Having picked up a tear gas canister thrown by police, a man
prepares to wield it back in their direction, on a road leading
to the U.S. Embassy near Tahrir Square,
in Cairo, Sept. 13.
Islam in Turmoil: Religion
as 'Ersatz-Identity' (Frankfurter Rundschau,
in this Islam-influenced arc of crisis are in extremely precarious stages of
development. They are all wavering between a 'path to modernization' in the American
style, which was to some extent introduced in dictatorial fashion, and the
search for an identity of their own - an identity that would ideally draw from
a history shaped by Islam as well as European-Christian values."
Men in Egypt's Tahrir Square carry a poster of Osama bin Laden at a protest condemning a U.S.-produced film that insults the Prophet Mohammad, Sept. 14. The poster reads: 'May God have mercy on the soul of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. Await more injurious reactions from us.
How is it, that a ridiculous movie about Muhammad could lead
to mass rioting? Those who don't try and understand the answer will find
themselves unable to prevent more such occurrences.
First the good news: The Muhammad film that is now stirring upheaval
in half the Islamic world, is such an obvious and over-the-top stupid
provocation, that no one in the West would ever consider defending it. So we
are at least spared reengaging in the most absurd aspect of reengaging in the debate we had
years ago on the subject of the Danish cartoons.
Back then, it was not just a matter of defending free
expression for people disseminating idiotic nonsense - given their intent to degrade
and provoke. But then as now, it was the right thing to do: Those who would
defend freedom by imposing prohibitions - prohibitions against blasphemy, for
example, as the quaint Catholic poet Martin Mosebach
would like us to do - give up the freedom they claim to be preserving.
But when the Danish newspaper JyllandsPosten made a wholesale generalization by
equating the [Prophet] Muhammad with a suicide bomber - which was essentially
no better than this little movie from California, half the global press styled
itself heroic by reprinting the controversial cartoons. It was as if there were
no difference between defending the freedom to disseminate nonsense and
disseminating nonsense yourself.
Today, in this respect at least, we have made some progress:
Quickly and succinctly, the U.S. government made it clear that while it cannot,
doesn't want to, and has no plans to do anything to stop the dissemination of
this idiotic film, it does not in any way condone its contents. That is the correct
way to mark out the freedom we are defending against militant Islamists and
their violent protests.
Of course, one can only condemn these protests. Those who at
home and with good reason insist on free expression for publications like Titanic, which regularly drags the
Catholic Church through a world of mud, cannot stand idly by as people yell and
demand bans - and worse - in front of Western embassies. Nevertheless, one can
and must attempt to understand an escalation like this one.
The Damaging Role of
Cairo and Tripoli demonstrate once again: Islam - or what a
few fanatics imagine it to be - functions as a kind of ersatz-identity in the upheavals
of the Arab world, from the Near and Middle East to Pakistan.
All countries in this Islam-influenced arc of crisis are in
extremely precarious stages of development. They are all wavering between a "path
to modernization" in the American style, which was to some extent
introduced in dictatorial fashion, and the search for an identity of their own
- an identity that would ideally draw from a history shaped by Islam as well as
European-Christian values, but that isn't governed by religion and its laws.
Such an identity would encompass more than just a new
culture combining Islam and secular democracy, although it would include that,
too. It would further include the opportunity to be guided by something other
than images of the God on one hand, and bogeymen on the other. A chance at
economic and professional prospects. A chance at freedom, something many people
in Islamic countries have never had the opportunity to learn of.
This is lacking in almost all countries molded by Islam, and
it certainly won't change if the West continues to confirm enemy its enemy stereotype
with supposed "humanitarian" wars and occasional provocations. It
will only change, if we - while observing human rights, of course! - learn to
accept that the path other cultures follow toward freedom will be different
from our own. In this respect, perhaps it may even be helpful that a member of
the Muslim Brotherhood is governing Egypt new. Perhaps he [President Morsi] is the only with a chance of guiding his people
toward a secular form of Islam. If he wishes to.
Again: No explanation justifies a single one of the stones
thrown or fires set, and even less the murders that militants committed in
Benghazi or elsewhere. All of these are all crimes and must be referred to as such. But
if we don't try and understand how things like this are triggered when
similar ridiculous issues arise, then we won't succeed in preventing them
from recurring. And if we respond to the "enemy of Muslims"
stereotype of Islamist militants with another enemy stereotype, or our own for
"Islam," we will be even less likely to succeed. Then we wouldn't be much better than they are.
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