Saturday, September 15, 2012

Those who have a vested interest in Muslim anger (updated)

With a good nights sleep and a brand new day I find that I have a little perspective on what caused my melancholy yesterday.

As readers here might have learned by now, I tend to read pretty broadly across the political spectrum in an attempt to inform myself. That means that I peruse everything from right wing sites to their counterparts on the left fringes and a lot in between.

One of the main things that was bothering me yesterday is how both sides of the extremes seem to have a vested interest in using the demonstrations happening in the Middle East to convince us that the entire Muslim world is angry at us.

On the right it comes as no surprise that there are those who want us to see all Muslims as the great threat of our time.  But in the political heat of a presidential election, even their slightly less rabid counterparts are intent on exploiting the recent protests to suggest that President Obama's more moderate approach has been a failure and that its time to "show some muscle" in this great battle with the angry hoard.

But we also see that the world view of some on the extreme left is dependent on the idea of an angry Muslim world. These are the folks that are wedded to the idea of US complicity in all that's wrong with the world. Muslim anger at the US becomes exhibit A to make their case.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not denying that many Muslims are indeed angry at the US. Nor am I denying that our history in that part of the world justifies their anger.

What got to me yesterday was that I saw that anger being used as a political tool on both sides to make sweeping claims in an attempt to justify their pre-concieved positions. The reality on the ground in many of these countries is far more complex than that, as was exemplified by the photo spread of Libyan protesters I posted recently.

This morning I read some saner heads. For example, this diary at Daily Kos by Clay Claiborne (many thanks to commenter Bill for introducing me to his writing!) where he points out that 10 Libyans died trying to defend the US embassy. He also shared this wonderful video.

Also of interest to me was an article posted yesterday by Juan Cole in which he discusses some of the major differences between the situations in Libya and Egypt.

As I said in the photo diary I referred to above, I want to actually HEAR what people of the Muslim world are saying. I'm not suggesting that I'll agree with all of them. But I do think that its important for all of their voices to be heard. What really pisses me off is people using them to try to score political points.

UPDATE: I'd like to add this wonderful article by Jose Ramos-Horta - former President of East Timor and Nobel Peace Prize winner - to the "saner heads" category.
But the tragedy of Benghazi and riots in Yemen do not signal the end of the Arab Spring. Nor is it an indication of any “failed policies,” any more than it is justification for the shameful practice of political candidates in the US attempting to make points from a US Ambassador’s death.


  1. What needs to enter into the discussion is the role of imperialism in all this, both historically and today. I lived in Senegal for a while in 2005-6 and sometimes we'd see a bin Laden sticker somewhere. Our friends told us that on 9/11 a lot of people were initially happy and saw al Qaeda like David against Goliath. Then, people thought about it, and thought that the attack was a bad thing. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people.

    The point is that for most of the world imperialism is very present, both as a memory and in the economic present. Political Islam was and continues to be one type of response, a popular one particularly in countries where the indigenous elite maintained a lot of social power.

    I'm not sure as much that this is a question of the extreme left. There are two extreme lefts, in my experience. One is the jacked-up we have all the answers, overwhelmingly white left that as you point out needs "angry Islam" in its narrative, but as faceless angry masses, not as complex individuals. Then, there's the actual left of the developing world, very real, with its real allies in the capitalist core. I am not sure in this case that extremity is the issue, but rather a pervasive tendency in the US for white liberal/progressive/left types to homogenize peoples of color, in this case in the developing world.

    None of this discussion has anything to do with this blame, that blame, etc. Booman wrote one of his least perceptive pieces on the subject yesterday, for example. The point is to describe the dynamic.

    1. I did try to make the distinction you're talking about by saying that it is "some" on the extreme left. That's why people like Claiborne and Cole (not sure where the latter would be categorized...he just knows his stuff) are so important.

      But wow, you just hit on something that's been rummaging around in my brain for a few days now - the intersection of racism with all of this. As I've been reading Greenwald lately, that is really rising to the surface. And I think that was a HUGE part of my melancholy yesterday. Its not only the homogenization of people of color - but exploiting that for their own political cause.

