Low-budget movies don’t usually get associated with riots and RPG-fire, but that’s what happened when a clip from a cheap-ass anti-Muslim film “Innocence of Muslims” ended up on YouTube. Protests sprang up around U.S. embassies in majority Muslim countries, escalating to attempts to storm them and even, in the case of Libya, an ambassador being murdered
and paraded through the streets*. Clearly, not well received.
Though the film was a catalyst, to act like it’s only because of the stupid video that so much rage exists leaves out a huge amount of context concerning long term U.S. behavior towards that part of the world. Decades of interventions by the U.S. government, from backing dictators & further tinkering with internal politics to invasions and bombings killing civilians, can’t help but build up a reservoir of resentment, bound to crack at a moment (if it helps to comprehend this, imagine if China or Russia had been exerting such power on the U.S. for a similar amount of time, and then someone in one of those countries made a film called “Americans are Fat, Stupid Yokels”. The face is more easily irritated than the boot).
A lot of talk in the U.S. about this incident pretends the reservoir doesn’t exist, to all our detriment. Some, though, are astute enough to remind us. Justin Raimondo, the editorial director of AntiWar.com, is clearly familiar with these sources of outrage, and advocates regularly for their end. However, a recent post of his about the protests over the film, while on the ball about intervention, otherwise takes what looks to me like a sharp turn into a tree:
Americans are baffled: why oh why are Muslims up in arms over a YouTube video, one which no one in America even knew about prior to the attack on our Libyan consulate and the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens? Having abandoned their own religion sometime in the last century or so, they just don’t understand why someone would get all hopped up over a little thing like blasphemy — after all, all one has to do is turn on the TV or view the latest Madonna music video and you’ll get a full dose of it. […]
A society in which blasphemy is impermissible is inconceivable to the warlords of Washington, who, after all, live in the same society you and I do: one in which religion is increasingly pushed to the margins and regarded by the country’s elites with ill-concealed contempt. It’s a culture in which gays want to get married, straights are setting records for divorce, and the way to appeal to women in an election year is to make it easier for them to kill their unwanted babies. It is, in short, a culture so far removed from the “medieval” world of our recently conquered Middle Eastern satraps that the distance can only be measured in centuries rather than mere miles.
How he reached the conclusion that the U.S. has abandoned religion in the past 100 years, I have no idea. Poll results on religious belief don’t back him up on that one at all.
Of particular concern is his portrayal of some sort of dominating all-secularizing elitism unable to understand the gravity of insulting someone’s religion. That there are plenty of believers is obvious, and that any of them would prefer the founder of their particular faith not be dragged through the mud right in front of them needs no explanation. Yet, what does that mean politically? There have been times throughout history where blasphemy was a crime punishable by death, and in some places that basically continues: publicly insult Mohammed in Saudi Arabia and you probably won’t live long, meanwhile Salman Rushdie still has a price on his head and nobody remembers that book. How exactly is a nation that at least aspires to pluralism & tolerance supposed to approach an understanding on expression of blasphemy more satisfactory to the devout than the equal right to respond without voiding free expression for everyone else?
At the same time, all the focus Justin gives on the anti-Islam insult of the video (awkwardly for his acknowledgement of the context behind the outrage) seems to value the expression close to or equal to the policies pursued. The propaganda from al-qaeda and similar groups speaks of U.S. actions as part of a modern day Holy War, as if the reason for drone strikes in Yemen & Somalia, the invasion of Iraq, the continuing war in Afghanistan, etc. was “Jesus yes, Mohammed no”. Last I checked, Ann Coulter was not president…but considering the result, does the motivation even matter? I don’t know, for example, Gary Johnson’s views on religion, but who in the countries that he would call to be left alone for once would ask as the last soldier leaves “…is this because you respect Islam?” Views can influence action, but for the people no longer targeted for bombings, the ones giving the stand down order could be totally anti-Islam in their heads and it matters not a lick, and vice versa: assuming the U.S. government persisted in existing (scary thought…), eventually there actually would be a Muslim president — who Muslims overseas would condemn the second he invaded Iran.
People have beliefs, they have varying opinions about things. They’re going to voice them. Whatever those views are is never a reason for violence, state or otherwise.
(* – It’s come to my attention recently that this claim was false, and I apparently saw the filtered down falsehood of the ambassador’s body being dragged around prior to the truth of the image. The rest of my remarks still stand though.)