COLUMN: Muslim riots about more than religion
Conventional wisdom says the current unrest in the Muslim world is due to strongly held religious attitudes. It says Muslims were offended by a film depicting the prophet Muhammad negatively, and because they are primitive and lacking in self-restraint, they decided to burn our flags and bomb our embassies.
If you believe this conventional wisdom, you are wrong. Worse, you have fallen for the same false narrative the propagandist filmmaker had meant to communicate in the first place.
While it might appear the protesters are motivated by religious fervor, their reaction actually has more to do with political angst. To realize this, one only need examine the regional context of the crisis and consider the attitudes of Muslims outside the Middle East.
If this debacle were only about religion, then it would not have mattered where the anti-Islam propaganda came from — the reaction would have been the same, because the propaganda would have been the same.
But I think we all know if this video had not been made by a Westerner, the reaction wouldn’t have been as extreme. It probably wouldn’t have even made headlines. Unfortunately, this bigotry came from a U.S. citizen, and there’s significance to that fact.
The region in which the protests are taking place was rife with anti-American sentiment long before the maker of the video decided to try his hand at filmmaking. Yemen, for example, had been the victim of numerous botched drone attacks by the U.S. before its people stormed our embassy a week ago.
This strongly suggests the recent pronounced backlash against the U.S. is about more than just some lousy video: The protesters’ motives extend to our destructive foreign policy and a general fear among citizens in this part of the world that the West is attempting to control them.
However tempting, we can’t lazily reduce the protesters to an angry, overly sensitive mob. To do this is to toss out context all together.
Another clue this conflict is not merely religious in nature is that Muslims in other parts of the world, despite disapproving of the propaganda, have condemned the violence of the protesters while stressing a return to courteous Islamic tradition.
Petroleum engineering junior Roja Hamad, the Da’wa Chair of OU’s Muslim Student Association, is one of these Muslims. He condemns the violence, and he does so because of his Islamic values.
“You do not have the right to kill someone, especially if they’re in your country,” Hamad said. “If a foreigner or an unbeliever comes and lives in your country, they’re under your protection. You just can’t do that.”
Hamad said, while it is unfair to assume Islam is violent on the basis of the protesters’ reactions, the protesters are to blame for giving bigots — like the filmmaker — ammunition.
“Imagine what we did,” Hamad said. “We proved [the filmmaker’s] point.”
The fact many Muslims disapprove of the violence done in the name of their religion raises questions for whoever believes Islam is the cause. After all, how can theological views be to blame for the violence when they’re shared both by the people committing it and those condemning it?
The simplest explanation is that these theological views, while not totally irrelevant to the unrest, are not the most relevant factor. Religion is simply being used as an excuse in this case to vent political anger.
However easy it may be to attribute violence in the Arab world to the protesters’ religious beliefs, it is important to keep in mind the most conventional explanation is not always the best one.
To anyone who cares about getting this right: If the violence looks disproportionate to the release of a single offensive video, trust your instincts. That’s probably because it isn’t about a single offense.
Steven Zoeller is a journalism junior.