More to Middle East riots than meets the Eye

A recent spat of protests and riots in the Muslim world have been making headlines in recent days, especially after United States Ambassador Chris Stevens to Libya was killed. Images are being splashed all over the printed press and television of the most crazed, angry looking bearded Muslims burning American flags and shouting.  Americans have been reminded through the various media outlets, once again, that the Islamic world is filled with “crazy extremists” who wish to see nothing more than the destruction of our way of life. Their anger is supposedly directed towards a poorly edited and poorly acted low budget film that received no government support and very little exposure prior to the protests, so this eruption of rioting and protest may seem greatly disproportionate a reaction. The public has a very short memory, it seems!

This film is just a straw on the proverbial camels back, mounted on top of the insults, slanders, and attacks against the Middle East and the Islamic world in general. The Western world has given a near blank check to Israel for the last 60 some odd years, allowing it to act in ways any other state would have been sanctioned or occupied over. Israel gets plenty of assistance, thanks to its powerful lobbies in both the United States and Europe. The Western powers have actively intervened to prop up unpopular but friendly governments, and overthrow governments which they do not like or are no longer useful. The recent “Arab Spring” protests can be seen in that light, as the West furiously attacked Libya and now is doing everything it can to subvert Syria, while turning a blind eye to the protests in Bahrain and the Gulf states which are by and large as justified, if not more so, as any of the protests elsewhere. The absurd pretext of “protecting civilians” justified NATO airstrikes which probably resulted in thousands of deaths in Libya alone, can hardly justify this criminal enterprise in the minds of the Libyan people. This comes after 10 years of war waged against the Middle East and Muslim world, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, Pakistan, and more, in which thousands if not millions of lives have been lost senselessly. Now after all this bloodshed, after the West bombs their nations, puts sanctions on them and starves them, and executes the leaders of their nations, they put icing on the cake in the form of these insults to their faith. It may not be government sanctioned, but it shows a great deal about the mindset in the West regarding Islam. So while the average American may look at this and see the Muslim as “irrational” and “fanatical” for overreacting to this film, the real issue goes far deeper than just this film. We must remember that the Tea Act that led to the Boston Tea Party was not a particularly high tax raise and it actually decreased taxes in some areas, it was the principle behind it; it was simply one act in a series of insults which led to that revolution. These protests are undoubtedly about far more than a film!

“Virgin Mary” with elephant dung, acceptable as “pushing the boundaries of art” but are these the boundaries we need to be pushing?

There is also problem with the Western idea of freedom today as well, which this film represents. While in the past freedom meant the ability to express oneself or pursue one’s way of life without interference; to take responsibility for one’s own life, today freedom has a very different, negative meaning. While it is true “freedom of expression” allows us to say and act how we want, there is an issue of tact, and respect which we seem to have lost over the years. There is a growing idea that making vulgar displays, being deliberately crass and vulgar aren’t just tolerable, but commendable! This freedom extends to the arts, music and movies as well, with the boundaries being pushed, not necessarily artistic boundaries of higher expression, but in the other direction. Just because something is tolerated or legal does not make it right in the moral sense. Yet today these cartoons and vulgar displays against Islam and other faiths, especially Christianity, are not just seen as right in many quarters, worse, they are seen as a political statement to be celebrated.  Today artists can earn fame, not out of any depth of meaning, but solely on the basis of how offensive they may be.

Of course, there is also the irony that the same nations defending the display of offensive cartoons often come down on on “hate speech” when the targets of offensive material happen to be different.  The idea that “freedom of speech” actually encourages cultural expression has so far not proven to be the case.  More than that, it has only served as a justification for many kinds of double standards and arbitrary prosecutions.  One only needs to see as far as the barren, vulgar cultural landscape of the modern world versus the rich, vibrant cultural landscape of our ancestors to see that in reality, “freedom of speech” – at least in the version upheld by some European governments – has not done society any favors. The reality is that we are free to say as we please, but there are always limits. Someone who is known to hold a politically controversial belief is liable to be deprived of job opportunities, face social ostracism at the very least, with legal consequences at worst. Our “free” governments, we must realize are still governments and a government’s first task is to defend itself from any threats, either internal or external.

Belittling the faith of another does not show our own cultural strength, but rather how culturally and spiritually bankrupt the West really is. It shows how little the Western example has to offer outside of material comforts. What the so called “Right” that totes itself on family values, defending our traditional way of life, and so on, what it doesn’t seem to realize is that when defending this attack on Islam, it is defending the same line of thinking that allows for mosaics of St. Mary done in animal dung, or for Andres Serrano’s crucifix in a jar of urine to be called “art”. It is defending the desecration of the Sacred in the same way as the same people who are attacking Islam harbor the same resentment towards Christianity, and every sacred tradition. It is hard to justify wanton damage and mindless rioting, and if the stories coming out of the media now are true, then it is indeed regrettable to see these riots consume themselves, mindlessly destroying property and lives, but the root cause for this shouldn’t be lost because of the mindless  nature of the mob.

About Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson is a New York City resident with a degree in history and interests in philosophy, theology and entomology.
  • Septimine

    I agree that tact and politeness in general is lost on the general public.  However, I do think that the movie protests show a much worse form of vugarity than any mere film.  What I see is that the leadership of the West is much more interested in appeasing the muslims in a show of multicultural tolerance than in protecting the right of a film maker to make a bad movie (and make no mistake, this isn’t a well made, well thought out film).  What’s odd about the whole thing is the degree to which the Western powers and the US especially are bending over backwards to make the offense “a bad movie” rather than “rioting, burning cars, and murdering people”.  Put those two things next to each other.  Put the corpse of the ambassador next to a movie poster.  Then try to convince yourself that the real crime is the movie poster, not the corpse.  That’s a big problem — we’re so into our tolerance that it’s now used to justify murder.  We sacrificed at least four to “tolerance” by not being willing to do or say anything about the evil of rioting over speech. 

    • Ray Wilson

      I do not see why the government should protect the filmmaker, or why crassness and vulgarity is celebrated. That is the point- by and large the moderate right and some elements on the left were defending the film maker on the issue of “Free speech” but still, whether something is allowed doesn’t make it right. I have the legal right to tell you off or insult your mother at a bar, for example, and your reaction (say punching me in the face) or something of that nature would be illegal. Would it be justified? Sure, probably. I can mouth off, but there are consequences i need to expect. As for the ambassador, i don’t believe for a second the Libyans who killed the ambassador did so solely based on this film. They have literally thousands of reasons, considering the damage and violence he himself wrought on libya.
      The United States was not responsible for this movie, but as Louis Farrakhan said, the government did encourage an atmosphere in which this sort of discourse (anti islamic etc) thrives.