Yesterday there were protests in Cairo and Benghazi over an American film that was described in Arabic media as “attacking Islam” and depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a pedophile. Despite the obscure status of the film (There are cat videos on youtube which deserve more news coverage) it was sensationalized by Arabic media, which has clearly taken a page from the Fox News handbook. In Benghazi, the protests turned violent, and resulted in the tragic deaths of 4 Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador. I have a lot of anger to sort out. Anger at the killers who senselessly stole lives. I am angry at the Sam Becile, Terry Jones, and all of the other idiotic filmmakers who produced a piece of offensive garbage. I am angry at the translators who made it available to millions of viewers around the world, and the media that covered it and made it seem like something more than the rantings of a madman. I am angry at the protesters who unleashed their unprocessed, unanalyzed frustrations and anger onto the U.S. government. Finally, I am pissed off at the dictators–and the imperialists before them–who created a closed-political culture, where open debate and freedom of speech are not sacred principles.
There is also a lot of ignorance to go around. Ignorance about Islam, Ignorance about Americans, and Ignorance about why “they” are “so angry.” It is never easy to explain the roots of anyone’s rage (Sorry, Dinesh D’Souza), but you don’t have to know that much Middle Eastern history before you realize that there is a lot to be pissed off about. Whether it’s the British imperialists or the U.S. backed dictators, it would be easy for an Egyptian to feel a little disrespected and disenfranchised. And while it looks like a show of strength, Muslim anger over offensive cartoons or videos is actually a reaction to a perceived attack against Islam. In much of the Muslim world, there is a profound feeling of Islam being under siege. The millions of casualties (mostly Muslim) from the U.S. War on Terror, European intolerance of Muslim practices, and continued global tolerance of Israeli colonization of Palestine–these all contribute to the perception that Islam is being attacked. Add a little nationalist propaganda and sensational news reporting, and you have a tinderbox. So when there are offensive videos or cartoons that depict the Prophet as a pedophile, womanizer, or terrorist, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that there is anger. Any resulting violence is not justifiable, but neither is ignorance about why some people are so damn pissed off.
For more reading, see my previous post on Terry Jones and the role of the media in inciting hatred, and latest report on possibility that incident in Benghazi was not spontaneous mob violence but a planned attack