Surely there are more, but I know of at least one man who actually changed his religion to get a good job in television. (OK, it was merely from one Protestant denomination to another, but nonetheless it gave us some juicy fodder for gossip down home!) I have a hard time even thinking of such a thing. And it's almost that hard to do what I'm about to do right now.
Democracy may not be "religious," but reverence for it is cork-screwed into my belief system as securely as a religion. I despise dictators and rejoice at their overthrow. Many of you who feel the same way have a terrible time when a challenger says, "Gaza had a democratic election. Hamas won. Are you going to be as prissy as Obama and Hillary Clinton and insist on democracy in Egypt after Mubarak? What if the Muslim Brotherhood wins? Is that OK with you?"
I've heard too many democracy-lovers lose their audio at that point.
I don't lose mine. I have no difficulty throwing democracy under the bus in the case of post-Mubarak Egypt. Is that any way to treat your "religion"? In this case I give myself a pass. The all-important goal is to keep Egypt from becoming another Iran.
Egypt is the Hollywood of the Arab world. It's the Wall Street, the New York, the Pentagon and the super-Smithsonian Institution of the ancient world, too. Eighty million Arabs live there, smack on Israel's western border. Egypt made peace with Israel in 1977. It's been a rocky peace. You could even say a hateful peace. But it's been peaceful. If Muslim extremists take over, the 500 million Arabs may well conclude the time has come for the "final solution" of the 5 million Israelis enveloped north, south, east and west in a full-nelson exterminationist grip. (This assumes the quick collapse of Jordan along the way.) Thirty years ago, a Jewish traitor who worked in Dimona, Israel's nuclear facility, told the world Israel had over 100 nuclear bombs. Do you suppose they've unilaterally shrunk that arsenal, or increased it?
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The grandchildren of the Holocaust are not likely to go quietly again. Any move against Israel will be met with Israel's full nuclear capability. Can you imagine that war? Enemies of Israel worldwide should quit licking their chops in gleeful anticipation and imagine the total destruction of the Suez Canal, plus a few Arab capitals and the vaporization of Iran. A democratic election in the Mideast is laudable. Avoidance of a nuclear war is more so.
Would I lose any sleep after throwing Egyptian democracy under the bus? No, thanks to a powerful argument I overheard in the 1950s. Leo Cherne, president of the International Rescue Committee, was debating the Korean War with a representative of the very far left. Cherne favored vigorous American participation in the defense of South Korea against the invasion by Communist dictator Kim Il-sung of North Korea.
"Isn't your South Korean ally Syngman Rhee also a dictator?" asked the leftist.
Without hesitation or discomfort, Cherne said, "You're right. We're not defending democracy in South Korea. What we're defending is the possibility of eventual democracy in South Korea.
"If Communism wins, we can forget about any democracy in Korea. If we succeed, however, South Korea may one day be free and democratic."
Get democracy out of your most inflated dreams if we get the "Islamic Republic of Egypt."
I probably have more reasons to crave an afterlife than Woody Allen. (CBS' Morley Safer once asked Woody if he wanted to "live on in the memory of his fans." "No," moaned Woody. "I want to live on in my apartment!") One of my reasons for hoping there's an afterlife is so Leo Cherne can look down and see how bull's-eye accurate his reasoning was. South Korea today is democratic and prosperous. North Korea is the worst regime on earth. Lift their Iron Curtain and North Korea would be a bird sanctuary within a week.
Thanks, Leo! I favor eventual democracy in Egypt. I just don't want to risk a Muslim Brotherhood victory at the polls right now. I'm willing to wait for a little more education, maturity and prosperity to engulf Egypt before such a vote.
I'm willing to wait until the majority of Egyptian voters say to Islamic extremism, "Sorry, my Brothers-from-the-seventh-eighth-and-ninth centuries. We've seen your product. We've sampled your wares. Thank you, but we're going with the civilized world of the 21st century."
Or whatever century it happens to be when that position appears competitive in Egyptian polling.