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Are we all Islamists now?

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page

Was the creation of Israel, like the Egyptian revolution, an exercise in magical realism?  Is the Holocaust, when employed in a distorted way, remembered in the same way?

In the creation of Israel – ethnic cleansing.  In the Holocaust – mass death.  Neither are banners for the creation of a (real) future.

Distorting reality is not only for novels.  It’s the way of the world.  So it seems.

If magical realism is the way of getting things done – if by magical realism we mean excusing, neglecting or transcending the suffering that surround us – then the magic will inevitably be dispelled by the history which narrates suffering.  When this transpires the magic-creating realists are stripped naked.  They are left with the exercise of power.  Without the magic, power escalates its demands for submission.

We have seen this in Egypt during the past two years.  We have seen this in Israel over the last decades.

We would love to think that the exercise of power is limited and is destined to be (successfully) opposed.  Is this real or magical thinking?

Professor Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.”  But the magical realism we’re dealing with now is less strange than thoroughly predictable.

Thus the Egyptian military is widening its crackdown – and as the New York Times reports, broadening the definition of Islamist.  Yes, now liberals are being rounded up and being accused of what they hate.  This should remind us of book burning in former times.  The lesson:  soon the books burned will be the ones you love.

Indeed with the Egyptian military having the upper hand, the crackdown on all dissent will deepen.  Meanwhile the United States and United Kingdom – vultures as they can be – are circling Syria.  Of course, they’re promising that there won’t be “our” boots on the ground.  Is that a way of magically believing that massive suffering won’t occur because the ones who suffer aren’t “ours?” 

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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29 Responses

  1. just
    August 25, 2013, 11:12 am

    It’s dispiriting, to say the least. And we and our allies are vultures and imperialists of the first order.

    Please don’t neglect to mention that Israel is leading the proverbial charge for the US to strike Syria. From another post of mine:

    “And, for our next serving of “please sir, I want some more”:

    “Prominent Israeli Cabinet ministers are calling for a U.S.-led response to an alleged chemical attack in Syria last week that the prime minister describes as a “terrible crime.”

    Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday that “this situation cannot continue.” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio that a U.S. response to the alleged poison gas attack would help discourage future chemical weapons use, but also have security implications for Israel.” ”

    link to

    Thanks Prof.

    “Islamists” are now to be hated as much as “terrorists”– anyone can be reviled and labeled by the “strongmen” because they don’t fall into the neat hole that the square peg does not want or need. Too much Islamophobia, shrieking about “terrorists”, denial of the truth that people want desperately to be free is at the crux of all of the mayhem…much of which we created and embroidered in the first place.

    We’ve wrought and enabled enough terror ourselves. It’s past time to stop.

  2. Taxi
    August 25, 2013, 11:31 am

    So-called liberals who oppose takfiris in Syria but support them in Egypt are suffering from Obamatitus.

    And don’t give me any of that ‘magical realism’ bs about defending ‘democracy’, not Egyptian takfirism.

    • Walid
      August 25, 2013, 6:37 pm

      Taxi, I don’t support takfiris and their ideology in Syria and I don’t support those of Egypt or any other fanatical fundies elsewhere. But I oppose the way they are being manhandled in Egypt for political reasons. That’s the difference.

      • Taxi
        August 26, 2013, 1:04 am

        The MB’s protested for some four weeks: struggling local businesses near the demonstrations were losing more money; re-directed traffic was becoming an impossible nightmare. The MB guys were given plenty time to clear out, but instead they brought out their wives, their children, their guns and knives and ak’s to the demos. You, an outsider, may have not ‘like’ how they were “manhandled”, but that’s what happens all over the world when you are disrupting a public area, en mass, drunk either on alcohol or god.

        And I don’t hear you sympathizing with the local business owners who’re on the verge of bankruptcy because of the MB’s atrocious economic performance followed by hostile demos. Or should the MB be allowed to ruin not just the constitution, but small Egyptian business too?

