February 09, 2006

All Cartoon Politics are Local (But They Really Aren't)

Juan Cole chimes in on the Cartoon outrage;

In a new article on Slate, terrorisme’s great apologist sheds some local light on the recent controversy.

Let’s look closer:

He begins where every left-thinking apologist should, the West:

“Muslim anger has been greatly heightened by the widespread belief that at best the West has treated the Islamic world unjustly and at worst launched a war against it. Muslim anger has been greatly heightened by the widespread belief that at best the West has treated the Islamic world unjustly and at worst launched a war against it.”

If by the war, presumably the war with Iraq, is the reason, then why the hostility against the embassies of Western nations which had no involvement in the war. With viewing the West as a singular monolith, that goes a long way to justifyin decapitating human rights workers in Iraq and murdering an Italian priest. At what point do we step back and say, we understand your 'widespread belief', but it is wrong.

He then takes the Danish Prime Minister to task;

“After the cartoons were published on Sept. 30, right-wing Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen reacted to the angry response by refusing to meet with ambassadors from Muslim countries and sternly lecturing Muslims on their need to put up with the caricatures.”

Rasmussen's decision was wholly justified. It would be terrible precedent for the Prime Minister, in a free society, to grant an audience to a diplomatic brigade because they are offended by the expression of private individuals in a private magazine. What if diplomats from right wing nations demanded an audience of the United States President to answer for the rantings of one Juan Cole?

He continues with some liberal scattershot about racism:

“The colonized still smart from the notorious signs outside European clubs in the colonial era, such as the one in Calcutta that said, "Dogs and Indians not allowed.”

Don’t remember hearing about the Hindu riots. He then takes the Danish magazine for having an interview, with, *gasp*, Daniel Pipes.

When he sheds his racism/imperialism burqa, we get some real insights about how the cartoons are being exploited by moderate elements, in Egypt for example to appease the harder line (to him the religious right, of course). We must always revert back to the Great Satan, this time though about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt:

The Brotherhood's good showing was an indirect consequence of pressure from the Bush administration, which demanded fairer elections, thus helping polarize Egyptian politics.

The President has no right saying such things. Nice tactic. Blame President Bush for most of the Middle East's ills so you can strip him of legitimacy. Then, because he is illegitimate, criticize for saying even the right things.

He continues detailing local inspirations for the outrage. In Kashmir it is Muslim mistreatment by the Hindus. In Iran, its an attempt to stave of West leaning factions. In Pakistan, it reaffirms “Islamic legitimacy” in the face of liberal reforms.

With insight he remarks:

“Rather than merely an East-West issue or a clash of civilizations, the caricature controversy should be seen as part of a culture war within Muslim societies. Precisely because the issue is distant and not very important, it is a cost-free bandwagon on which everyone can jump in search of greater legitimacy among Muslim publics. There is no downside in the Muslim world to defending the prophet Mohammed from Western insults. Pro-American politicians such as Abul-Gheit can use it to burnish their nationalist image, while Sistani can embrace the campaign as part of his old rivalry with the Sadr movement. The cleric Tantawi can employ it to boost his popularity among the rank and file in Egypt and to offset the popularity of the lay fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. It can be used to mobilize Muslims in Kashmir who care a great deal more about Indian repression than about Danish newspapers.“

Anger over cartoons is a useful tool to exploit political animosities and polarize political factions.

The ultimate conclusion though shouldn’t be surprising.

“The "global crisis" of which Rasmussen spoke has been exacerbated by the decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq and throw the region into turmoil. It isn't just about some cartoons. It is about independence and the genuine liberty to define yourself rather than being defined by the imperial West.”

But the conclusion still strays far from the reality. Muslim rage is worldwide, in places like Indonesia, the Philippines, Chechnya and in other places well divorced from the war in Iraq. In Indonesia in particular the demonstrations have been large and violent. I am sure that in every conflict, Mr. Cole could boil it down to Western influence and local politics. But then who is oversimplifying? When will we be allowed to look at the Muslim religion itself, its teachings and its influences. Only then can we get some real insight into Islamic fanaticism.


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