Thoughts from Kairo

Alexandria, actually, but still.

I’m here at the British Council’s conference on Darwin’s Living Legacy. It’s really a remarkable event, bringing together brilliant biologists from around the world to talk about how the research program begun by Darwin continues today, as well as historians and philosophers giving us a nuanced view of Darwin himself and the reception of his ideas around the world, not to mention sociologists and education experts exploring contemporary reactions to Darwin’s ideas (including my own talk comparing Islamic creationist rhetoric with that of American creationists).

As always, the informal interactions after the projectors are turned off are the most memorable. How often do you get to see John Hedley Brook run up and give Ronald Numbers a high five after a huge soccer victory? To pose a question to Numbers and Brook and Peter Bowler and Bernard Lightman all at once? To wander through the rebuilt Library of Alexandria or around Pompey’s Pillar, within sight of the foundations of yet another wonder of the classical world – Alexandria’s Lighthouse?

Copious photographs upon my return, and some broader reflections. Also, some thoughts on Egypt more broadly.

Anyway, back home it looks like people are freaking out because the fuckers who planned 9/11 are finally going on trial. “Oh, woe is me!,” conservatives write. “How dare we bring terrorists in chains to a public trial for their heinous acts?” While the terrorists would have won had, among other things, the Academy Awards been delayed, it apparently has no meaning for us to abandon our core values and adopt the sort of authoritarianism and political opacity that the terrorists and their sponsors would like to impose.

The idea of offering a fair and open trial for criminals is fairly novel in the grand sweep of history, and the United States is noteworthy and praiseworthy for insisting as a matter of constitutional requirement that only such a process could be used to imprison people. Egypt has no great reputation on these matters, and our ability to encourage them to do the right thing rests in part on our own consistency in these regards. The US did fine convicting and imprisoning Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, tried in New York and safely imprisoned on US soil for a decade thus far. We can do that for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

That’s the way to do things, and we only win over terrorism when we reject terroristic practices in our own capacity, whether those practices are torture or summary judgments or secret prisons.

Meanwhile: No one could have predicted that voting to protect rapists from a courtroom trial would be politically unpopular.