The award for the person most consistently wrong about the Muslim Brotherhood goes to … Roger Cohen of The NY Times
I have written several times about the dangerous romanticizing of the Muslim Brotherhood by Roger Cohen of The NY Times. He certainly was not alone at The Times in doing so, but this quote from February 3, 2011, surely puts him in a league of his own:
Already we hear the predictable warnings from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: This could be Iran 1979, a revolution for freedom that installs the Islamists. But this is not 1979, and Egypt’s Facebook-adept youth are not lining up behind the Muslim Brotherhood, itself scarcely a band of fanatics.
On February 13, 2011, in a column ironically titled From 9/11 to 2/11, Cohen demanded that the phrase the “Arab Street” be retired, even as anti-Semitic crowds in Tunisia chanted for death to the Jews outside a Synagogue in Tunis:
In the Middle East you expect the worst. But having watched Egypt’s extraordinary civic achievement in building the coalition that ousted Mubarak, having watched Tahrir Square become cooperation central, and having watched the professionalism of the Egyptian army, I’m convinced the country has what it takes to build a decent, representative society — one that gives the lie to all the stereotypes associated with that dismissive shorthand “The Arab Street.”
In fact, post-Tahrir, let’s retire that phrase.
Two days before Cohen’s column, on 2/11/11, Lara Logan was sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square as the crowd chanted “Jew, Jew.” Sexual assault at the hands of mobs was a fate that would befall other female foreign journalists and countless Egyptian women.
Not long after Cohen predicted that the future of Egypt was with Wael Ghonim, the Google employee who captured the imagination of so much of the Western press, over a million Egyptians packed Tahrir Square to chant “To Jerusalem We go, for us to be the Martyrs of the Millions.”
Cohen’s writings about Egypt were dismissive of the danger to the freedom movement posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Referring to Tunisia, Cohen dismissed those who cautioned about the likely result of the “Arab Spring” as “the usual Muslim-hating naysayers.” Tunisia has turned out badly under the Islamists.
By all means, read Cohen’s columns from that time period, dutifully highlighted in a separate and top section his page at The NY Times.
Cohen’s refusal to acknowledge the nature of the New Egypt and the empowerment of Islamists in many countries continues to this day, even as his cognitive dissonance on what the Muslim Brotherhood means for Egypt becomes quite pronounced.
It may be unfair to single out Cohen, since even the news coverage at The NY Times whitewashed the nature of the rise of Islamism in that time.
Yet Cohen deserves to be singled out because of the starry-eyed romanticism epitomized even at this late date in this column for a weekly international edition of The Times on December 7, 2012, An Eternal Cairo:
… Like the Nile, its reference, Cairo has the fascination of the eternal.
It crumbles, as evidenced by the debris everywhere, yet it reconstitutes itself. No building’s grandeur resists the march of dust yet the city retains some ineffable majesty. The struggles of its many millions are everywhere apparent yet their dignity in hardship is no less plain. The city defeats simple truths.
That is a good thing. We like our truths simple these days. Black or white is what we want. “Tough,” Cairo retorts. “I’m gray!”
Egypt’s post-revolutionary political turmoil is obvious. Less obvious is how the wisdom and humor of the world’s oldest nation state temper and shape events….
Wisdom and humor indeed are being witnessed every day on television.
It was one thing to advocate for the removal of Mubarak; it was something else to do so without understanding and recognizing the danger from Islamist fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood. Even if, as Cohen recently wrote, it is necessary to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, that does not necessitate a failure to report on the true nature and character of the movement, and its end goals.
Which brings me to the Walter Duranty Awards, the first of which was awarded in October 2012 by Pajamas Media, as explained by Roger Simon:
What are we doing here? A couple of years ago Roger Kimball and I came up with the idea that The New Criterion and PJ Media should join forces to give an annual prize in honor — or dishonor, as the case may be — of the somewhat notorious Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times between 1922 and 1936, Walter Duranty.
I say “somewhat notorious” because not too many people outside the insular media world know who he was — but they should. To review for those in this room — most of whom do know — for some fourteen years Walter Duranty, then the most famous and respected foreign correspondent in the world — also, as it happens, a Brit — whitewashed the repressive evil deeds of the Soviet Union, leading to that country’s recognition by none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt, while winning a 1932 Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.
Both the Pulitzer committee and the NY Times refused to rescind Duranty’s prize, finding no “deliberate deception.” That conclusion is debatable.
My first inclination was to nominate Cohen for the 2013 Walter Duranty Award, but I’m hesitant to do so because, as a former student of Soviet history, the words “Walter Duranty” are so associated for me with the cover-up of genocide. I wish they had picked some other name for the award, like maybe, The NY Times 1932 Award, reflecting that Duranty was a correspondent for The Times.
So I’m not prepared to nominate Cohen for the 2013 Walter Duranty Award.
But there must be some recognition for someone who has been as wrong about the Muslim Brotherhood as anyone ever has been about anything.
Update: Via Soccer Dad, the competition was indeed fierce among NY Times columnists:
— David Gerstman (@soccerdhg) December 10, 2012