully informative and also entertaining. So just for argument’s sake, let’s say 20 years from now you’re both completely wrong and there is —
MR. GOLDBERG: Quite a high possibility.
MR. BORNSTEIN: — a female head of state in Egypt and they’re heading towards pluralism in a steady way. What could have happened? What are the surprises, the areas that we’re not looking at, the reporting we should be doing now, that could potentially have explained all of the things that can’t possibly happen given the conversation we’ve just heard? What could happen? Where might there be changes or surprises that we’re not looking at?
MR. GOLDBERG: My imagination is impoverished, I can’t imagine. Do you have any thoughts on that? I’ll think about it.
MR. GERECHT: This is going to sound really odd. The first thing that came in mind was Barney, the purple dinosaur.
MR. GOLDBERG: But that’s your answer for everything.
MR. GERECHT: Yes, that’s right. If we discover that Sesame Street and Barney — who’s that New York writer who did that thing about Barney coming to Paris? — if we discover that there is more of an appetite for Sesame Street and Barney in Egypt and there is more feminization in Egypt than I think there is — and I emphasize that, that a very healthy part of westernization is feminization.
I don’t want to go into a long history of Islam, but Islam is — and this is going to sound invidious — it’s a very masculine faith. It appeals to men for a reason, and the —
MR. CROMARTIE: But there are a lot of female Muslims.
MR. GERECHT: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. You cannot visit a shrine, and particularly shrines dedicated to women, without also understanding the power that Islam has for female believers, but Islam does something in that it makes every man a king in his home, and that’s one reason why family structure in the Islamic world, I think, has been fairly solid. Islamic societies are often very unkind, but they do grant the believer that within his home he at least is sovereign, and I think that can be very, very appealing to men.
So if we discover that actually what I would call the “feminization of westernization,” that is more advanced than it at least appears to be now, then that’s possible. In Pakistan you obviously had Benazir Bhutto, but that doesn’t count because those are family tribal issues. If you come from the right family, family can trump sex, it can trump gender. I don’t think that actually is the case in Egypt, but in a place like Pakistan it was.
But that’s what I would say, if something like that happened, I would say that I missed that completely and that that aspect of westernization was vastly more profound than what I thought it was.
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s interesting. One of the reasons that Egypt doesn’t have a bright short-term future is that there are not enough opportunities for young men to be young kings of their own homes. You can’t get married unless you have money, you can’t have money unless you have a job, and there are no jobs. You can’t have sex unless you have money, and therefore a wife. It’s pretty tough. It’s why you have a crazy sexual harassment problem: you have an incredible number of frustrated unemployed males in their twenties. So the trajectory isn’t good even with a traditional model.
The only constant in the Middle East is sudden and dramatic change, so there is no reason to think that something won’t happen 5 years from now that we don’t understand and can’t foresee. It doesn’t seem likely. Over the decades, will there be a reformation? Will there be some sort of modernization in the Middle East? Yes, maybe in the next century or two, maybe in the coming decades, it could start next Tuesday, we don’t know, but it doesn’t —
MR. GERECHT: It’s already started.
MR. GOLDBERG: It’s started, right. Look, it’s roiling, but I don’t see it landing in 20 years, certainly, at a place that you’re talking about.
MR. CROMARTIE: Sally?
MS. QUINN: Well, you all sound like it’s completely up to the men. What if the women just get really pissed? Hillary Clinton is probably going to devote the rest of her career to furthering the cause of women. This has become a huge issue in this country, and they’re working all over the Middle East —
MR. GOLDBERG: But you’re mirror-imaging now. You’re assuming that because you want a certain thing as an American woman that that Egyptian woman wants the thing that you want.
MR. GERECHT: May 23rd, 1997 — great day, it’s my birthday, send presents, remember that day, May 23rd, my birthday — May 23rd, 1997, was the day that Mohammad Khatami won the election in Iran. He would not have won that election without women voting. They overwhelmingly gave him that election.
When he went to bed the night before they announced the returns, he thought he had won 2 million votes. He wakes up, he finds out he wins 20 million votes.
If women had been able to change the political system in the way they wanted to, the Islamic Republic would not be the threat that it is today; we would not worry about the Islamic Republic. Women did cast their votes in what I would say was the right way. They did express themselves, except they got crunched. I’m all for women getting as upset as possible, I think it’s a grand idea. The only problem is if men strike back — the difference in strength is pronounced.
MR. GOLDBERG: You could be Sheryl Sandberg here, it’s a little harder to be Sheryl Sandberg there. You lean in, you might get punched in the face — quite literally get punched in the face. So it is difficult. But, it’s a worthwhile question and the American answer doesn’t seem to be — I was with Secretary Clinton a couple of years ago in Tunisia where she was talking to a Muslim woman on one of those trips. And one of the things that you have to grapple with is that — and I have to grapple with, we all do — a lot of women are wearing the veil voluntarily, really voluntarily. The cultural framework is such that there is no true free will in that, but they — really bold, young, bright, smart women explained to me after this particular speech that Hillary gave, “Who is she to even imply that my choice is not the right choice? I don’t go to America and tell her to do X, Y, or Z.” So it’s just really, really complicated. And remember, millions of women voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, so there is something going on.
MS. QUINN: Yes, but what I’m talking about is sort of the internal workings of the family. There is something called nagging. And the wife can just nag her husband, and suddenly it’s not a happy home anymore because if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
MR. GOLDBERG: So instead of writing “lean in,” you should write “whine on.”
MR. HUME: The thing about nagging, I would like the record to show that I didn’t say that.
MR. GERECHT: I am woman, hear me whine. In the mid to long term, I think what you have said is absolutely right. A very good friend of mine who has a rather difficult name, Farhad Khosrokhavar, is this Franco-Iranian —
MR. GOLDBERG: He just makes these names up.
MR. GERECHT: Farhad Khosrokhavar.
MR. CROMARTIE: That’s what I thought you said.
MR. GOLDBERG: But you can call him Bob.
MR. GERECHT: He actually just takes the French name and calls himself Frank because it’s so hard. But he wrote a book called — which unfortunately hasn’t been translated in English — called Being Twenty in the Land of the Ayatollahs, and what he did is he went, back when he could do this, to Qom, the holy city, the clerical capital of Iran, and he spent 3 years with his team interviewing the children of the most senior clerics. You cannot read those interviews of the young women, the daughters of the senior clergy, and not come away and say, “Oh, my god, they’re westernized.” And when it came to the ideas of love, when it came to ideas of marriage, when it came to ideas of professional aspirations, when it came to the idea of what men should be, the influence is extraordinary. So you can look long term and say, all right, eventually that’s going to have an effect; however, men can be — or bad men, let’s just say — can be tenacious, and we don’t live in a society where physical strength matters that much anymore. We do not live in societies where you have violence just right next to you. If violence is there, men win always.
MR. CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking these men.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, accuracy, spelling, and grammar.