Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Burchell Buffs the Banana

Every day, in every way, I just get better and better.

I was reminded of this little affirmation by the latest David Burchell discharge on Egypt's revolution, Swept along by Egypt's uprising (The Australian, 31/1/11) - except that it came out thus: Every day, in every way, he just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

So seriously weird that I lie awake at night thinking, No, it can't be! This guy is actually let loose on hapless, unsuspecting students at the University of Western Sydney, day in, day out. I mean, shouldn't the authorities be doing something?

Anyway, back to Swept along... by the most banal and sweeping generalities.

Where better to begin an opinion(ated) piece on Egypt, 2011... than France, 1789, right?

"In July 1789, as everybody knows, the French people took to the streets in spontaneous revolt, liberating the captives of the Bastille from their confinement and scattering a despotic regime of centuries standing like the startled actors of a tableau vivant. But then, at some undefined point during the following five years, the people's will was subverted by another group of people who turned the state's security apparatus on the people themselves. At that precise moment, the French people mysteriously vanished, as if assumed back into the heavens, waiting for some occult science to revive it once more."

I'm sorry, but I just can't get past the startled actors of a tableau vivant or the French people assumed back into the heavens, waiting for some occult science to revive it once more? I can't. I just keep reading them over and over again, mesmerised. What the .... is he on about? No, what the .... is he on? I mean, this is quality monkey-slapping! What stunning insight into the trials and tribulations of the Egyptian people is this, where he's got me more worried about the raptured French?

"In the same fashion, when the crowds sprang up like lillies on the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Alexandria last week, our eyes lit up with undimmed optimism as we raptly observed - for the hundredth time, surely - the sovereignty of the people asserting itself and driving out a dictatorship whose existence had been a matter of scant interest to most of us merely a few days before."

There he goes again, choking the chicken! Crowds springing up like lillies! Do lillies just spring up? Mushrooms, yes. But lillies? Consider the lillies of Tahrir Square, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet Mubarak in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Burchell toils not, but he sure as hell spins. OMG, see what this guy is doing? If he's messing with our minds, what the hell must he be doing with those of his students?

And what an admission is that! He's writing about a dictatorship of whose existence, he implies, he was virtually unaware until a few days ago.

How beautiful is the corporate media? Once you've got a foothold on the opinion pages, you've got a license to toot your horn on any subject that takes your fancy. No homework required. No sources cited. All just off the top of your... And here's the, if you'll excuse me, rub - you actually get paid for it! Unbelievable!

"What could be more joyous than to witness the inchoate majesty of the people displayed on somebody else's streets, at no possible cost to ourselves? Observe the delighted, childlike rapture of the commentators: from Britain's Sky News to America's CNN, their message is precisely the same. This is the people's spirit displayed in its primitive beauty. It is neither Stalinist nor Islamist, but some grand political mystery born out of the people's suffering alone."

Well, indeed, what we're now witnessing in Egypt would be some grand political mystery if it's only come to your attention within the last few days, now wouldn't it?

Fast forwarding Burchill's flogging nonsense until we finally reach Egypt. In the age of instant, behold the instant scholarship:

"There have been only two popular ideologies of consequence in the Middle East since colonialism's squalid death in the 1950s: Soviet-style authoritarianism, with its specious liturgy of anti-colonialism, and the grand, exultant nihilism of the Muslim Brotherhood and its fellow extremists. Even today informed observers are hard-pressed to name consistent Egyptian voices for liberal democracy and the rule of law, and to find them you have to scour the Egyptian media for lonely coracles of sanity in a vast ocean of paranoia, where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion masquerade as established fact, and the historic failures of a rich region are forever passed off as somebody else's fault."

Who or what is the grand exultant nihilism of the Muslim Brotherhood? I mean, at least The Australian's resident Muslim-finder, Sally Neighbour consulted Newsweek before spilling the beans:

"The brotherhood is far less extreme than the Iranian ayatollahs or some other radical militant groups. Unlike the jihadists, it is committed to working through democratic and parliamentary systems to achieve its goals... [Its leader, Muhammad] Badie denies the group is intent on establishing an Islamic state. He told Newsweek, 'We want a civilian state with civilian people, not religious people, but with a Muslim background'. However the organisation rejects the possibility of a woman or a Christian as being president, and would be sure to impose stricter Islamic codes, such as banning alcohol and topless sunbathing at the hedonistic beach resort of Sharm el Sheik." (Rise of the brothers a worry for the West, 1/2/11)

Oh, so that's the grand exultant nihilism!

But back to our informed observer who only discovered Egypt a few days ago. What to make of an overnight expert with such a command of Arabic that he's in a position to pronounce that the Egyptian media is merely one vast ocean of paranoia, where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion masquerade as established fact etc, etc?

"The special dignity of the Iranian opposition arises from the simple fact that Iranians have lived through three decades of a transcendental revolution that was fated to cleanse all the ills of the world, and have become sick of it. The next few months will show whether the Egyptian opposition has learned this bitter yet profound lesson - or whether it is doomed to repeat that familiar tragedy where the tyrant's executioner turns tyrant in turn, and is compelled to erect an even grander and more messianic political fantasy in its wake."

The special dignity of the Iranian opposition? Transcendental revolution? Enough already! The mayo's made! The banana's buffed! I just can't take it anymore. As the French might have said before their late 18th century occultation, Off with his...!

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