Tag Archives: niall ferguson

David Brooks isn’t good at his job

TW: islamophobia, abilism, violence against protesters

Sadly, that’s the inevitable conclusion of his column yesterday, which concerns the coup in Egypt. Now, while I’ve contributed myself to the various analyses on how the now deposed President Morsi effectively alienated just about every major political bloc in Egypt, I’ve been careful to state that this was a coup and that it does present a worrisome precedent (that the Egyptian military can veto democratic elections when leaders become unpopular). President Obama seems to have attempted to skirt the issue even more than me, with his policy declarations (that if elections aren’t quickly held, there will be ramifications) treating this as something like a potential coup, dependent on whether the military inhibits or facilitates further democratic representation.

Of course, that’s a rather binary way of thinking – that this is either a democratic reboot that’s liberating Egyptians from an increasingly unrepresentative and abusive government or a coup that risks undermining the revolutionary changes still underway in Egypt. Why can’t this be both? David Brooks, often considered to be the thoughtful conservative contrarian in the United States, doesn’t challenge that presumption that the events in Egypt are either one or the other. He actually opens the piece by saying:

Those who emphasize [the democratic political] process have said that the government of President Mohamed Morsi was freely elected and that its democratic support has been confirmed over and over. The most important thing, they say, is to protect the fragile democratic institutions and to oppose those who would destroy them through armed coup. […] Those who emphasize substance, on the other hand, argue that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are defined by certain beliefs. They reject pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity. When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy.

His position as a writer for the New York Times, I would hope, involves either informing people of what they don’t know or challenging them on what they already hold to be true. But from its outset, this column does neither. It works with well-reported information on Egypt, so it doesn’t provide much in the way of news, and it works with that established dichotomy of what could be considered to be happening in Egypt, so it avoids much in terms of useful analysis. The only purpose of this piece seems to be to confirm conventional thought: beginning with a very simplistic understanding of the coup.

The piece continues, however, and lends Brooks’ support to all sorts of common views of Muslims. He argues that it should be anyone and everyone’s goal to “weaken political Islam, by nearly any means” without assessing why political Islam is so powerful. The politically and demographically diverse countries he lists as having proven the failures of “political Islam” include Iran – which is something of an iconic example of how corrupt, undemocratic, but secular governments in predominantly Muslim areas have made Islamist politics seem attractive.

Opposition to “political Islam” by people like Brooks has taken “nearly any means” including in this case apparent military conflict. An alternative that works with well established populist notions of justice (as assorted Islamist movements have) and often seems to the average person more committed to peaceful conduct and representative government is going to attract more supporters.

Brooks has just embodied why Western efforts to “democratize” predominantly Muslim countries has failed – because it refuses to consider what democracy, justice, or liberation necessarily include from the perspective of average people in those nations, and often uses drone strikes, occupations, and other acts of violence. With distressing frequency, it’s people like Brooks who win out in terms of what governance in the Middle East or Mali or any other part of the Islamic world should look, and not the people who live under those governments.

Not content to leave it there, Brooks searches for the cause of this mismatch between his beliefs and theirs, ultimately reducing Muslims the world over to fanatics who have no concept of objective facts outside of their own opinions. He seeks out legitimacy for this position by quoting one Muslim at a pro-Morsi rally (one Muslim to speak for a nation of ) and in more depth the analysis of Adam Garfinkle, of the The American Interest. That’s, of course, a paper that our good friend Niall Ferguson often comments at, so you should anticipate a high level of critical thought there.

In any case, those radical views are according to Brooks the only viable political voices within civilian government in Egypt and potentially the whole Muslim world. Never mind whether Egyptians elected Morsi or someone similarly distasteful to Brooks, he can declare them “outside the democratic orbit” and therefore proclaim that a coup against them is justified and also not a coup (since its illegal for the US to provide foreign aid to governments which came to power through coups). Brooks has apparently declared that all civilian politics from an ill-defined region or social group are predisposed to making “democratic deliberations impossible” since they’re inevitably Islamists who “lack the mental equipment to govern”. Yes, Brooks just said that some unclear portion of the world’s population (Islamists? Middle Easterners? Muslims?) are too stupid for democratic government.

