Paul Greenberg

Their faces are a mirror of hope, pride, exhilaration ... in short, youth! Direct from Liberation Square in Cairo, they crowd our television screens here in the West, perfectly articulate in a language not their native tongue. They make demands (the Egyptian dictator must go and go now!), assure us of their friendship ("We're not anti-America, we just object to some of your government's policies"), and sound cheerful if insistent, their spirits lifted by being part of the huge throng that has gathered to welcome in a bright new day for their country.

More power to 'em. They might be young Americans jostling each other as they pour into the stadium for the Super Bowl -- wholesome, hopeful, confident, determined. Oh, there has never been a moment like this, a future as shining, an uprising as spontaneous and democratic and all-embracing. At least since the last failed revolution in the Middle East and the last generation of young people who thought they were the first to experience a revolution. Indeed, the first to experience youth itself.

As they gush en masse, there appear the ubiquitous American correspondents -- photogenic as ever, sporting the desert explorer's khaki jacket that has been de rigueur since Howard K. Smith made it mandatory decades ago. By now it's been adopted by everyone from the standard Peter Jennings/Brian Williams type to Christiane Amanpour. The latter may add a dashing hijab from time to time. American television remains the last refuge of Orientalism, the way patriotism is for a scoundrel.

Think of how T.E. Lawrence might have looked if only he had had the services of a decent Savile Row tailor -- and had been only a man of words and not action, too. Indeed, words and action tend to be interchangeable in that part of the word, where in the beginning was the word.

Lawrence of Arabia may have been the model our well-dressed correspondents had in mind, but something atrocious happened to the style on the way to 2011, and instead of a simple robe and keffiyeh, we get these get-ups with more pockets and liners and zippers than anyone but a currency exchanger might ever need. Not to mention those useless epaulets.

As another sirocco comes in, swirling sand and twirling our stars' wavy locks, what we get is a matinee idol's Middle East. Direct from the sands of Egypt! With a cast of thousands, hundreds of thousands! Cecil B. DeMille would be proud.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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