      • Nab
        August 26, 2013, 5:53 am


        “The MB’s protested for some four weeks: struggling local businesses near the demonstrations were losing more money; re-directed traffic was becoming an impossible nightmare. The MB guys were given plenty time to clear out, but instead they brought out their wives, their children, their guns and knives and ak’s to the demos. You, an outsider, may have not ‘like’ how they were “manhandled”, but that’s what happens all over the world when you are disrupting a public area, en mass, drunk either on alcohol or god”.

        I’m not sure I follow your logic.

        Are you stating that, given the illegal usurping of MB’s Morsi from power by mass protests and ultimately by the military (read coup); their continued protests should be voluntarily dismantled, and if not, forcefully thereafter by the military, on the premise that they have been allowed to protest for some four weeks now to no effect, and business is beginning to be disrupted?

        I personally believe the MB’s election to power was the biggest blow to them politically and their popularity with the people, especially concerning those not initially aligned with the MB but voted for them at Egypt’s first election as a rejection of the old guard. They came no where near meeting expectations, naturally as expectations were high of the first freely elected government in decades, no matter which party won.

        I’m only asking because, this may set a shaky precedent. What happens when the next person you elect to office freely (assuming that happens anytime soon), and whose legal right to hold office for the prescribed length of time you continue to believe in, is deposed, and your protests are responded to within the same effect?

        Side note, I doubt any educated liberal on this issue with a head on their shoulder supports extremists on either ends of Syria or Egypt, but that does not mean they wholly support the other side or their actions either (in this case either Bashar or Sisi and the Egyptian military). Lesser of two evils be damned.

      • seafoid
        August 26, 2013, 7:13 am


        The economic shortages were orchestrated. Sure the Bros made some stupid mistakes but the coup will turn out to be a stupid decision and Egypt will not go anywhere until the problems of the country are solved politically.
        Egypt needs a national unity government. Pretending the Islamists no longer exist is really stupid.

        I think the tafkiris in Syria are a different rat.

        BTW I could never be an Islamist or a born again Christian.

      • Walid
        August 26, 2013, 7:45 am

        Nab, the bringing-in from the cold and letting the MB officially run as a political party was a dirty trick played by the US that was behind this orchestration. It was known at the time that with Mubarak out of the way, the only ones organized enough and in a position to field candidates and win were the Brothers and other religious parties like the Salafists. It was also discussed at the time that no one should stand in the way of their sure victory and that within a year of their election, the people will tire of them and ask for their removal. And this is exactly how it was played.

        The Salafists got off the Brothers’ bus when they saw that the Brothers were not about to make immediate wholesale changes of closing down the bars, the mixed beaches, and so on. Now that the Brothers are out, the Salafists are back on top especially with Egypt’s new financial backers. Now all of Egypt is going down the drain and not just the merchants that had been suffering because of the demonstrations.

        When I said “manhandled”, I was being polite in trying to describe that killing 800 protestors and injuring thousands others was way too much.

      • Walid
        August 26, 2013, 7:55 am

        seafoid, wait until the Salafists start asking for their pound of flesh. They didn’t side with the army and the Saudis for their brown eyes.

      • Walid
        August 26, 2013, 8:29 am

        Taxi, you should have realized by now that I have an aversion to all religious fundamentalists but that I will not let this aversion close my eyes to their mistreatment by the people with the bigger sticks. The same applies to the West-backed fundamentalists that are cutting off heads and eating hearts in Syria eventhough I also have a big aversion to dictators.

        The merchants could no longer take the Brothers’ sit-in in the second square but didn’t the anti-Morsi demonstrators stay just as long in Tahrir?

      • Taxi
        August 26, 2013, 9:07 am


        Orchestrated or not, the economy was fast tanking under Morsi’s watch. It’s still his SOLE responsibility – as president – he gets both praise and blame, not just one without the other. We’re all adults here, com on! He didn’t know how to play the game of high-finance and high-politics. That’s his responsibility too, not the fault of the opposition. Sorry, I don’t buy into his victimhood. We can’t just excuse it all and say ‘it wasn’t his fault’ – he’s the master of the country, the ruler, the PRESIDENT.

