Egypt

The Ben Carson Show (Phenomenon)

Source photos: Ben Carson announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, 5 May 2015 (Paul Sancya/AP). A biblical inscription is chiseled into the wall of Ben Carson's home, with 'proverbs' spelled incorrectly (Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014).

Tom McCarthy tries to explain the Ben Carson phenomenon for The Guardian:

He is more than an American success story, brilliant brain surgeon and bestselling author of 10 Christian-themed books. He has also coined some of the most outlandish statements ever uttered on the national stage, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories and a provocateur who compares abortion to slavery and same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

This week, Carson restated his belief that the pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, and not by Egyptians to entomb their kings. He believes that Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Abbas attended school together in Moscow in 1968. He believes that Jews with firearms might have been able to stop the Holocaust, that he personally could stop a mass shooting, that the Earth was created in six days and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed Saudi protection after 9/11.

The Carson conundrum is not fully captured by a list of his eccentric beliefs, however. He also confounds the traditional demographics of US politics, in which national African American political figures are meant to be Democrats. Not only is Carson a Republican – he is a strong conservative on both social and economic issues, opposing abortion including in cases of rape and incest, and framing welfare programs as a scheme to breed dependence and win votes.

He has visited the riot zones of Ferguson and Baltimore but offered little compassion for black urban poor populations who feel oppressed by mostly white police forces.

Even Carson’s core appeal as a Christian evangelical is complicated by the fact that he is a lifelong adherent to a relatively small sect, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, whose celebration of the sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday and denial of the doctrine of hell have drawn accusations of heresy from other mainstream Christian groups.

That last probably plays more strongly with the British audience; in the United States, Christian is as Christian does; Dr. Carson’s penchant for false witness and exclusionary, judgmental scorn are his own ad hoc iteration of faith, shot through with neurotic self-contradiction as it struggles to justify his self-centered pretense of humility. If one seeks strangeness about the SDA experience in general, it is a different phenomenon.

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A Question That Seems Somewhat Obvious

Okay, there must be something I’m missing:

Shadows in Gaza

Seven years into an Israeli blockade and ten months into a crippling Egyptian one, Gaza’s economic growth has evaporated and unemployment soared to almost 40 percent by the end of 2013.

Opposition to the Hamas militant group which runs the Gaza Strip has led its neighbors to quarantine the enclave, shutting residents out of the struggling Mideast peace process and leaving them with plenty of parties to blame.

Living on U.N. handouts of rice, flour, canned meat and sunflower oil, with limited access to proper health care or clean water, families like the Mustafas – seemingly permanent refugees from ancestral lands now part of Israel – have no money, no jobs and no hope.

“We’re drowning … We feel like the whole world is on top of us. I turn on the television and I see the lifestyles on there, and I think, God help me leave this place,” said Tareq, 22.

The Mustafas often must pick up and move when rain floods their low-lying home – even on a sunny day, it’s lined with slick, smelly mildew. They stand in the dark, as 12-hour power cuts are now the norm throughout Gaza due to scant fuel.

“There’s no money for university or to get married. There’s not even enough to spend outside the house so we can escape a little. What kind of life is this?” Tareq asks.

Well over half of Gaza residents receive food from the United Nations, and the number is on the rise.

UNRWA, the U.N. Refugee Works Agency devoted to feeding and housing the refugees, told Reuters it was now feeding some 820,000, up by 40,000 in the last year. The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) gives food aid to some 180,000 other residents.

(Browning and Al-Mughrabi)

To the one, it seems like an obvious question. To the other, let us set aside the usual rhetoric about who must or is allowed to protect themselves from whom and why. It really does seem like a straightforward question:

What is this supposed to accomplish?

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