One of the most disturbing news stories that I’ve ever read was a firsthand account from UN aid workers who were attacked during a protest in Afghanistan over the desecration of the Koran. They watched as their friends were pulled kicking and screaming to their deaths at the hands and feet of a faceless crowd. Murdered in the most brutal, bloody, senseless way as payback for actions that they were neither responsible for nor supportive of in any way. But that didn’t matter to the crowd. The crowd wanted blood.
This week the crowd wanted blood in Libya, and the crowd had guns and rocket launchers. Their violent assembly was in response to an inflammatory YouTube video that mocked Islam and was made by American citizens. On September 11th US ambassador Christopher Stevens – who worked to unite the Libyan tribes and bring down former dictator al-Gaddafi – died at the hands of fanatics. Did his murderers know that the YouTube video that they were “protesting” wasn’t in any way associated with the US government, and was likely viewed by that government with horror and apprehension?
Maybe, maybe not. They still wanted blood, and on America’s day of mourning the nation was once again under attack.
Islamophobia – Us versus Them
We have to share the world with people like this. People who would kill us over a YouTube video made by someone from our country who we’ve never met. But what’s the point of writing about how evil those people are? You should already know that they are dangerous fanatics, vicious lunatics that the world would certainly be better without. They are deeply set in their ways and we have no power to control their radical convictions.
But what about our own lunatics, the ones that we do have the power to control? What about the reprehensible ghouls who made that YouTube video, effectively committing manslaughter to advance their own political interests? What about those playing power games from the safety of their ideological armchairs, gambling with the lives of those on the front lines?
What about the network of far right wing media and political figures, Christian and Jewish religious zealots, and fame-hungry opportunists who fan the flames of Islamphobia to justify their bigotry against moderate Muslims. What about leaders who push a hawkish and bigoted political agenda, painting themselves as guardians of free speech while campaigning against the freedom of worship for the disenfranchised immigrants in their nations’ own ghettos?
Us versus Us
We have to share the world with people like that too. American Islamophobic groups collaborate with European anti-immigrant leaders, and reference each other for ideological support in their ridiculous hate literature. Neocon think tanks and Islamophobic groups in the US helped Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders with his legal defense, and have paid for his speaking tours in the US. Far right wing blogs spread the Mohammad cartoons and then shriek about any violence that any Muslim commits against any Christian anywhere, for any reason.
Pamela Geller, the most prolific geyser of Islamophobic gibberish, is so liberal with her definition of “Islamic Extremist” that she’s even used it to describe non-ideological criminals who just happened to be from Muslim countries. So long as their victims are white Christians, of course. And then there’s Qur’an-burning pastor Terry Jones, who has incited hatred and harms American interests.
The Devil We Know
Their motives are simple: firstly, they are advancing their own fame – and sometimes wealth – through book deals and speaking tours. More importantly, they are also advancing the politically convenient worldview that there is a Clash of Civilizations: one of the most dangerous and discredited political concepts of our time. Originally the brainchild of political scientist Samuel Huntington, this theory proposes that in the post-Cold War world conflict will be waged primarily along ethnic and cultural lines, with each major religious and ethnic grouping forming alliances against the others. Implicit in this, of course, is the assumption that the white Christian world will be under attack from every other conceivable ethnic group.
Thankfully, the Clash of Civilizations has yet to manifest itself outside of the fever dreams of the right wing imagination. Different religious and regional groupings remain as divided as ever, and alliances shift within and between them the way they always have. The global battle lines remain drawn the same way they’ve always been drawn: along the fault lines of the rational geopolitical struggle for land, resources and security. America has staunch Muslim allies, and staunch Christian enemies.
Stopping the Clash
The Islamophobes want the Clash of Civilizations fiction to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They flood the internet with insults to Islam and then gleefully seize upon the violent backlash as proof of their beliefs. For some it’s proof that we should invade any part of the Muslim world that inconveniences Israeli interests. For others, it’s proof that we should openly oppress moderate Muslim immigrants to appease aging voters in struggling economies who are quickly reverting to their fascist histories. For many more, it’s proof that we should bring on the biblically prophesized end of days by waging the ultimate battle between good and evil in the holy land.
They too are dangerous ideologues, and often religiously motivated. While we certainly do have to protect ourselves against the monsters abroad, the monsters that would murder our citizens in the streets over a YouTube video, we also have to protect ourselves from the monsters at home, the monsters who would throw the lives of their own countrymen onto the fire and drag us all into a global sectarian war.
These were the monsters that made that YouTube video, and they too require our disgust and condemnation. Make no mistake about it, these monsters also want blood.