        The MB were invited by the interim government several times to participate in the new equation, but they utterly refused. They’ll change their minds soon enough and participate; I have no doubt about that – political relevance/expedience, and all. They have been asked by both the military and the interim government to ‘clean house’, i.e., disempower those MB leaders who promote sectarianism, but the MB scoffed at this. It’s very difficult to negotiate with their big-headedness and zealotry. The ball is in their court. They have choices: clean up and come out and play the game of real democracy with everyone else, or face a political wilderness with no end. Or, keep agitating, destabilizing and punishing the country to no good end to no one. Currently, there is a mixed-faith private-citizen council that’s been discussing with MB leaders how to bring them back into the political fold in a face-saving way – with only one egg on their face instead of a dozen.

        The takfiris in Syria are not a “different rat”. They’re all islamists. The MB is their godfather. The MB has an active global military arm – just ask Turkey, Qatar, Pakistan, Libya, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt (Sinai), Yemen, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, etc. etc. etc. And for the time being, all islamists, including MB, are in bed with the West, with the clear mission of violently disrupting the ‘Arab Spring’ and the spread of democracy in the middle east.

        The MB are not some innocuous entity, seafood. They are as much of a victim as a kahanist solemnly claims he is victim.

        There is much wrong with the MB. And yes, there is much wrong with the Egyptian army. But at least the Egyptian army’s ambitions are confined within their territory of Egypt, whereas the Moslem Brotherhood is fully intent on conquering and subjugating the WHOLE REGION by any means necessary.

      • American
        August 26, 2013, 10:53 am


        Small busness owners arent being rounded up or shot down in the street.
        Did Morsi and the MB institute a program of arresting and killing off non MBs during his time? —if he did I must have missed that in the news.

        The time come my friend for you to admit to the coup and what the E-Military is doing and why…….Egypt will be a country of military rule shared with a Elite Government—just like it was before.

        There is definitely no honor and glory–or even economic benefit— for the majority of the ‘Egyptian people’ in this.
        The best hope for Egypt is that the next revolution will be the rank and file wthn the military actually revolting , with the people, against the elite Sisi’s in the E-Military.

        Egypt Military Enlists Religion to Quell Ranks
        CAIRO — The Egyptian military has enlisted Muslim scholars in a propaganda campaign to persuade soldiers and policemen that they have a religious duty to obey orders to use deadly force against supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi.
        The effort is a signal that the generals are worried about insubordination in the ranks, ……..

        “When somebody comes who tries to divide you, then kill them, whoever they are,” Ali Gomaa, the former mufti appointed under President Hosni Mubarak, is seen telling soldiers in a video made by the military’s Department of Moral Affairs. Amr Khaled, a televangelist who is popular with young Muslims, specifically addressed the question of insubordination in a military video. “You don’t obey your commander while performing a great task?” he asked, adding, “You, you conscript in the Egyptian military, you are performing a task for God Almighty!”

        Political scientists say that worries about insubordination are understandable, because the ranks of both the army and the riot police are made up mainly of hundreds of thousands of conscripts drafted into mandatory military service. More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the crackdown since Aug. 14, and many of the conscripts are likely to have lost a cousin or relative, or heard stories of the carnage.
        “There is a fear of disobedience” in the clerics’ videotaped speeches, said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo…..


      • RoHa
        August 26, 2013, 10:13 pm

        “Political scientists say that worries about insubordination are understandable, because the ranks of both the army and the riot police are made up mainly of hundreds of thousands of conscripts drafted into mandatory military service. More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the crackdown since Aug. 14, and many of the conscripts are likely to have lost a cousin or relative, or heard stories of the carnage.”

        I drew attention to this possibility earlier.

      • Taxi
        August 27, 2013, 12:29 am

        “The time come my friend for you to admit…”

        LOL, American, would you like me to take your barbells up to the attic too?

