Those who seek to profit from a violent confrontation between the West and Islam have been enriching themselves nicely this week.
Over the past generation a long series of outrages have been perpetrated by actors on both sides of the Western-Muslim divide: various Israeli invasions of Lebanon, Grozniy, Jenin, 9/11, Fallujah, Ethiopian proxy invasion of Somalia, the 2009 invasion of Gaza, and an endless drone war from Somalia to Pakistan. In this horrifying context, a trashy film designed to provoke further violence is just another straw on the camel’s back, but that is the point.
Muslims need to understand that our way of life is based on freedom of speech; Westerners need to understand that the abuse that the West has heaped upon them is so great that one more straw may just be one too many. There is strong legal precedence in the West for holding accountable those who scream fire in a crowded theater, and that the film maker has most certainly done. The larger point, however, is the context of endless Western injustice toward the Muslim world for the convenience of the West or, far worse, for the convenience of certain Western politicians who liked the Tough Guy look on their resumes that comes from pouring gasoline on the flames of protest.
Given Western behavior, it is incumbent upon Western regimes to go the extra mile to demonstrate their understanding of Muslim grievances. In the context of Western behavior, just murmuring something about “freedom of speech” and then changing the subject does not suffice. One Western extremist’s prejudiced movie is not important, but the context of war and war threats against Muslims who stand up for their rights, not to mention those innocently caught in the crossfire, does matter. What needs to change is the Western assumption that violence against Muslims trumps listening to their grievances. Aside from one shining moment three years ago in Cairo that now seems so sadly devoid of sincerity, the West has yet to take any significant step whatsoever toward changing that assumption.
That failure of governance and political maturity on the part of the West has put the initiative in the hands of the most radical members of political Islam. Taking advantage of this initiative, Hafiz Saeed, founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, has accused Obama of fighting a religious and cultural war against Muslims. This remark empowers him precisely because it sounds to so many Muslims pretty close to the mark, so now Pakistani proponents of violence against the West are a bit more powerful than they were yesterday, and thus the pathetic director of a trashy film feeds the flames of war. Hafiz Saeed’s accusation is just the latest example of a sorry chapter in Western history whose chickens will yet, unfortunately for us all, come home to roost.