Of course, the government Brooks is glad is gone because it “cracked down on civil society” and “arrested opposition activists” was a civilian administration and therefore falls under his criticisms, but the military interim government which has already killed peaceful protesters is only “bloated and dysfunctional” with nary a mention of those and other violent acts, since they committed them while being secular. After all, Brooks and his audience know that Islamism is “the main threat to global peace” and therefore this isn’t even about the democratic processes Egyptians should feel entitled to participation within or even their basic rights to protest – it’s actually all about Brooks having the freedom and right to live in a world without politics influenced by Islamic beliefs.


(Islamist protesters in Egypt carrying another protester who had been shot by the military in Cairo earlier today, from here.)

When it takes quite a few more words to evaluate how a columnist failed to inform their readers about the world, take another look at how to piece together information, or even quite obviously made their coverage all about them, we have a problem. David Brooks is officially no longer providing a public good, and consequently should come under review by the New York Times for whether his abilist and islamophobic coverage is something they should really pay for.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t forget the imperialism

TW: heterosexism, islamophobia

One last word about Ferguson and Keynes – there’s all kinds of racial implications floating around in his almost apology. Amid claims by Ferguson that he’s not racist (although that wasn’t the subject of the complaints), he manages to cite Andrew Sullivan (yes, that Andrew Sullivan) as his close friend, so obviously he’s not hetereosexist. He then proceeds to note that Keynes said quite a few racist things in his day too, but that that shouldn’t discredit him (which fails to actually examine how his racist attitudes may or may not have biased any of his specific theories).


(Niall Ferguson also cited his marriage to Ayaan Hirsi Ali as evidence that he’s not racist, ignoring that she wrote the screenplay to Theo van Gogh’s Submission, which has been charged with helping to ignite the modern wave of islamophobia in the US and Europe. Photo from here.)

This, of course, is fitting given how Niall Ferguson’s lengthy academic history of removing people of color from historical processes. Most famously, Ferguson overlooks the decolonization movements in south Asia as a force in dismantling the British Empire, instead crediting British decline to the development of a German center of gravity within Europe which the wars and conflicts of the twentieth century allegedly tried to prevent (in which Keynes is a sappy love-blinded fool falling for a citizen of the “enemy power”).

So, amid all of this bigotry and oppression, it’s worth noting that the good ones in Ferguson’s view (from his Somali born wife to Andrew Sullivan) coddle or legitimize the British Empire, but what makes Keynes so very gay and hence wrong is that his writings weren’t always as serviceable to the Queen as Ferguson might like. Contrary to how Ferguson presented the issue, the problem with his view isn’t that it inevitably labels people of color or queer people inferiors, but that it presumes that and only withdraws those claims when they further his personal needs or his imperialist notions about how the world should work.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The impossibility of queerness

Niall Ferguson’s “apology” reminded me in one of the worst ways of a long running facet of a lot of heterosexist speech: that it’s not even about queer people or queerness. As I mentioned yesterday, his almost apologetic response to being told that he misrepresented the details of Keynes personal life seems to be the justification for his response, more than actually absorbing a larger point about queer families and queer people. In a very real sense, his declaration of Keynes’ queerness to be a mark of unreasonableness if not inferiority is centered around heteronormative standards and concepts. It’s not merely that Ferguson devalued queer conceptions of kinship, but that while doing so he didn’t even acknowledge that those exist.


(Jokes on him, there’s even artistic deconstructions of queer families nowadays, from here.)

Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of that sort of thing going around lately, for centuries even. It’s practically a trope at this point for straight people to discuss queer people’s romantic interests, flings, partners, and even spouses as their (followed by an apparently obligatory pause) friend. Ferguson thankfully avoids that pitfall in his not-apology, mostly by not actually discussing any same-gender relationships so much as same-gender attraction (and that even pales in comparison to his main point, which was a presumed lack of attraction to women felt by Keynes). In the past few months, however, several prominent figures in the US failed to avoid the apparently very uncomfortable issue of discussing queer relationships, as marriage policies became a focal point with gathering efforts to recognize (some) queer marriages in some states and two different Supreme Court cases.

