Opinion | Columnists

Fearmongering serves no purpose

Promoting baseless fears is a tool of propagandists

  • By Linda S. Heard, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 July 23, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

Never mind Save the Whales. Quit your Occupy movements. it’s time to band together to preserve the pyramids at Giza which, if you believe Stanford University’s Pulitzer prize-winning professor Joel Brinkley writing in the San Franciso Chronicle, are in danger of being demolished by Islamists as dastardly symbols of paganism. “Mohammad Mursi has been Egypt’s President for less than a month and already senior clerics in his country and around the Islamic world are loudly calling for the demolition of the pyramids, Egypt’s most important tourist attraction and among the Seven Wonders of the World,” he writes. Brinkley cites a tweet, purportedly written by a Bahraini shaikh, for hyping the ante and blames President Mursi for his silence on the topic.

Victor Davis Hanson is sticking to the same theme in an editorial published in Investor’s Business Daily, titled Blowing up History. “In the Arabic media, there are reports that Muslim clerics — energised by the sudden emergence of Egypt’s new President Mohammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood — are now agitating to demolish the Egyptian pyramids” or render them a wax-covered blob, he writes. Both Brinkley and Hanson hark back to the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Brinkley says the Salafists are demanding the demise of the pyramids be written in the new constitution.

We don’t want the pharaohs turning in their sarcophagi. Let’s form a human chain around those iconic structures folks; anyone up for meeting me, at say, 5pm next Tuesday, at the foot of the Sphinx? Don’t forget your banners.

My uncle and his camera-touting wife from Wales made the attempt two weeks ago. They turned back, white and shaken, when a dollar-hungry camel-owning tout leapt on the back of their moving vehicle. He was ousted with a punch from one of his colleagues. “Nice man,” they thought until their ‘defender’ clung on to the boot in his friend’s stead, while the first took up the chase in a tuk-tuk. Foreign tourists are a rare species in the vicinity of the pyramids since the revolution and if anyone tries to down them, those guys, struggling to feed their horses and camels, will surely go on the rampage, just as they did on that memorable day in Tahrir Square.

The Bahraini shaikh in question denies he holds any negative sentiments against the pyramids. He says the offending tweet was a fabrication by anti-Islamists as part of a conspiracy to discredit Islam. “I did not write the tweet which has been fabricated by traitors to damage my image,” he said.

Thank goodness Egyptians, including I suspect President Mursi, have the common sense not to have taken it seriously in the first place. So now that the nonsense is out of the way, perhaps we shouldn’t be as quick to dismiss another of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s warnings. He appears to be concerned that Mursi’s “extremist allies” are keen to turn “non-believers” into dhimmies (historically non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state) obliged to pay supplemental taxation called Jizya for the benefits of Islam’s protection, whereas Muslims were duty-bound to pay Zakat (alms to the needy). Perhaps my Coptic friends should start saving … or maybe not.

Even the most conservative Islamic states on the planet do not impose Jizya on their non-Muslim citizens. Moreover, Egypt, where 11 per cent of the population is Coptic, cannot be defined as a Muslim state, although its laws are broadly based on Islamic principles. Mursi has pledged to be a President for all Egyptians regardless of their faith. For the moment, those are just words. He is still new and unproven. He will have to pander to some demands of his Islamist base, but if he starts giving an ear to fanatics, his political career will be very short indeed. Furthermore, you don’t have to be psychic to imagine the international uproar if the pyramids were believed to be in jeopardy or Coptic Christians were to be burdened with extra taxation. My guess is that the surname of the next Egyptian president or governor would be either Obama or Romney.

In the end, Messrs Brinkley and Hanson have discredited no one or nothing except themselves. They have written their own credibility off. They are cut from the same anti-Islamic fear-mongering mould as Fox’s sacked talk show host Glenn Beck, who believes Muslims are poised to turn the US into an Islamic caliphate. They’re as bigoted as the Israeli lawmaker who recently tore up the New Testament and threw it in a garbage can or the Texas preacher who made a show of burning Qurans in his garage.

Bringing Egypt’s fledgling democracy into existence is fraught enough without ridiculous scaremongering. Promoting baseless fears is a tool of propagandists. As the columnist Maureen Dowd once wrote: “The only thing we really have to fear is fearmongering itself”.

So don’t start packing your shorts and floppy hats just yet. I’ll bet my shack that the pyramids which stand as a magnificent testament to mankind’s God-given initiative, against all odds, will be around a lot longer than you or I.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at lheard@gulfnews.com Some of the comments may be considered for publication.

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