MUSLIM RAGE. The simple phrase emblazoned on Newsweek covers that enraged a good portion of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. It was definitely a publicity stunt, and it seems to have worked wonderfully. Sort of. Hoping to spark debate, the Newsweek people asked readers to discuss the issue on Twitter utilizing #MuslimRage. Instead of intelligent discussion, there were a slew of really funny responses with the hashtag. Here are a couple examples from an NPR article:
“I’m having such a good hair day. No one even knows. #MuslimRage” — Hend
“Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him. #MuslimRage” — Leila
“You go to a football watch party and all these is to eat is pepperoni pizza and
beer battered chicken wings #MuslimRage” — Waliya.
There are hundreds of tweets that are just as funny as these. Personally, I love that people, instead of taking the bait by expressing more anger and maybe even some hate, used the hashtag to express humor. In doing so, the tweeters, who are often satirizing themselves, completely deconstructed Newsweek’s lame attempt to spark controversy. Is there Muslim rage in the world? Certainly. There is no way to deny that a portion of the Muslim populace is very angry at the West and, when they can, will do harm to the Western world. Newsweek’s cover, however, is lame because it reads as if it is a guide to surviving in the wilderness: Muslim Rage: How I Survived It, How We Can End It. Except that in the article the author notes, “For a homicidal few in the Muslim world, life itself has less value than religious icons, such as the prophet or the Quran… They do not care whether the provocation comes from serious literature or a stupid movie. All that matters is the intolerable nature of the insult.” Notice that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of the article, points out that it is a “homicidal few.”
And yet, this “homicidal few” are capable of inflicting serious damage as evidenced by the murdering of four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Libya. The attack on the US embassy is just another in a long line of attacks against the U.S. spanning 30 or 40 years and the administrations of Republicans and Democrats alike. In the first few days following the assault on the U.S. embassy, as anti-American protests spread across the Middle East and Asia, the Obama administration claimed that the violence and protests were the result of a YouTube video in which the Prophet Mohammed was portrayed very negatively. Slowly that defense has unraveled, and it now appears far more likely that it was all planned ahead of time.
The idea that it was planned is supported by what Ambassador Chris Stevens wrote in his journal that was found in the embassy. CNN, who at first promised Stevens’ family that they would not publish the journal’s contents, have reported that Stevens wrote he was afraid that he was on al-Qaeda’s hit list and that he was alarmed at the rise in Islamic Extremists in Libya. Interestingly, the State Department has not denied any of the statements reported by CNN, but have attacked CNN for going back on their promise. So, the idea that this new outbreak of violence in the Middle East is the result of a shoddily made YouTube video can be declared “Myth: Busted.”
Why put forth the YouTube video theory if it wasn’t the truth? Well, trying to pin the outbreak of violence on a video and NOT on failed foreign policy is much more convenient in an election year. Unfortunately, with the realization that the hostility is about something far more insidious means that the Obama administration now has to eat some crow and in doing so they also must reevaluate their entire Middle East policy. That could be a good thing or it could lead to more of the same. President Obama, despite his overtures, has effectively treated the Middle East much like his predecessors. Frankly, the region is viewed as a commodity. When a government there is no longer helpful or conducive to our desires, we help tear it down and establish a government that will, hopefully, comply. This failed in Egypt, where instead of a U.S. friendly regime being democratically elected, the Muslim Brotherhood gained control. Now many fear that the Egyptian government, who has been a staunch ally through the years, is saying they support us to our face but stirring up anti-American sentiment behind our backs.
For better or worse, America is tied to the Middle East. Offended by the anti-American outbursts, people have called for the Obama administration to cut funding to the region. We send something like $10 billion in aid to the countries where the protests have been taking place. Cutting the funding would definitely send a strong message, but most likely it would simply leave more room for extremists to come in and gain followers. That is our problem because extremists make the U.S. and its allies unsafe. Others have advocated for more missile strikes and military intervention both of which have done little to win the hearts and minds of Middle East citizens. The question remains, then, what the heck are we supposed to do about it?
