Saturday, September 22, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 6

Muslim protests

I have to talk some about protests raging across the Muslim world over the film called "The Innocence of Muslims."

Right at the top I have to tell you that I tried to watch the trailer - it's on YouTube - and I couldn't get through more than the first three or four minutes. It is without doubt one of the worst movies of all time; by comparison, "Robot Monster" - look it up - is a masterpiece. If it wasn't for the deeply, deliberately offensive nature of the film and that fact that the producers of this movie intended to create the violence and bloodshed that has resulted, it would be utterly hilarious.

And it needs to be said that by any rational standard, it is utter madness to get that angry, that in too many cases violent, over something that stupid. But reality is what reality is and the movie is deliberately offensive and has sparked violence along with a large number of noisy but otherwise peaceful demonstrations.

I'm not going to try to cover events in detail; instead, I want to make a few points on a few points.

First, you may have already heard this but just in case it deserves repeating: All indications now are that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in Libya where the US ambassador was killed had nothing to do with the film. It was a preplanned assault, carefully laid out, carefully executed, that just used the film as a cover, as if you will a convenient excuse.

That in turn raises the different but related issue of how much of the rest of the protests, particularly the violent ones, were - well, not that they were planned in advance, but rather that there are people who were looking for an excuse, for any reason they could find, who will search out things that are or can be made to appear offensive, for the conscious purpose of arousing anger, of reaching that undercurrent of suspicion and resentment many in both the Arab and Muslim worlds (and you do know, yes, that they are not the same; in fact by population the largest majority-Muslim nation in the world is Indonesia) have toward the West, manipulating that resentment, the better to promote their own agendas and build their own personal power bases.

In any case it remains true that only a small minority of Muslims who took to the streets and it is an even smaller minority who are trying to exploit their grievances for their selfish gain.

There's an important related thing here: Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks made a very good point: He said he suspects that a lot of people in the Muslim world actually don't understand how the US works. They think, based on their own experiences, that if something like this movie was produced in and openly shown in the US - which it was, exactly once, to about 10 people - it must have been done with the support or at the very least the approval of the US government. Because they have had very little experience of free speech, they fall short on understanding what it means here, what restrictions on the government still exist here. They blame the US as a whole for what a literally tiny handful of bigots did.

A final point goes back to what I just said about an "undercurrent of suspicion and resentment." Joe Scarborough at MSNBC responded to the unrest by dismissing any cause other than "they hate us" - and then went on to say that "scratch any one of them from a peasant right up to a prime minister and you'll find someone happy to have the chance to throw a brick at a US embassy," apparently unaware of the irony of having by that bigotry just given "them" another reason to hate "us."

So I'm going to take a minute to read an edited version of something I wrote on October 2, 2001, less than a month after 9/11, partly in response to the question of that day, "Why do they hate us?"
For a moment, just for a moment, try to see the world through the eyes of an average person on the ground in the Middle East. This is how the world might look to you:

For centuries the West has looked down on you, regarding you, your culture, and, if non-Christian, your religion as inferior. (There is a reason bin Laden keeps referring to American “crusaders.”) They think of you as “ragheads” or “towelheads.”

Every time a strong Arab leader rises and tries to become independent of the West, they get slapped down. The only regimes that survive are those too weak or too corrupt to threaten Western interests. (One such “threatening” government was that of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, who was overthrown in a CIA-engineered coup in 1953 after he attempted to nationalize oil reserves. The result was the 26-year reign of the Shah, whose army was practically stamped “Made in the USA.”) Yes, you resent the West’s wealth but it’s not so much that they’re rich and you’re poor, it’s that they’re rich because you’re poor, that their wealth is built on exploitation and economic domination.

In just the past 20-plus years [Remember, this was written in 2001.], you’ve seen the US pick a fight with Libya in the Gulf of Sidra, bomb Tripoli, openly try to kill Moammar Khadaffi, bomb a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan on the spurious claim it was a chemical weapons factory (leading to thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of deaths due to inadequate supplies of medicines), stand by along with the rest of the West while Muslims were slaughtered in Bosnia (stepping in only when European interests were threatened), shell Beirut, shoot down a civilian Iranian airliner, and fire cruise missiles into Afghanistan.

Then there’s Iraq, it’s infrastructure systematically destroyed in a war which it seems to you had nothing to do with the West except to humiliate another strong Arab leader. In the run-up to that war you saw foreign troops stationed near the holy sites of Islam at the insistence of the US despite Saudi Arabia’s reluctance and warnings that doing so would be deeply offensive to conservative Muslims - which it was. (One thus offended being Osama bin Laden.)

For 10 years you have seen the bombing of Iraq continue, so much so that a few months ago a Pentagon press representative referred to one such raid as “routine.”

Sanctions imposed by the West have cost the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children over the last 10 years, a death toll which then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright described in 1996 as “worth it.” Worth it, yes, you say - as long as it’s Arab children who are doing the dying.

And you see the US justify both the bombing and the sanctions on the grounds that Iraq “defies UN resolutions” while at the same time it pours billions of dollars in economic and military aid into Israel despite the fact that for 30 years Israel has openly defied UN resolutions about Palestinians and the occupied territories. It’s not even so much that the US supports Israel, it’s that the US does it to the detriment, the denigration, the denial, of the Palestinians.

If that was your world, what would the West, what would the US, look like to you? Like a noble friend? Or like a selfish, conceited, arrogant bully which figures it can do as it damn well pleases without cost to itself? Seen through such eyes, the question “Why do they hate us?” answers itself.
That's what I wrote then. In the intervening years, what have we seen? The Afghanistan War. The Iraq War. The drone war on Pakistan. The drone attacks on Somalia. The drone attacks on Yemen. Still no justice for the Palestinians, still no settlement, still no peace. So ask yourself if in that time we have given anyone, any Arab, any Muslim, any reason to change their minds.


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