The protests and rioting in the Middle East are not, as is argued, a result of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. Instead, they demonstrate the lack of legitimate authority in the region following the Arab Spring.
Continuing protests and rioting in front of Western embassies in the Middle East are not a testament to the ability of Muslims to be exceptionally touchy to religious insult, but an underscoring of the formula Charles Tilly opens with in his The Politics of Collective Violence:
(x + y) occasionally to the power of z = collective violence
[where x = young men; y = lack of supervision and z = a stimulant]
To say that the deaths of American embassy workers in Libya is because of exceptional Muslim touchiness to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’, is to say that the riots in London two years ago were a series of cogent protests to a police state.
In the case of ongoing violence in the Middle East, while media sources dwell upon the ‘z’ element – here the perceived honour infraction dealt by a film that received most of its publicity from Salafist media sources and must now be the worst most watched film ever after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – as apparently the sole cause of unrest, this element of the formula is optional and of uncertain statistical significance. What is surely more interesting to the scenario is the crucial ‘y’ factor.
What do Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have in common? Exactly. Lebanon, Afghanistan and Sudan are more chronic sufferers of what ails these four Arab Spring nations. Supervision, authority and a perception that violent actions will have consequences for the young man in his subjective opinion (apologies if this appears sexist, but the under 30 and male thing is ubiquitous) are the cures to prevent rioting on a regular basis. To what extent these elements are present in the new executives of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia is becoming apparent. To what extent they have ever been present in the others is also telling.
We should also look at the ‘x’ factor. Why these young men have so much pent up frustration and time on their hands is a psychosocial-economic study for another day. Men in Cairo are becoming an issue as disenfranchisement rises and the dismal prospects for their economic future unravel. That sexual molestation is on the rise (and take it from an ex-Cairo-ex-pat, that it could rise from the situation before is a horrific prospect in itself) is also an indicator of young men thinking that they can get away with going with any urge that reveals itself to them. These young men are ripe for collective violence. The point is that this rioting would happen at the hands of male youths of any religion – or lack thereof – given the opportunity and some kind of stimulant.
This kind of violence – due to its stimulant factor, granted – like we saw at Bagram in February with the stimulant of the Quran desecrations always leads to Western commentators singling out the Islamic: why are Musilms so easily offended? Which is to be willfully blind to the universality of this tendency as a human trait that we can see everywhere. So keen is the West to ‘other’ the Muslim, that it is forgotten that the seminal work explaining this formula for violence was not developed looking at the violent characteristics of brown people of a different religion, but of Americans – of cowboys.
This violence, therefore, says everything about the status of authority where it occurs. Therein lies the means for peace, not in teaching Muslims a lesson about free speech, nor in teaching American film-makers about Islam, but in concentrating authority in a legitimate state apparatus. In this way, no TV Islamist could sow such unrest. Though it should be made clear that not even the instigators were authorities at the scene of the violence – in fact some Islamists present at some of the riots did try to prevent violence, but by then the ‘x’ + ‘y’ factor was cemented and nobody was in control.
The reaction to the recent unrest shows Western commentators for what they are: totally obsessed with Islam; but the unrest itself shows something very sad indeed about legitimate authority and statehood following the Arab Spring.
Photo credit: agoolapulapu