For instance, congressional representative Steve King (R-IA) published a deliciously idiotic opinion piece in the National Review, where he explained, “You do not need a license to begin a new friendship, start shopping at a new grocery store or pharmacy, or even begin a new dating relationship. Likewise, one does not need a court order to terminate any of those relationships. This fact indicates that there is something unique about marriage that necessitates government involvement.” After all, long-term relationships between people of the same gender are obviously more similar to shopping at a specific store, or going on a single date, or being in a friendship than long-term relationships between men and women. On a similar note and within the same week, Jennifer Roback Morse, spokesperson for the National Organization for [some] Marriage, complained that recognizing same-gender couples as married amounted to “nothing but a government registry of friendships” – almost as though she and King were reading the same notes!

An integral part of heterosexism, as suggested by Ferguson’s strategy of avoidance and King’s and Morse’s use of the always awkward “… friend” discussion tactic, is to avoid acknowledging queerness as a phenomenon even exists. As I’ve written about before, this is a widespread problem in terms of how acknowledging the needs and wants of queer people, queerspawn, and queer families is treated as a distraction. Unlike the invalidity assigned to the words and deeds of women, however, it seems to acknowledge the actions of queer people (or at least, queer men), but without really examining their queerness. In a confusing way, there’s a lot of discussion of queer people without any admission of the existence of queerness.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to miss the point

Sigh, I’ve been trying for a while now to work out something approaching civil to say to Niall Ferguson’s “critiques” of Keynes and his astounding not-apology for the implications of it. Yes, his sorry-you-were-offended response contains an on the nose reiteration of his main point: that Keynes was (some variety of) queer and that’s a valid point to raise in analyzing his policy recommendations.

As several other members of the “self-appointed inquisitors of [the] internet” (as Ferguson called us) pointed out, this is not a new point for him, which he’s been making in several forums for almost a decade now. The only substantive evidence of this he’s ever pointed to is that, as a British public figure assessing the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, Keynes pushed for lighter punishments for Germany for “starting” the war (which every modern historian worth their salt tends to credit to a French interest in payback for the embarrassing Franco-Prussian War). Ferguson in 1995 credited that perspective in whole to Keynes falling “so hard for the representative of an enemy power”, Carl Melchior. Meanwhile, in the modern day, Ferguson explains that Keynes’ “strong attraction he felt for the German banker Carl Melchior undoubtedly played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath”.

You know those queer men – they’re just like women (whether straight or queer) in how they fall all over themselves when around someone they like like! They’re just so illogical when it comes to math, or science, or engineering, but those few “good ones” that are passable just fall apart near attractive people because their tiny brains can’t take it. Now, what exactly did Keynes miss because of his googly eyes over Melchior? After all, his most famous work of the aftermath of the first World War in Germany is largely seen as prescient of the destabilization of Germany and rise of power of Adolf Hitler. Seduced as he was, history has largely proven him correct, but sadly at the cost of millions of lives, including the thousands of queer men imprisoned as degenerates by the Nazi regime (and, in most cases, after the Allies liberated the concentration camps, they were merely incorporated into the rest of the prison population).


(Above, queer men imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, from here.)

Against this backdrop of Ferguson’s career-long contention that Keynes was really, really gay, Ferguson recently made an “unintentional” remark that of course Keynes famously joked “in the long run we’re all dead” because he was queer, and queer people don’t have children or reproduce, and not having children is tantamount to declaring the future is dead to you. Having won the idiots’ bingo, Ferguson is only making this non-apologetic apology after being reminded (read: informed) that Keynes’ wife did become pregnant at least once, but that that only tragically ended in a miscarriage. Ferguson outright implies an apology in this trainwreck, saying, “This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’ wife Lydia miscarried.”

Within the context of heterosexism (or as Ferguson oh so with it writes, homophobia), this misses the point that Ferguson is only valuing biological reproduction and automatically discounting a queer person from having any status understandable as parental on the basis of their queerness. Among the questions this writing raises is what exactly Ferguson is “apologizing” for – being wrong about the particulars of Keynes life? Or about the assumption of how kinship and family function? It seems like he errs rather close to the former and doesn’t even realize how he has come across on the latter.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,