Well, for starters we can start treating the governments in the Middle East like they are comprised of actual people and not political capital to be leveraged. This means acting consistently. Obviously, most Americans value democracy and want to see everyone in a society have a say in the policies that affect their lives. If a country wants this for themselves, great; we should help them achieve that end, but it should be across the board, not simply when it’s convenient for our political interests. We can’t be allies with a murderous regime that oppresses its people in one country and then claim to be bastions of freedom as we liberate another country. People aren’t dumb and they know when they’re simply a pawn in a game of thrones. Furthermore, these democracies that we help establish may elect leaders that are antagonistic to the U.S. Guess what? That’s democracy in action, and it may be the price we pay if we want to set up democracies across the globe. Citizens are going to have a say and they are going to vote for the people that best represent their interests. That’s how it works.
At the same time, we shouldn’t apologize for the freedoms that are guaranteed by our democracy. It’s ridiculous to me that someone with the right of free speech would utilize that right to mock someone else’s religion, yet if that is their prerogative then they are free to do so. There are multiple “documentaries” currently on Netflix that criticize and spread inaccuracies about Christianity and it deeply bothers me, but I realize that free speech is more important. Free speech allows me to debunk falsehoods, just as it allows people to spread them. One of the things I have wondered about is the Obama administration’s stern condemnation of what the filmmaker said about the Prophet Mohammed. Why do they feel that it’s necessary to apologize for free speech? Why did they take out an advertisement in Pakistan condemning what the filmmaker said? In Pakistan? The same country in which there have been over 300 stealth drone strikes during Obama’s presidency? Talk about sending mixed signals. It isn’t cool that people use their freedom to mock one’s beliefs, but free speech is truly an amazing concept. The Obama administration should distance itself from what the filmmaker said, but it should be done in a manner that talks about how awesome and progressive the First Amendment truly is. It’s not a political liability; it’s something that every nation needs to experience.
Furthermore, practicing Muslims must understand that their religious beliefs are going to come under scrutiny as they move into the political realm. The leaders of one of the major Muslim political parties in Egypt told Reuters that he and his followers are going to petition the UN to pass resolutions that would make contempt of Islam or of the Prophet a criminal offense. A resolution such as this is unacceptable; even the mentality is unacceptable. If the citizens of a country agree to such a resolution in their own country, that’s one thing. I think it’s ridiculous, but it’s their choice. In the U.S. such a resolution would be an infringement upon our First Amendment right. The leader goes on to say that it would ensure mutual respect. It’s hardly mutual respect if our rights are being sacrificed to accommodate their desires. I would like to hope that such a resolution would gain no traction in the UN, but the desire for such a resolution does illustrate very different cultural values and ideas about how mutual respect can be attained.
Ultimately, there are deep wounds between the region and the U.S. that span generations. No one administration is going to be able to heal those wounds in a four year or eight year term. So across the board, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian, there has to be a change in how the Middle East is viewed. Additionally, there is a massive cultural divide that cannot be overlooked. Yet not all Muslims are extremists who participate in anti-American protests (made obvious from the #MuslimRage tweets and the show of support from Libyan citizens after the embassy was attacked).
America’s course lies in empowering the moderate Muslim citizens of these countries so that they can root out extremists themselves, while standing behind our own democratic ideals. True change in the Middle East / U.S. relationship will take time and intentionality, not speeches that don’t deliver and policies that are more of the same. True change means the media will need to stop reinforcing ideas that all Muslims are angry at the U.S., just to sell magazines. True change means face-to-face dialogue, not angry tweets limited to a 120 characters. I must say, however, that I love Newsweek for this hashtag idea. It didn’t have the desired affect but it did do great deal to prove that not all Muslims possess an inordinate amount of rage and resulted in some good comedy. Maybe Newsweek should just keep doing what it’s doing after all.
 The full NPR article can be found here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/09/17/161315765/muslim-rage-explodes-on-twitter-but-in-a-funny-way-yes-really