Hooters and the Heart of Darkness

For a national leader newly arrived on the world stage, a New York Times front page interview is a valuable opportunity. In a small space of a few hundred words the leader must shape and influence both American and International opinions. It might seem odd that President Mursi would invest a significant fraction of that in denouncing a second-rate greasy spoon restaurant chain. But perhaps not.

Since Muhammad Ali first started to send Egyptian men for training abroad in the early 19th century their response to the West has oscillated between fascination and revulsion. And it usually centers on matters of sexual mores.  This is not surprising  for young men from a closed and sexually segregated society who are thrown into the roiling and evolving Western struggle on women and gender.  For some of these young men, it is the heart of darkness.

How these men came to see the West depended greatly on their experience of  Western women. For Taha Hussein, married to a French bourgeois, the West was helpful, tolerant and progressive, for that how his beloved wife was. For Salama Mousa, the West was a bracing and addictive mixture of progress and revolution, as to be expected from someone who spent happy years in love with a fiery Fabian. For Sayyd Qutb, a small man that the Amazons of Colorado must have found odd, and who could not possibly express his true sexuality in a short time in America without psychological rupture, the West was a hideous circle of hell mired in sexual depravity and godless thoughts.

Mursi’s experience was also obviously searing. A young married man, with a sweet and dutiful wife, was exposed daily to the alluring sins of a country in the middle of a cultural and sexual revolution. The trip from the lush and dusty Egyptian delta to the verdant and permissive campuses of Southern California was, like Sayyd Qutb’s, a pilgrim’s progress through hell.  And years later, grown satisfied and powerful, that trip must be recalled over and over again as a totem of his resilience and the center of his personality. Leaders always believe they are of a different metal and hence made in a crucible. The US would do well to understand Mursi’s crucible, and he gave all of us a powerful glimpse into that. In that sense, he did not waste his interview with the New York Times. He hit the target.

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