Deaf on both sides

As  the protests spread across the Middle East and beyond, an excellent piece discusses the underlying causes of the strife from those protesting, and those being protested against.

He writes that during a conversation between President Obama and President Morsi of Egypt, “Morsi offered his condolences over the Libya killings, but White House officials report that he also seized his chance to protest directly to Mr Obama about the amateur YouTube video, apparently made in California, that defames the Prophet Mohammed”.

Vitally, the author, writes that “In so doing, Mr Morsi betrayed the yawning gulf between the two sides. The West’s failure to understand the Muslim world has been analysed to the point of exhaustion – and no doubt many criticisms have been justified”, yet being quite fair, he adds that Morsi, “When he told Mr Obama how angry he was over the YouTube film, did he not realise that he was rebuking the wrong target? Mr Obama had already made clear his revulsion over the video. No one has seriously suggested that the US government had anything to do with this absurd production. The President of the United States cannot be held responsible for the thoughts, opinions and actions of 300 million Americans. Nor, in a free society, can he ban his citizens from expressing themselves, even if they sometimes do so in crass and offensive ways”.

He adds “Egypt’s government still chose to ask Mr Obama – and every other Western leader – for something they could not possibly deliver. Hisham Qandil, the country’s prime minister, told the BBC that Western nations should revise their domestic laws to ‘ensure that insulting 1.5 billion people, their belief in their Prophet, should not happen and if it happens, then people should pay for what they do’. In other words, Egypt not only wants to ban its own citizens from expressing views that Muslims deem insulting, but its government thinks this prohibition should go global”.

This is just the kind of misunderstanding of culture that leads to violence against the West and is used by terrorists for their own ends. Morsi’s ignorance is typical of many in the Muslim world, though there are exceptions, who have no comprehension of the impact of the French Revolution and “the Enlightenment” and the ensuing individualism that has shaped Europe and North America. Until these events are explained to them then this deafness will only grow and lead to further intolerance and violence. This is no way condones the excesses of modern individualism or its roots, but without knoweledge of these events there will be no dialogue.

Blair goes on to write about this month being the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses, “One possible conclusion is that nothing has changed since the appearance of The Satanic Verses: the visceral reaction to the YouTube video shows that Muslim nerves are as raw as ever and the opposition to genuine freedom of expression just as deeply felt. But this would be too sweeping. Despite everything, there are some reasons to believe that the gulf of understanding might eventually close”.

He concludes that the “protests might be taking place outside US embassies, but many have little to do with America, still less the principle of freedom of expression. All Muslim leaders quickly learn how to direct the anger of their people away from themselves and towards Washington. In Sudan, for example, President Omar al-Bashir is so unpopular that massive protests against his regime have taken place in Khartoum. The situation is reaching a point where he risks becoming the next victim of the Arab Spring. So no surprise that Sudanese mobs have attacked the German, British and US missions. Mr Bashir is conveniently allowing the crowds to vent their fury on these targets, instead of on him”.

He ends the piece “So the battles being fought outside Western embassies are also signals of a wider struggle within Islam itself”. In the last 11 years much has happened to confront Muslims into sincerely thinking about their peaceful religion and its relationship with the modern world. It should be hoped that out of great violence comes wisdom.

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