In its desire to maintain stability and its own interests, the same armed forces that refused to fire on protesters in February now appear willing to look the other way, or worse, as anti-Christian sectarianism turns violent
Riot police stand guard beside a car destroyed in Sunday night's clashes between Coptic Christians and soldiers in Cairo / Reuters
As Egypt's generals wrapped up their defiant presentation deflecting any and all responsibility for the killings of at least 26 people during a largely Coptic Christian demonstration on Sunday night, many Egyptians' initial bewilderment and fear had hardened into anger and foreboding. The Egyptian military's brutal attacks on the protesters represented a broader trend of limited tolerance for public displays of dissent and protest. But the attack was also distinctive for its sectarian overtones and its scale. Sunday night's killings in front of Cairo's radio and television building, commonly known as Maspero, were not simply a military attack on protest, but an episode in which the security forces sought to harness sectarian animus to bolster their crackdown and inoculate their actions. It's puzzling why the military leadership would choose to escalate at this moment. Whatever its intention, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the post-Mubarak body currently leading the country, has endangered the country's social fabric and risked unloosing civil strife.
The SCAF has been increasingly acting to quiet dissent, previously using the military to disperse protest by force, and now seeking political acquiescence through repressive, albeit calibrated, measures. Crackdowns appear to have targeted only those whom the SCAF might consider to be vulnerable and without a significant social support base -- in other words, people whose injury or death wouldn't provoke a wider popular backlash. In the mind of the military, then, repressing a largely Coptic protest would come at little social cost.
The armed forces are broadly reflective of Egyptian society. While the institution is not segregated, Christian advancement within the ranks is often limited by hierarchical discrimination. Although there is some degree of self-selectivity involved, the paucity of Copts within the upper ranks of the military reflects their withdrawal from the public sphere. It's part of a longstanding and deleterious change in how Christians participate in Egyptian society. The few high-ranking Christian officers -- such as Coptic war hero General Fouad Aziz Ghali, who played a key leadership role in the October 1973 war against Israel -- are exceptions to the rule. Egypt's Christians are excluded from leadership positions in key organs of the state -- including the one that now plays an increasingly prominent role in their country's future, the SCAF.
Egyptian society is divided and its communal bonds have deteriorated, a trend that has left broad segments of the Egyptian population desensitized to the plight of the country's Christians. It's unlikely that the Egyptian army acted out of hatred toward Christians -- even now, it's not in their character. But credible video evidence and eyewitness testimony from the Maspero crackdown show security forces standing by while vigilante groups attacked their Christian countrymen for no apparent reason other than malice. It certainly looks like outright collusion and cooperation, although we can't be sure without an independent non-military investigation (something the military is, of course, not permitting). Some troops were captured on video reveling in their assault on the Copts. Institutional self-interest is driving military decision-making, it seems, even at the risk of undermining national unity.
State television and official media, in their incendiary coverage of the events, didn't come off any better than the military. One presenter called for honorable citizens to take to the streets to defend the armed forces against a Christian attack. State television sensationalized the events by neglecting to mention the protester casualties while announcing outlandish figures for military casualties. At this stage, the exact number of troops killed -- if there were any -- has become a state secret. The exact nature of interaction between the SCAF and the Ministry of Information (which runs state media) is opaque, but the latter certainly appears to have become an outlet for the former to cultivate popular support. Whether by directive or force of habit, state media has been repeating nationalistic tropes -- trumpeting SCAF chief Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as a great leader, for example -- in its obsequious coverage of the SCAF.
Under the SCAF's few months of rule, the culture of impunity has continued and flourished when it comes to sectarian crimes. During the Mubarak era, the criminal justice system was often used selectively or manipulatively in response to anti-Christian attacks, exploiting Egypt's sectarian tensions for Mubarak's benefit. It was used as a political tool to deepen Coptic dependence on the state. Since Mubarak fell on February 11 the new leadership has appeared largely indifferent to sectarian incidents. This has triggered widespread concern and outrage among Copts as well as their many sympathizers, and further undermined the concept of what it means to be an Egyptian citizen. While the SCAF has supposedly prioritized law and order and stability, the machinery of the state has not been brought to bear against the perpetrators of sectarian violence, further eroding conceptions of citizenship.
