Thursday, February 09, 2006

# Posted 11:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUT WHY AT THIS PRECISE MOMENT? Gene Robinson wrote in a recent column about the anti-Danish jihad that
People don't normally burn down embassies over a few cartoons in a newspaper they've never even heard of, much less ever read. The widespread hair-trigger outrage, I think, grows out of a sense that the world of Islam has been used and abused for many years by a powerful and evil entity called "the West" -- and that this mistreatment is getting worse, not better.
Of course, Robinson began his column with an absolute condemnation of violence directed against free acts of speech, regardless of how offensive they are. At the same time, he refuses to hold the perpetrators of the violence 100% responsible since they have been on the receiving end of history.

Especially recent history. After the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, wouldn't one expect the Arab public to be mad?

Yet there is a profound flaw in this sort of logic. Of all the provocations Muslims have experienced, why respond to this particular one? Why was there no burning of embassies or other Western establishments after Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib?

It seems almost self-evident that Arabs and Muslims should have been far angrier about what happened in American prisons -- run by our government and staffed by our soldiers -- than they are about what happens on the pages of an obscure Danish newspaper.

Even if one subscribes to the speculative theory that Muslim anger reached some sort of tipping point some time in late 2005, the current outrage seems poorly timed. Just a few weeks ago, an American airstrike resulted in the death of multiple Pakistani women and children. Thousands of Pakistanis protested, but the rest of the Arab and Muslim world seemed to take it in stride. Why not get angry about the airstrike instead?

I have to admit I don't have any great answers to that question. But I have a hypothesis. The actions considered most provocative by self-critical Americans -- invasions, prison abuse, etc. -- are not exceptional in the Arab world. If anything our wars and abuses are pretty amateurish compared to the stuff engaged in by Middle Eastern governments.

But (as far I know) Muslim governments are very careful not to do anything that would offend Islam. Moreover, Western governments are usually quite careful about offending Islam. For that reason, perhaps, the Danish cartoons may have struck an exposed nerve that hadn't been struck before.

In other words, the issue here really is freedom of speech and not Bush's foreign policy or European immigration policy.

Now, one has to presume to that to some degree, the response to the cartoons fed on other greivances. After all, everyone is less forgiving of their adversaries.

But that's what makes the victimization of Denmark so interesting. It is so out of the way, so unrelated to any of the great foreign policy decisions that some describe as the source of Arab and Muslim greivances, that burning Danish flags seems more like satire than reality.

So I guess my bottom line here is a hard one. "Greivances" don't mitigate anyone's responsibility for violence.
(13) opinions -- Add your opinion

Indeed, the Islamic "world" has a very strange notion of irony. Cartoon's satirizing the connections between Islam and recent violence was met with angry Islamic violence. Reverse irony perhaps? Muslim humour seems to be amongst the most complicated in the world - or is it? Perhaps some Western schadenfreude would be more appreciated like destroying Mecca and Medina; they did find watching 9/11 enjoyable.
I found the Robinson piece puzzling as well. It passed over the fact that most Afghans pretty clearly were happy to have the Taliban overthrown, and even (though its more complex) most Iraqis were glad Saddam was overthrown. Afterall the most visible and extreme protests have not been in those countries (aside from some taliban backed ones in Afghan) but in Leb, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, etc and clearly the rest of the muslims world was less supportive of the overthrow of the Taliban, and positively hostile to OIF. But still why now? This is at a moment when Iraq is regaining selfrule, and the US is starting to withdraw troops. This is right after Israel withdrew from Gaza.

I would suggest two things. 1. You are precisely right - this is a perpetual sensitivity, that has nothing to do with the Wests actions. And 2. The concentration of the most violent reaction in areas where Iranian and Syrian influence is strong, has to do with pressure on those regimes
David, your argument might rest on an assumption of rationality (or a direct relationship) between wrong act and protest. There are of course countless examples of relatively small grievances sparking widespread protect - straws that breaks a camel's back etc... Also, just because the Pakistani airstrike and the prison tortures aren't explicitly brought up in the protests does not mean that they are necessarily extraneous nor that they aren't fuelling the fire. Of course the violence of these protests is wrong, but if we are going to try to understand them, which we certainly should, them I think we need to stop looking at them as a simple a reaction (rational or not) to the cartoons.
The account I've seen suggests that the Saudis, in particular, spurred protests about the Danish cartoons as a way to distract Muslims from accidents during the Haj which resulted in many deaths. See the link in the first bullet point here:


I'll add that in my mind, the outrage that many Muslims feel is no less real for having been manipulated.
That link was cut off by the margins. It is:

OK, this is frustrating. Take three:

The answer is simple. Denmark assumes presidency of the UN Security Council in June, and this is a threat, pure and simple

Perhaps the correlation between Iran and Syria is being overlooked? Do they gain by radical Islamic protests splashed all over the western media? The North Korean play book has been act crazy, make threats and get paid off. Are Iran and Syria simply looking to cash in?
Could the difference between Muslim anger towards Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, et al, and Muslim anger towards cartoons depicting Muhammad be that one involves desecrating Islamists and the other involves desecrating Islam?

There are no global riots against Al Qaeda killing Muslims, but I'd bet there would be riots if Al Qaeda started publishing pictures of Allah.

Killing or torturing living Muslims desecrates only their physical selves, while desecrating Allah desecrates their spiritual selves. Could that be it?
They don't just not justify violence. They don't justify targeting your wrath at anyone except those specifically responsible for the act.

I've heard so much about the West treating all Moslems as terrorists. Well, is it any better than treating all Danes as blasphemers?
The protestors are angry about a perceived insult to their religion. Many of the protestors are extremists who are prone to violence. (By the way, Islam is not unique in terms of the existence of extremist adherents. I can easily imagine a situation in which some members of my religion would attack embassies in response to an offensive cartoon.) Also, as others have pointed out here, there are some bad actors in the broader Middle East who are cynically manipulating the anger to achieve some evil ends. The anger over these images does not justify or even mitigate any act or threat or incitement of violence by anyone.
It does not follow, however, that "free speech" is the only issue here. For example, I admit that I have made many wildly inappropriate and gratuitously offensive comments on the internet. (For whatever it's worth, I apologize for this.) If a reader were to respond to one of these comments by tracking me down and killing me, I think that would be an inappropriate response. Nevertheless, that wouldn't retroactively excuse my comment: it would remain inappropriate and gratuitously offensive.
Holy smokes Adesnik is talking about something serious.

Your point about real world abuses (torture, killing) being less provocative than identity offenses is right on.

But Denmark is in Iraq right? Not that it matters. All other conditions being equal (demands of an apology rebuffed, and especially the Saudi govt/press/religious establishment's role in incubating the outrage) I think this would have certainly resulted with any other European country but probably even with countries that are not already "the enemy" on the muslim street like Russia (sometimes the enemy) or China (mostly a friend right?)
There is only one answer why there are angry and violent Islamic protests staged against the Danes:

A softer target can't be found, oops, except for the French.
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