Carlos Alberto Torres is a critical social theorist and Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and Director of the Paulo Freire Institute at UCLA. This op-ed appeared originally on May 4 in Truthout.org.
If one were to attend a rally of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today, one would find faces resembling the uniform phenotype of the Arab world: Women carefully conforming to a self-effacing code of dress with the niqab — a cloth to cover the face — as an emblematic sign of modesty, along with deeply pious followers holding the Misbaha, prayer beads by which to count the 99 Names of Allah. Everyone would adhere to the values of Sharia, a guide to Islamic Law that not only dictates behavior for one's personal or spiritual life but for one's political and social life as well.
The political methodologies of the Muslim Brotherhood employ mass mobilizations, confrontation, and heavy-handed negotiations whereby political capital serves as leverage to preach to and reach the poor while coalitions are driven with other political parties. A key demand for the faithful is the unquestioned application of Sharia law. The Muslim Brotherhood demands that foreign powers cease and desist from any interventions in the Arab world. It seeks to delegitimize the state of Israel. While the Brotherhood has stood in the shadows of Egyptian life for a long time, the Arab Spring of 2011 fueled its participation in electoral politics and opened the door for it to take control of Egypt's parliament and presidency.
If one were to attend a Tea Party rally, however, on the surface one would see a crowd that looks very different: a group of white middle-aged and older men and women, many of whom are retired. One would find people who vote with the Republican Party, and large numbers related to some form of Christian conservatism or born-again philosophy, and who hail largely from the South. These folks reflect middle-to-upper-class America.
Tea Party members participate massively in Republican primaries, and push for selecting highly ideologically pure candidates. Politically, they want to repeal Obamacare and oppose any and all stimulus programs. They reject not only taxes of any kind but also any form of political cohabitation with Democrats.
If one were to look at the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tea Party and see two contemporary social movements that are very different, one must look again: They are twins who were separated at birth. How so? Their contempt for the democratic process, for one, their explicit and overt attempt to undermine any form of a democratic welfare state if they do not explicitly benefit from it, for another. Then there is their inability to establish a democratic dialogue given their vocal distaste for any expression of bipartisan cooperation.
Democracy is a messy system, but it has survived because there is a sphere for debate and a set of rules that people follow even if they don't benefit from them. For educators, schools and universities are considered democratic communities, and as such, they must be fully committed to expanding the democratic discourse and challenge the inequalities that emerge from the workings of capitalism. If the Tea Party and the Muslim Brotherhood were to achieve their goals, then education as a means of promoting democracy and democratic citizenship will wither because without a serious exploration of the intersections between cultural diversity, affirmative action, and citizenship, the plural basis of democracy and the democratic discourse per se is precipitously at risk.
On two different continents, two conservative social movements — which on the surface may seem to have nothing in common — are conspiring against democracy to derail any progress of individual freedom and community solidarity for the sake of their own agenda. The Tea Party's and Muslim Brotherhood's views on race, gender, class and religion egregiously undermine the entire social context of democracy.
Without a technically competent, ethically sound, empirically engaging, and politically feasible theory and practice of democratic multicultural citizenship, people will be lost. As the Book of Proverbs says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." (King James Bible Cambridge edition 29:18). If the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tea Party reach their goals, democracy will perish and, along with it, the people will perish, as well. We should not let that happen. We should not let them succeed.
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