Egypt's most coherent political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, has also responded to the rising sectarian violence with self-interest. After the attack, the group issued a statement that diverted responsibility from the armed forces while partially blaming Copts for the timing of their protest: "All the Egyptian people have grievances and legitimate demands, not only our Christian brothers. Certainly, this is not the right time to claim them." The Muslim Brotherhood, it seems, is too worried about how it will fare in the tenuous political transition to stand up forcefully for their Coptic fellow citizens.
Perhaps the most damning behavior has come after Sunday's violence, with the SCAF refusing to admit error even as the sectarian ripples continue to spread. Instead, it has sought to preserve the perceived legitimacy of the armed forces among much of the Egyptian people, who are still grateful for the military's refusal to fire on protesters during the January and February protests. While the SCAF is genuinely concerned about the country's stability, it has come to understand that stability as primarily a function of its own standing within society. Whether as a means to avoid conflict or further their own agenda -- though they seem to see these two things as synonymous -- the SCAF has appeared willing to indulge and coddle the forces of intolerance, even at the risk of precipitating broad-based communal conflict.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
A new study finds an algorithmic word analysis is flawless at determining whether a person will have a psychotic episode.
Although the language of thinking is deliberate—let me think, I have to do some thinking—the actual experience of having thoughts is often passive. Ideas pop up like dandelions; thoughts occur suddenly and escape without warning. People swim in and out of pools of thought in a way that can feel, paradoxically, mindless.
Most of the time, people don’t actively track the way one thought flows into the next. But in psychiatry, much attention is paid to such intricacies of thinking. For instance, disorganized thought, evidenced by disjointed patterns in speech, is considered a hallmark characteristic of schizophrenia. Several studies of at-risk youths have found that doctors are able to guess with impressive accuracy—the best predictive models hover around 79 percent—whether a person will develop psychosis based on tracking that person’s speech patterns in interviews.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
The GOP frontrunner’s surprising staying power has inspired soul-searching and agony among party elites.
What is happening to the Republican Party? I put that question to Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina and basement-dwelling presidential candidate, who was getting ready to hold a campaign event in Hooksett, New Hampshire. “Well, the front-runner is crazy,” Graham said.
He was referring, of course, to Donald Trump, the GOP’s seemingly unstoppable chart-topper, who has survived outrage after outrage that would have ruined a conventional candidate. He commands, on average, double the support, among potential Republican primary voters, of his nearest challenger. Graham—who is running in 15th place—calls him “a huckster billionaire whose political ideas are gibberish.” And while he expects voters eventually to come to their senses, he said, “I think a certain amount of damage has been done already.”
Bruce Springsteen’s breakout album embodied the lost ‘70s—the tense, political, working-class rejection of an increasingly unequal society.
Forty years ago, on the eve of its official release, “Born to Run”—the song that propelled Bruce Springsteen into the rock-and-roll stratosphere—had already attracted a small cult following in the American rust belt.
At the time, Springsteen desperately needed a break. Despite vigorous promotion by Columbia Records, his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, had been commercial flops. Though his band spent virtually every waking hour either in the recording studio or on tour, their road earnings were barely enough to live on.
Sensing the need for a smash, in late 1974 Mike Appel, Bruce’s manager, distributed a rough cut of “Born to Run” to select disc jockeys. Within weeks, it became an underground hit. Young people flooded record stores seeking copies of the new single, which didn’t yet exist, and radio stations that hadn’t been on Appel’s small distribution list bombarded him with requests for the new album, which also didn’t exist. In Philadelphia, demand for the title track was so strong that WFIL, the city’s top-40 AM station, aired it multiple times each day. In working-class Cleveland, the DJ Kid Leo played the song religiously at 5:55 p.m. each Friday afternoon on WMMS, to “officially launch the weekend.” Set against the E Street Band’s energetic blend of horns, keyboards, guitars, and percussion, “Born to Run” was a rollicking ballad of escape, packed full of cultural references that working-class listeners recognized immediately.