I am going to reply here to Dan's Post on the current media frenzy around the Cartoon Fiasco brewing (or brewed and somebody's about to get served?) in Europe and the Middle East. Peter and I had a discussion about this a few weeks ago, and I'll try and summarize (articulately) it here.

First, here are a few things one needs to take into consideration:

The Source.

The article referenced in the blog was from CNN. I won't go into my views on US media sources here, but suffice to say that a key component of research classes is first to be critical of any source you get and second to get information from different (and ideally conflicting) sources. A spot on BBC radio news last weekend was by a correspondent who is actually in Damascus - where many riots and embassy burnings are taking place. She noted that the VAST majority of protesters were there to peacefully march in protest against the cartoons (more on this in a minute.) A few late-teen/early-twenties boys, trucked in from elsewhere, chanting and fully prepared to wreak havoc, were the ones who broke security lines and appear on the alarming photos plastered in the media.
The first comparison that came to mind was the WTO protests that pop up every few years. Lots of people show up and march peacefully with their kids in strollers and duct tape over their mouths. A couple of lanky, scruffy anarchists show up throwing rocks at starbucks. The WTO photos we see? Scruffy anarchists being tear-gassed and dragged away in cuffs. Al Jazeera, for example, has a different story to tell.

The Context.

Besides not believing everything you read, you need to be aware of your context. The way the West views their relationship with the Muslim world, and the way the Muslims view that relationship are VASTLY different. To The West, there are a bunch of religous nuts freaking out about a sort-of offensive, largely innocuous cartoon and responding in violence (and remember now, most of this violence is staged by zealous 20 yr olds trucked in after being pumped up with rhetoric ... something most zealous 20 yr olds have a weakness for.) To them, there has been building tension (especially considering the historical/contemporary oppression in Europe of Muslim colonies/immigrants) for innumerable years, recently fueled by this whole "Rebuilding The Middle East To Look Like and Support The West" thing, and the cartoon for them is a SYMBOL that they can rally around. They can use this as an example to try and help us see how different we see things.
I am almost afraid to make this comparison, but bear with me here: Thousands of people bussed down, marched and protested in support of a SYMBOLIC act by an African-American woman on a bus in the South. In historical context, we see the building tensions and differing perspectives. We hear now about the peaceful, non-violent followers of Dr.King ... but at the time, there was violent protesting going on as well. Not everyone took the billy clubs and water canons sitting down. We don’t celebrate race riots in the US, but we understand them. And we remember both sides.

My point here is only that you have to have be aware of where you are standing. A lesson well put in the children's classic The Phantom Tollbooth about Point-Of-View.

A caveat : Violence in less developed countries is far more common than in first world countries in part because of more developed justice systems, police forces and investigative capacities. Not necessarily because of superior morals. Most of Latin America is nominally (and in many places devoutly) Catholic, yet violence we would consider horrific in the US is commonplace because the perpetrators are in charge, or those in charge don’t have enough clout to do much about it.

The Religion.

Not to be a stickler here, but there have been plenty of crazy-violent ‘Christian’ attacks on various perceived ‘threats’ to one’s belief systems, morals, whatever. (Remember violence-caveat, please) . And if one wants to, one can just as easily justify violent action against immorality and religious insult (Did you hear about the Christians suing AOL this week about their use of the I AM slogan?) There is plenty in Islamic scripture to support violence. Just as there is in Christian and Jewish texts. It depends on the interpreter and the climate (The Climate During the Crusades, for instance.) Growing up in Indonesia (83% Muslim) and working there during and after the 9/11 attacks, I’d say the only potential for violence I saw was … you guessed it … zealous 20-somethings fueled by misinformed rhetoric. Scary enough that I evacuated twice. But not because I was afraid of the bus driver and the factory worker and the banker and the Imam. It’s because zealous rhetoric filled kids can get away with some scary shit in a third world context with slipshod justice systems in place.

Now, I am not saying that what they are now calling a “global crisis” isn’t. I’m just trying to point out a couple of reasons why it may be about more about politics than religion. It's no secret that religous rhetoric can be very useful in a time of war.


beholdhowfree said...

Wow. You had a lot to say! I think you have a good leg to stand on, having had a lot of experience in the Muslim world. And I did only read one article. But I'm not sure if I buy your "it's only crazy 20-year-old boys" theory. The article said there were thousands of people chanting for Bin Laden! And it was an Imam calling for execution! This doesn't sound like a few crazies!

maria said...

I guess my point is that most of the violence is by a few of the people. There are crazy high profile Imams, just like there are crazy high profile pastors (Robertson, Falwell) who call for people's death and judgement. But the political climate leads to lots of chanters. I've chanted things at rallys that I didn't exactly believe in, because I believed the overall feeling of anger.

Are you still going to sing at my wedding? We need to talk!