Pundits credit the Innocence of Muslims for causing mass protests across the Middle East. (Image: The Young Turks)
Over the past week pundits have haphazardly deferred to the 14-minute anti-Muslim trailer produced by shady right-wing Coptic Christians with ties to neoconservative Islamophobes when reporting the recent uprisings in the Middle East. And while the film, the Innocence of Muslims, has duped mainstream media from Thomas Friedman to Jon Stewart, Brooklyn College Prof. Mousata Bayoumi says it is actually an “archly stupid” scapegoat that reflects the far-right’s reach over media, not unlike the “manufactured controversy over the ‘Ground Zero mosque.'”
“The episode is playing like a sequel to the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy, but with bigger and better explosions than the original,” writes Bayoumi in “Men Behaving Badly” in the September issue of the Middle East Research and Information Project.
Bayoumi’s contention is that although much is still unknown about the film’s makers, one of which who “may or may not be Alan Roberts, who directed such memorable classics as The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, what is clear is that “the far right can set the news agenda and establish the political tenor of domestic debates.” Is the Arab Spring over? Are Muslims revolting against the secular world? No. Bayoumi says these are polemical questions from men behaving badly.
From the Middle East Research and Information Project:
But before we jump, as the pundits would have us do, to conclusions about the inexorability of the clash of civilizations, before we breezily proclaim the end of the Arab awakening (a generational shift that will take years to settle into stability), and before we decide that Arabs prefer or deserve death over liberty, we should pause to think about the idiotic nature of this entire fiasco and decide if we want really want right-wing lunacy, from West and East, to determine the direction of global politics.
In fact, the better lens through which to view the tumult over this doltish movie is not the Danish cartoon conflagration but the manufactured controversy over the ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ an Islamic cultural center originally slated to be built two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Back in 2010, and months after plans for the center had been announced, the anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller stoked enough outrage on the fringes of the right wing to push the story onto the airwaves of Fox News. In its typical fashion, Fox News lent legitimacy to bogus claims — in this case, that the proposed cultural center would be a mosque and would be at Ground Zero, neither of which was true — and trampled on the rest of the media for not picking up the story. Soon enough, the rest of the media followed suit. Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the proposed center, was quickly transformed into a covert cultural jihadist. The center itself was seen as a symbol of Islamic domination, and Newt Gingrich dutifully equated Muslims to Nazis. . .
Yet, unlike the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy, what is happening now combines the fulminations of the American far right with the salafi news media that takes their bait. In this case, the two may be doctrinal and political opposites, but their attraction to each other is nonetheless magnetic. Both are interested in fanning the civilizational fires that have been burning for at least the last 11 years, and smoldering for much longer. And with today’s technology, it has become child’s play — and will only get easier — to produce and distribute bilious speech that can and will have deadly consequences. The Islamophobes in the United States and the ultra-religious right in Muslim-majority countries need each other to survive. Each confirms to the other the need for his own existence. To the Islamophobes, all Muslims are extremists. The provocations Islamophobes produce are designed to elicit the very images we see. To the Muslim far right, all Westerners harbor a deep-seated anti-Islamic sentiment and the anti-Muslim provocations supply ample evidence of the inner, hateful workings of the Western mind.
Left out is the vast middle, hundreds of millions of people who neither seek out nor desire a clash of civilizations. And to those who ask where are the Muslims demonstrating in the tens of thousands against this anti-American delirium, one could also ask where are the demonstrations among Christian evangelical circles against these hate-filled productions? In fact, we need desperately to move beyond such feeble-minded “where are the [fill in the blank]” sloganeering. What we need to understand instead are the distinctions that make up politics. When Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi calls upon the US political establishment to prosecute the filmmaker, he is doing so to outflank his own right wing on this latest front of the Egyptian culture wars. And culture wars, in Egypt or the United States, are largely diversions from the real and difficult issues of the day, by which Egypt is beset on many sides. Similarly, when President Barack Obama claims that Egypt is not “an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” he was not only scolding, in typical imperial fashion, his Egyptian counterpart the way a parent scolds a child. He was also signaling to the American public that he can outdo his campaign rival Mitt Romney in talking down to ungrateful vassals.
There are, of course, plenty of legitimate grievances in the Middle East with regard to US foreign policy, and Obama’s statement that “there is never any justification for violence” rings hollow, particularly when one recalls that, according to administration officials, Obama’s policy for drone attacks in the “war on terror” is that “all military-age males in a strike zone [count] as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent,” as reported by the New York Times on May 29. Moreover, the fact that there have been ongoing revolutions and reformations in several key Arab countries does not simply erase decades of US complicity with dictators and the continued US support for other repressive regimes in the region. And anti-Muslim sentiment continues to rise around the world and is largely ignored by political leaders in the West, leading many Muslims around the world to conclude that their lives and issues are considered less worthy by Westerners and that “Western values” are in practice ways to delegitimize Muslims concerns. But even if that were the case, Muslim leaders everywhere do their causes no favors when they seethe at every brickbat thrown their way.
Read Prof. Mousata Bayoumi’s full article here.