Friday, September 14, 2012

Watch the doughnut....

The Onion essentially gets this right (click on over there to read it, I won't excerpt from it), and in light of the fact protests have broken out in Southeast Asia this morning (where there are more Muslims than in all of the Middle East, something easily and constantly overlooked in America, if not all of "the West"), it shows that the violent protests are not about offended religious sensibilities.

Indeed, from news reports I gather it's a fair statement that most Muslims, "upon seeing it, ... simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day."  What about all those rioters and protesters?   A vocal minority, for the first part, no more representative of the whole of their countries than the US college anti-war protestors represented even the majority sentiment of students on their college campus (all the people killed at Kent State were going to class or doing something other than protesting.  Vietnam ended not because students led marches, but because the nation got tired of the war.  Anyway....).  Why are they angry?  Probably for many reasons.  Richard Engle told Rachel Maddow last night much of it has to do with authoritarian regimes which maintained power for decades by telling the people the world was in a conspiracy against them, a conspiracy of Jews and Americans and Freemasons (yes, his word; I think he was using it for comic exaggeration).  He argued some of the anger is over the idea America would allow a film like "The Innocence of Muslims" to exist, betraying a complete misunderstanding of the concept of "free speech."  But that cultural clash was upheld not by ignorance, but by a conspiracy theory that America decried the film publicly, but privately promoted it.  Hillary Clinton's denunciations of the film, in other words, just prove the US government was behind it.

Which is the way most conspiracy theories work.  But why isn't this sentiment felt as strongly throughout the Muslim world, which would mean throughout Southeast Asia?  Could it had more to do with culture and history than religious sensitivities?  Could it possibly be connected with the unflinching support of Mubarak in Egypt, or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or the Shah of Iran?  Could it be because America supported Israel despite the fact the country was founded by kicking people out of their houses at gunpoint (I've spoken to people who lived through the establishment of Israel; sooner or later geopolitics lands on the ground and becomes one person telling another person you no longer own that, I do.).  The Palestinians got about as much in reparations as the Native Americans did, but our sympathies and our military power have never been with the Native Americans.  Either.  (Since I started this post, protests and violence have spread across the "Muslim world."  I would still note that these are all countries where the populace is likely to feel as if they have been, and have been, on the short end of the power relationship with Europe and the United States.  It's no accident the embassies being approached now are former colonial powers.  Some of the outrage, too, surely has to do with the content of the "trailer.")

So probably there are reasons people in the Middle East who are Muslims find reasons to be inflamed about depictions of their faith in the West, especially when those depictions are meant to be offensive.  Maybe it has more to do with power and powerlessness than with delicate feelings.  The fact that protests have spread to the German and British embassies today underlines that point:  those countries have no more to do with this "movie" than America does.  Maybe the insult is more grave than we want to realize, because the wounds are deeper than we want to see.  Comments on BBC's "World Have Your Say" today from Muslim countries wondered if the same outrage would be shown by Americans to an anti-Semitic "film," and others wondered by these insults are always aimed at Muslims.  It doesn't really matter that they aren't; it's the sense of insult, of being on the short end of a big stick for too long, that is being aroused.

Too much of what I already hear exists in an ahistorical vacuum where the "Muslim world" is the Middle East and not Asia or Africa, and the reactions of this "Muslim world" have no connection whatsoever to US involvement in the Middle East since at least the discovery of oil there.  This anger has roots that are not religious, but may use religion; and are not irrational, though it may lead to irrational acts.

Is it too much to ask that we watch the doughnut, not the hole?

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