        For all your stories and Walid’s, and others’, there are as many counter stories too; and just like most of your stories, most of the counter stories are propaganda too. The propaganda war is raging from both sides. You go ahead and indulge yourselves, knock yourselves out. And I’ll just remind you that while you’re ripping and poking around the Egypt scene, the interim government is doing its work, moving forward towards new elections. And instead of studying what these parliamentarian dudes/dudettes are actually doing, instead of critiquing their new policies (if you can), you’ll all stuck in the world of yesterday’s conspiracies. Oh well… call it what you want, American, my friend, I just hope that you haven’t missed out on the most important message to any new Egyptian president from all the Egyptian protestors, part 1 & 2:
        ‘We are the great Egyptian people, you will not ignore or forget about us when we vote for you.. We have the power to give you power, and we have the power to take those powers away from you’.

        Now if that isn’t a democracy BY the people, FOR the people – democracy in its rawest form, then I don’t know what is.

        Every presidential candidate the world over needs to be taught this lesson loud and clear. Are we Americans ever gonna overcome the mass political lethargy infecting our nation?

        p.s. sorry, not much time to answer everyone’s questions – especially after I took pains to answer Nab and had that post accidentally wiped out into oblivion – ugh!

        p.p.s. American, I don’t mind one bit to look you in the cyber-eye and admit my mistaken Egypt analysis, if it ever came to that.

        Looking at Syria today. Egypt is yesterday’s focus.

    • aiman
      August 26, 2013, 8:45 am

      Taxi, except in Egypt it is a recipe for disaster. This coup will only embolden the takfiris. Also there is a mighty difference between mb and the takfiris of Syria. But after this coup – particularly, the massacres — the difference may well be slimmer. The radicalism of the mb is directly proportional to their suppression. Welcome to the history of fundamentalism. The coup has worsened the situations, Morsi’s excesses could have been curtailed without it. It has set Egypt back. Chris Hedges has a column on this. And the history of fundamentalism is repeating itself. Also check this out:

  3. HarryLaw
    August 25, 2013, 12:17 pm

    Marc, ” Indeed with the Egyptian military having the upper hand, the crackdown on all dissent will deepen”. I agree, at this point in time it would appear that anyone against the “new order” in Egypt is regarded as a traitor, especially if you have a longish beard. The army now has more of a free hand than they had under Mubarak,with the opposition fragmented, the so called liberals will soon find out what their counter revolution brings, as a preview Elbaradei’s “betrayal of public trust” charge is a chilling straw in the wind.

  4. Citizen
    August 25, 2013, 1:09 pm

    Magical Realism has never been confined to novels. Haven’t you ever heard the 20th Century nugget that Art imitates life? It’s still going strong in the 21st Century. Socrates will always have to eat the hemlock. It’s really not hard to see that the germ matrix of all fantasy fiction lies in repeated historical human nature. How could it be otherwise?

  5. RoHa
    August 25, 2013, 8:28 pm

    “Are we all Islamists now?”


    • Sibiriak
      August 26, 2013, 8:38 am

      RoHa says:

      “Are we all Islamists now?” No.

      In Egypt, you may be, like it or not:

      Ten days ago, the police arrested two left-leaning Canadians — one of them a filmmaker specializing in highly un-Islamic movies about sexual politics — and implausibly announced that they were members of the Brotherhood, the conservative Islamist group…

  6. bilal a
    bilal a
    August 25, 2013, 9:38 pm

    Foreign Policy magazine is suggesting that the Egyptian Military/Police coup has a great deal to to do with protecting Nacroterrorist financial interests . In the Sinai, drug and gun running is a joint enterprise between the Bedouin, the Police/Military , and the ‘Israeli mafia’.

    Certainly the Israeli government is aware of a major drug production hub along its border and smuggling activities across it. Drugs are an effective weapon against resisting, targeted societies.

