Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Is that what they taught David Brooks at Radnor?

Radnor High "Hall of Famer" David Brooks thinks Muslims aren't bright enough for democracy? How was he able to pass the Model UN?

Is that what they taught David Brooks at Radnor?

Journalist David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times. (SPENCER PLATT / Getty Images)
Journalist David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times. (SPENCER PLATT / Getty Images)

We focus so much here on the ups and downs but mostly downs of the schools in Philadelphia -- but I'm starting to wonder more and more about the education that kids have been getting in the supposedly elite high schools out on the Main Line.

Do you remember Episcopal Academy's finest -- John Yoo? A 1985 grad of the tony prep school now located near Newtown Square, Yoo apparently thought he learned this along the way: That while forms of torture such as waterboarding have long been banned by U.S. and international law, if the president orders it must not be illegal. In fact, Yoo -- who's been seriously investigated in Spain and Germany as a potential war criminal -- said once that the president could even order that a child's testicles crushed, if he deemed it necessary. (Yoo only became concerned about a president holding near-dictatorial powers after Barack Obama was elected to the job.)

Just a few short miles away, we have David Brooks, proud graduate of Radnor High School, class of 1979. Admittedly, Brooks is no John Yoo....he's able to travel abroad without having to worry about an unplanned diversion to The Hague, and like a stopped calendar, his New York Times columns are usually right about once a year. Not today, however.

Like a lot of Beltway pundits, Brooks is totally flummoxed by events in Egypt, where a military coup has just toppled the constitutionally elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. That's because Brooks needs to choose between what he says -- that democracy is a virtue among all others -- and what he thinks, which is that you can throw out the rule-book to stop Islamic fundamentalism. His brilliant solution to his moral quandary? In so many words, Muslims are too dense for democracy.

He writes:

Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern.

Just a poor choice of words? Perhaps -- but Brooks goes on to add:

It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.

I thought this kind of David-of-Arabia philosophy went out of fashion around the same time as poodle skirts. His Radnor High Hall of Fame (yes, that's a thing) bio says he was on the model UN -- what country could he have represented? Snoblandia?  There are growing demands for Brooks to apologize for his racist tone - which would be an excellent first step.

But another bad thing about Brooks' column is the headline -- "Defending the Coup." I'm sorry but most coups, including this one, are pretty indefensible -- people who've committed no crime are jailed, and a free media is suppressed, which is what's happening on the streets of Egypt right now. The events there are heartbreaking -- not so much for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a pretty reprehensible lot, but for millions of young, educated seculars who desperately want to lead their Arab nation in a new direction, but are caught in a hopeless Catch-22 between religious fanaticism and military repression.

Some people mourn the loss of American influence in the Middle East since the recklessness of the Bush-Cheney years. But call me one of those people who -- unlike David Brooks, apparently -- wonders why the future direction of the Egyptian people was ever ours to influence in the first place.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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