      And yes, I saw BooMan's post yesterday...very disappointing! It reminded me that back during the crisis created by the Muslim cartoons, he and one of his front-pagers at the time were equally blind in their simplified defense of free speech. It created a HUGE backlash by the folks in the community there at the time.

    2. One other thought on the role of imperialism in all this...

      Just as Ramos-Horta is suggesting the need for patience as these new democracies sort things out - I also see the need for patience as Obama works to dial back the imperialist nature of our foreign policy. That's not meant as an excuse. Just a recognition of reality.

    3. I didn't think you were blindly generalizing the left, but rather that for me the key variable is level of investment in whiteness rather than polarity on the political spectrum. I think the same thing happens in the so-called middle, too, this seeing of faceless brown masses.

    4. Got it - thank you for making that important distinction.

      Tim Wise has been posting the audio of some of his speeches at his web site lately. I listened to a few yesterday and remember him making the same point about domestic issues. There are times I'm really amazed at how so much of this comes down to that same basic core of investment in whiteness. Guess I'm still on a learning curve about all that.

    5. Also, I agree with you that Obama wants to slowly dial back the imperialist nature of our foreign policy. Many people would disagree with me to be sure. A comment I read on the Twitter recently noted that he felt that the Arab Spring was its own internal dynamic not subject to external (US) control. This is flame-bait for the right but very reassuring to me. If we've learned anything from the history of imperialism it's that it has diminishing (and as a corollary unequal) returns. Cheney's project was to return to 19th century imperialism. Problem is, this is the 21st century, and you can't turn back the clock. Obama understands this.

      Moreover, despite right-wing hand-wringing, dismantling empire (either political or economic) does not mean social collapse. Quite the contrary. Not spending gazillions slaughtering people in the colonies, there's room in the budget to actually build things at home, viz., Clement Attlee and National Health, Brit Rail, and red brick universities. Obama wants to do precisely this, it's fairly obvious.

      However, since this country has never formally acknowledged its imperialist foreign policy, it's hard to have a conversation about the benefits of dismantling the empire. All we have are the unspoken fears of collapse. Of course we have the money to shore up and expand our social services. Diminish the military budget. You don't even have to raise taxes, the money's there.

      Well, I went tangent upon tangent upon tangent.

    6. I always appreciate your tangents. You helped me clarify some important things this morning.

      I would just add that dialing back imperialism would not only mean investments in additional social supports here at home - but it will allow for more productive investments overseas. One of the points Ramos-Horta makes in that article I linked to is that for democracy to flourish in these countries there needs to be investment in democratic structures...especially literacy and education.

      But you're right. In the age of "no apologies" its impossible to have a conversation about US imperialism. Obama's just going to have to do the work as chief executive.

  2. "Those who have a vested interest in Muslim anger", especially at the present moment, certainly include the Islamist extremists themselves. If Obama were replaced by a jingoistic ignoramus like Romney, he'd quickly wreck all the progress that has been made toward less-tense relations between the US and the Islamic world -- and that would help the jihadists win support among the broader Muslim population.

    The hot-heads of the right wing here are yelling for the US to go over there and bomb something, and a less rational President might actually be gearing up to do so. The organizers of the Benghazi attack may well have hoped for such a reaction. It would be the surest way of spreading anti-American rage among Muslims in general.

    1. That is an incredibly significant point Infidel!!!!!

  3. I found this list of Embassies that were attacked prior to the Obama administration over at TOD and I would ask this, did we go to war, declare war, or bomb any of the following locations?

    Jan 22, 2002 Calcutta
    Jun 14, 2002 Karachi
    Oct 12, 2002 Denpasar
    Feb 28, 2003 Islamabad
    Jun 30, 2004 Tashkent
    Dec 6, 2004 Jeddah
    March 2, 2006 Karachi
    Sept 12, 2006 Damascus
    Jan 12, 2007 Athens
    March 18, 2008 Sana’a
    July 9, 2008, Istanbul
    Sept 17, 2008 Sana’a

    I can't comprehend the impulse to respond to attacks on our Embassies with acts of war.