    • American
      August 26, 2013, 11:47 am

      Dont know how involved Egypt is in the drug trade but do know Isr is heavily invested in it and the money laundering of drug profits.
      According to the FBI reports I read on drug smuggling into US, Isr replaced the Columbian cartels as the major drug hub during the 90’s. The report attributes it to the Russian Israeli mafia connections between Isr and the US..
      Also several years ago the EU countries suspended several Israel banks from being able to do any business, transfer money, etc, outside of Israel.
      I dont have latest reports on this but it appears nothing has had much effect on curtailing it…they just establish new banks.
      The laundered proceeds of the drug trade are put mostly into legti business in Isr and real estate holdings in other countries and amounts to about 10 Billion a year—-so Israel has no incentive to stop that kind of drug cash and laundering.

      Without hunting up the latest from the FBI and just skimming news blips in the 20’s it appears nothing much has changed.

      * -2013
      U.S.: Israeli played lead role in international drug money laundering ring

      *Israelis at center of ecstasy drug trade Israel News Broadcast | Haaretz…/israelis-at-center-of-ecstasy-drug-trade-1.1380…‎
      April 6, 2003 – “Israeli drug distribution organizations are currently the main source for distribution of the drug to groups inside the U.S., to smuggling through

      *Drugs trafficking arrest leads police to Israeli underworld | World … › News › World news‎ is in the drug trade Aug 20, 2001 – Drugs trafficking arrest leads police to Israeli underworld … were ploughed into Israeli real estate, being sent there from the US or Barcelona,”

  7. bilal a
    bilal a
    August 26, 2013, 2:26 am

    Anti-Brotherhood group posts full-page New York Times advert100K+ expenditure, not clear who is behind funding of “American Egyptians for Justice” , but seems to mirror tactics of Geller Spencer pro Israel hate nexus.

    • Walid
      August 26, 2013, 7:52 am

      Bilal, al-Arabia is owned by the Saudi royal family. I would have wished for those that appear to have hired a good NYC ad agency to handle the current campaign of “Egypt fighting terrorism by going after the Brothers” would have also spent a bit more and hired the agency to help the Palestinians polish their image too.

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        August 27, 2013, 2:55 pm

        Coptic-Islamaphobes come out for Coptic state in Egypt

        Stand Up America Now to Hold Press Conference with Innocence of Muslims Filmmaker Mark Basseley Youssef, Stand Up America Now will host a press conference in Hollywood, California. Participants will include Mark Basseley Youssef and Dr. Terry Jones., Topics will include Mr. Youssef’s imprisonment by the Obama Administration in a high security federal prison, a new book, and the release of his new movie “Innocence of Muslims II”. Dr. Terry Jones will discuss the future plans for Stand Up America Now as well as the plan of a Coptic State in Egypt.

      • Taxi
        August 27, 2013, 4:32 pm

        bilal a

        I really hope you don’t think that the weird ziocopts in USA are anything like 11 million copts living in Egypt.

  8. seafoid
    August 26, 2013, 7:01 am

    I think Israel is a magical object. People buy into it but it is very different in reality.
    It gives people meaning in their lives and leverages that support to kill other people.

    It’s like a toy a kid covets and then discovers is crap, intensified deep into malignity.
    Say the toy actually attacks other children. Something along those lines

  9. Citizen
    August 26, 2013, 7:15 am

    @ seafoid
    Remember The Golem?

  10. hophmi
    August 26, 2013, 2:00 pm

    “Distorting reality is not only for novels”

    Then stop doing it. Israel’s creation does not equal ethnic cleansing any more than America’s does. It equals many things, including a refuge for Jewish refugees, and a democracy.

    Magical realism is Nasser telling Egyptians that they won the 1967 war.

    • Taxi
      August 27, 2013, 5:24 am


      You’re, as per usual, full of poppycock. Nasser in fact publicly announced his abdication upon losing the ’67 war. The Egyptian people rejected his abdication and took to the streets in their millions, pleading with him to stay in power.

      Magical realism is NOT what israel practices. It practices out and out lying – just so it can steal more Palestinian and Arab land.

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