In a piece published by Counterpunch last December, Marek Sullivan sagaciously argued that the New Atheist and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, must live in a “quantum universe” because he habitually makes contradictory statements that he believes are simultaneously valid. One example is Harris’ assertion that “it is obscene, irrational, and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion” followed by the claim that “the justification for such a state is rather easy to find…[and] if there were going to be a state organized around protecting members of a single religion, it certainly should be a Jewish state.”
Sullivan made his point through Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment—Schrödinger’s cat. As Sullivan explains, Schrödinger’s theory posits that “If I put a cat in a box and close the lid, and ask you whether the cat is alive or not, there’s only one ‘true’ answer: it’s either dead or alive. It can’t be somewhere in between.” The one exception to this rule, according to Schrödinger, happens in the realm of quantum mechanics, where the cat can be simultaneously dead and alive. From Sullivan’s perspective, “Harris has entered this [quantum] reality.”
Harris is not alone, however. As I read Mona Eltahawy’s tirade against President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s regime in The New York Times this past Monday, I became convinced that she had recently taken up residence in Harris’ quantum universe and purchased a home across the street from him.
In 2013, right after the overthrow of President Mohammad Morsi, Eltahawy was almost ecstatic about the military coup that removed him from power. In a CNN interview immediately after the coup, Eltahawy appeared unconcerned with the authoritarian measures that had been used to oust Morsi. Instead, she denounced Egypt’s first democratically elected president, who had barely served one-year in office, as an “authoritarian” himself. She went on to audaciously claim that Morsi’s ouster was “not a coup” before adding that “the military…turn[ed] against him”—which is exactly what a military coup is.
A month later, between July and August 2013, when Egyptians gathered in and around Rabaa Square in Cairo to protest the coup, Eltahawy sidelined their grievances. In a series of tweets in late July, Eltahawy criticized the protests, falsely accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being “armed” and “harming the poor,” and implied that the Brotherhood’s end goals were as bad as those of the military. Her most degrading statement, perhaps, was that the protestors should just “listen to Luther Vandross” and essentially get over their problems.
It was only at the eleventh hour, when the security crackdown became so extreme that it led to the deaths of approximately 1,000 protesters and the torture and/or detention of countless others, that Eltahawy suddenly joined the global consensus and acknowledged the need for a solution beyond Vandross, her elixir of choice.
Since these events, Eltahawy has never clearly used the word “coup” to describe Morsi’s overthrow—at least not in a way that exonerates her past claims. But, in her recent Times article, Eltahawy states that “Sisi led an ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.” It is boondoggling to admit this without admitting that Morsi’s ouster was a coup.
In her Times article, Eltahawy also bemoans the fact that many Egyptians have been imprisoned for violating Egypt’s anti-protest law, which was passed in November 2013 to justify what happened in Rabaa and curb future protests. As she writes, “there are still Egyptians who, against the odds and in spite of real dangers, are still willing to risk protest in the face of the Sisi government.”
In Eltahawy’s quantum universe, these brave protesters, who risk danger today, are apparently unlike the Rabaa protesters who she once disparaged, even though they stood up against the same regime under comparable conditions.
Clearly, Eltahawy (like Harris) is forced to make exceptions to the moral rules she claims to follow, in service of a worldview grounded in shrill dogma. Both Eltahawy and Harris employ reason as a tool to justify their preconceived beliefs about liberalism, empire, religion, and everything in between. Sullivan calls this “a dangerous form of ideology control,” and he is right.
Like Schrödinger’s cat, who is simultaneously dead and alive, Eltahawy is a walking contradiction. She is the validator of a coup but also an enemy of its results, a Muslim activist who supports the rights of Egyptian protestors, except as applied to Islamists and their sympathizers. She simply makes no sense in this world.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been edited to better reflect Ms. Eltahawy’s position, from July-August 2013, on the Rabaa protests.