I wrote the bulk of this shortly after Prothero’s blogpost
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/13/my-take-a-deadly-link-between-islamic-and-anti-islamic-extremists/ appeared back in September. A student sent me a query about it and I responded. This essay was more or less complete at that time. There was some minor editing today.
Thank you for sending out this link to Stephen Prothero’s Belief Blog.
In this posting, Prothero decries “blind certainty,” a quality he says is shared by both those in Libya who killed the US Ambassador and the producers of the film “Innocence of Islam.” And he asserts that what we make of the attacks and riots depends on our point of view and frame of reference.
The attack in Libya was apparently organized and executed by trained individuals, and is part of a well-articulated set of principles. Perhaps the comparison acquires additional layers of meaning, and represents itself a false “blind certainty” that the situation ultimately for points of view that reflect “blind certainty” about “the other”–is understood in terms of belief.
I cannot imagine understanding the killings in Libya and the riots in Cairo, Yemen and elsewhere outside the religious framework—a value system in which insulting or denigrating Muhammad is totally unacceptable. But there is more than that. Not all examples of denigration of the Prophet are treated equally, and leadership plays a role in determining which ones draw the most attention and when.
There is rampant unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, and failure of government, especially governments viewed (rightly or wrongly) as secular and funded by the United States. Many political leaders (not only in the Arab world!) have been able to use tyranny and ideology to keep the people in line, choosing persecution and totalitarianism to mask lack of educational and economic progress. The “blind certainty” behind the killing of the ambassador in Libya and other such actions, is backed up by a comprehensive infrastructure, which is not merely religious but also political and tactical. Indeed the “religious” component is intrinsic to the approach, but ultimately, the religious orientation may most likely reflect the success of movements which appear to be religious such as Al-Qaeda, the Iranian Revolution, Hizbullah and Hamas in responding to oppression (even if they have not been particularly successful in actually changing the people’s material or educational situation).
I am loathe to make generalizations as broad as this one: many of today’s Arab and Islamic-majority societies have levels of toleration and public support for points of view that reflect “blind certainty” about hate and denying national rights for “the other” that are unimaginable in the contemporary USA, whether the other is the USA or Israel or Christians or for that matter Kurds or Africans. But not so long ago, Americans were far less likely than today to decry views we now consider to be hateful and wrong regarding discrimination by race, gender, sexual orientation discrimination, and (in the anti-communist years) political orientation.
As for the “blind certainty” of the anti-Islamists: the film itself that was said to spark the riots, and its circulation in the Islamic world, seem to have been the work of just a few individuals, prominently Coptic Americans. Their opposition to Islam has to reflect decades of persecution of Egyptian Copts, and anger at their situation in the “new” post-2011 Islamic world, in which their situation is viewed as more precarious due to the ascendancy of religious parties– the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis– perhaps even more so as some believed it held out the possibility for increased safety and even integration (some Copts participated notably in the Tahrir Square movement that led to Mubarak’s resignation). Moreover, the ideology of the trailer is supported by an infrastructure that has wide visibility in America, and is readily downloadable: many websites refer to the interpretations of Muhammad’s life seen in the trailer. They indeed have a blind certainty about Islam, although it seems to me that a highly developed ideological, political and tactical infrastructure has not yet emerged.
Prothero is right about “blind certainty” rather than reasoned argument, and about self-centeredness and point of view. But the size and viciousness of the anti-American riots and the prevalence of the rhetoric of hatred especially in official circles, is not matched in American anti-Islamic rhetoric (even if some might argue that police and security profiling of Muslims far exceeds anything done in practice to Americans in Arab or Muslim countries). Nevertheless, the ideology behind Muslim-bashing in the US is readily available, screaming to us from the web. While it is necessary to remember that “we” are hardly without guilt, simply asserting the equivalence of US Muslim –bashing and hate speech and violence against America, Israel, Jews and Christians is much too simplistic.