The instigators who provoke Muslims through hateful messages either have a politically motivated agenda or they want to flare up tensions. But surprisingly, every time they do it, they are successful in achieving their goals
Insulting Muslim icons in Western media and the resulting outrage in the Muslim world is becoming a routine with the same expected stimulus-response cycle which ultimately results in loss of lives and destruction of property in Muslim countries.
The continued tension, however, should not be viewed in isolation with sociopolitical realities in Western and Muslim societies. These incidents can be seen as part of the rising public opinion, media coverage, tensions between these two civilizations and political dynamics within their own social and political infrastructures.
This time, however, from Syria to Algeria and from Iran to Sudan, the response to the hateful video produced in the U.S. was extremely grim and ferocious resulting in violent protests and rallies in almost every Muslim nation in the Middle East, Africa, Far East and Asia.
The outrage took another unfortunate and violent turn when an angry mob attacked the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans including the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. The unnecessary violence which cannot be justified on any grounds further deteriorated the tension.
For the Obama administration the timing was hardly helpful in the mid of election campaigns. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both caught up in the dilemma of defending freedom of speech at home, condemning the video and showing a tough face to the world at the same time.
Showing the muscle, they sent their naval ships to the region, condemned the killings, and rightfully demanded security of their diplomats. The U.S. administration also defended freedom of speech while criticizing the hateful video.
The Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on the other hand, didn’t leave any chance to prove that the Obama administration is apologetic and weak in defending American interests globally. The extent, to which the Republicans used the video, and the resulting outrage to their favor, left the people wondering who actually was behind the video and its publicity in the first place!
Meanwhile American media, with a history of U.S.-centric coverage of international events, as usual exaggerated the ‘Muslim Outrage’ and even tried to prove that these rallies were larger than the youth uprising in the Middle East.
On the contrary, an American Political Science professor at the University of Colorado, Denver, Megan Reif, based on a research project, concluded that youth rallies were much larger than the current outrage in the region:
“While the size of crowds in both Arab Spring and the anti-film riots are both small as a percentage of the total population of each country, even with the generous rounding for the anti-American riots, the percentages involved in the anti-American incidents are much smaller. It should also be noted that the deaths involved in the ‘Arab Spring’ were also much higher.”
Reporters, columnists and editors, who had a highly inflammable issue in their hand, also tried to prove that the attack on the American consulate in Libya was part of a premeditated plan. The Libyan leaders, in a desperate search of finding a way out, overwhelmingly endorsed the claim without any investigation.
Interestingly, a New York Times columnist also argued that the ongoing outrage against the video has nothing to do with the video itself and it indicates how anti-American the Muslims are who found a pretext to demonstrate their hatred against the U.S.
Although it might be true that the video offered an opportunity to militants in Muslim countries to show off their street power, it’s hard to argue that the rage was not in response to the humiliating video on the internet. The analysis, in line with the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory conveniently puts the blame on protestors as if they came out to the streets without any provocation.
Apart from the media coverage, the instigators who provoke Muslims through hateful messages either have a politically motivated agenda or they want to flare up tensions. But surprisingly, every time they do it, they are successful in achieving their goals.
Every time a provocative news, cartoon or video pops up on the media, angry crowds come out to their streets in Muslim countries destroying their own buildings, burning cars and hurting their own Muslim brothers and sisters. People die, markets are burned to ashes and businesses are ruined in the process.
Muslim communities have to seriously think about what they achieve with this kind of emotionally charged response leading to destruction of their own properties and people. Are they really interested in a temporary, emotional response or a long term impact which might avoid similar incidents in future?
Humiliating anyone’s religion, ethnicity or cultural heritage indicates a lowest level of prejudice which needs to be handled politically and sensibly. Instead of responding emotionally we might consider well calculated political, economic and media supported responses.
Well planned peaceful strategies using multimedia channels, strong statements from political leaders, boycotting the internet resources that display these messages and stop using financial institutions that support these messages can be a better response than the violent outrage.
The countries rich with natural resources might seriously consider controlling oil and gas prices more wisely whenever these hateful and provocative messages come up.
While an emotional and violent response in the Muslim world to humiliating messages has no real impact, freedom of speech in the West should not be allowed to become a pretext for spreading hateful messages against any community, religion or culture.