If you’ve been paying attention to any world news over the last couple of weeks, you’ve no doubt seen depictions of Islamic protests around the world some say are mostly in response to the truly, truly terrible “movie” The Innocence of Muslims.
While some of the protests may well be incited by this atrocious film, some of them – like the Libyan embassy attack – have other much more complicated issues underpinning them.
I’ve heard a lot of people within my admittedly small social circle talking about the protests and expressing disbelief at how quickly these protests have spiraled out of control, often offering some sort of commentary about Islam itself – often emphasizing their frustration with something along the lines of “If Islam is a religion of peace, then why don’t you see the Clerics disavowing the violence?”. (In fact, some of them are, though it makes for a much less incendiary headline)
It certainly doesn’t help when prominent members of the global Islamic community like Pakistan’s Minister of Finance, Ghulam Ahmad Balor offer very public rewards for the death of the filmakers.
Now, before I get to the meat of this post, let me say very clearly that I think what we see happening all around the world with these protests is despicable. While I do believe that some of the protesters may well have been incited by the film, that’s no excuse. There is always something that is the “thing” the world points to as the cause of this type of behavior. Right now it’s a laughably bad video on YouTube. In 2007 it was a Swedish cartoon. In 1989 it was a book. There is always something or someone to blame. The truth is, there are a lot of other things going on that aren’t as obvious with these protests, and many of the similar incarnations we’ve seen in the past.
Robert Wright has a great article in The Atlantic a few days ago that stepped through some other possible influences. Specifically, he talks about two much larger issues that I think do help explain why America sees a lot of the anger when a Swedish newspaper publishes a cartoon. He talks about the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the continuing presence of US forces in Muslim countries. These are two issues that we don’t hear a lot about in coverage of the protests, because both are complicated issues with no easy points of entry that make for a good nightly news segment.
The other thing that we don’t hear a lot about is that this type of behavior is by no means limited to Islam. For Christians, its easy to express outrage at the protests, and shake heads with apparent disbelief at the images we see coming back to us. Remember, though, that Christianity has quite its own bloody and violent not-so-distant past. If you like at Christianity through the eyes of an unbiased observer, you have to draw some pretty clear parallels to it and Islam if you’re simply scoring on violence in the name of religion.
Examples? Start with the Crusades, and work up through the European Reformation, Colonial America, Westward expansion in the US, Rwanda, Bosnia, etc. Christians are rightfully upset when you lump the religion as a whole in with any one of these atrocious periods of history. Just as Muslims are rightfully upset when the “If Islam was a religion of peace…” argument is repeated.
As we continue to hurtle toward our Presidential Election in November, I’m going to try to make what I hope is a salient point. Religion and government do not mix. When seeking leaders, especially leaders of a nation like the United State of America where we ostensibly seek to represent everyone who is a citizen of our nation, shouldn’t we seek a leader who very clearly does NOT publicly avow allegiance to a single religion?
Just food for thought as you consider your vote. Let me leave you with two contrasting quotes.
Pakistani Railway Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour when asked whether he was concerned about committing or condoning a crime as a government official: “I am a Muslim first, then a government representative.”
Mitt Romeny, speaking to a crowd in Virginia: “The pledge says ‘under God.’ I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart,” Romney said to loud cheers. “We’re a nation that’s bestowed by God.”
Those two quotes are not completely incongruous.