Mimi Hanaoka suggests:
The chaotic violence that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three American staffers in Libya, and that led to a mob storming the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, has been garbed in religious language and references. That distracts from the real issues: serious domestic political fragmentation in Libya and Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and America's place in the region.
Media attention has focused on a polemic, anti-Muslim movie trailer posted on YouTube, which prompted protests in Benghazi and Cairo. The film was allegedly produced by Sam Bacile, who has identified himself as an Israeli Jew. In the Wall Street Journal, Bacile called Islam a "cancer" and claimed he raised $5 million from Jewish donors to fund the film, details that intensify its polemic power.
The trailer, translated into Arabic and viewed thousands of times in the Middle East, portrays the prophet Muhammad as, among other things, a child abuser.
[Mimi Hanaoka is an assistant professor of religious studies and Islam at the University of Richmond. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.]
An old Greek myth tells of a field being sown with the teeth of a dragon slain by a hero. These seeds spring up into ranks of warriors, armed for battle. Someone throws a stone into their midst: they immediately spring into combat and kill each other. If it were a modern tale, there would be a gunshot at a riot which triggers the previously restrained National Guare and leads to the slaughter of protesters. With modern media all it takes to destroy an embassy, a diplomat, and possibly progress towards peace in the Mid East is a myth.
We already know what a myth (all about weapons of mass destruction hidden by a tyrant) did to our country and Iraq -- turned the worlds of thousands upside down with invasion. We already know that lies on Facebook tipped a vulnerable American girl into suicide.
What we don’t know is how to persuade people to resist mayhem, to resist starting wars just because they can. How do we get them to see that they didn’t grab a banner and lead troops into battle, but only threw a rock through a window like any common delinquent? In this case, the rock was allegedly thrown by an Israeli Jew living in prosperous California. Israel, the country created so this sort of calumny-based violence would stop such persons from trying to produce a Kristallnacht with no danger to himself. And succeeding.
Recently I watched “Paradise Now,” a movie that explores the minds of two Palestinian suicide bombers -- handsome young men who have become convinced that because Israel -- much more powerful than the marginalized Palestinians who have no air force and nowhere near the machinery of oppression -- holds them and their families in a paralyzing grip, they must resist in the only way they can. Is it not more honorable to die in the explosion one causes, rather than dropping bombs from so high there’s really no control over whom they kill?
What are the forces that persuade these two young men? First of all, let’s get prosperity out of the way. These are the young men “leaning against the wall” who are always the front lines of violence because they have nothing to lose. They have stupid low-pay jobs, if any, they must live at home without fathers, and they cannot start families of their own. Today every nation has this tinder.
The more intense issue is identity: what can a young man do with his incendiary mix of testosterone and adrenaline except find identity in the politics of nationality, race, and religion. How can the women around the young men persuade them that they are only making things worse when the older men, covert but controlling, play their chess game by making boys into pawns for their own ends? So easy when the fathers were heroes, even more easy if the fathers were collaborators. A little video shop makes clips of goodbye speeches from young men on both sides and sells them to a public eager for drama. The dragon’s teeth: buy one for a lucky charm.
So the two young men who grew up together, bonded buddies, decide to become suicide bombers. Prepared to pass in Israel simply by being bathed, shaved, and clothed in black suits so they look like either FBI agents or Mormon doorstep proselytizers, they find that things go wrong in unpredictable ways and are separated. One is adrift in a city he does not know, wearing a bomb, and the other is desperate to find him.
The end is ambiguous. I kept thinking about the yahoos who thought it was funny to tie a stick of dynamite on the tail of a coyote until the coyote took refuge under their new pickup. The world is always a stone’s throw from violence. I’ll mix metaphors: some people are so blinded by their own need for prestige and the illusion of control that they sit on a barrel of nitro striking matches. If they’re lucky, their family misses them.
Religion DOES have responsibility in this. Ms Hanaoka takes the position that the outbreaks of violence are the result of pre-existing shattered order. Well, sure. The current US political dilemmas are due to something like the same causes. But don’t the radical identity obsessors use religion as their justification? Didn’t the Nazis use the issue of religion to destroy Jews? Didn’t the Ku Klux Klan (shouldn’t I use present tense?) conflate Christian identity with white superiority? Am I the only person to ever watch “Oz” while thinking about the spiritual identities of those naked men?
This recent violence was caused by a TRAILER of a lousy movie made by zealots. Not even that. It was the IDEA of the trailer. YouTube removed the trailer but how do they remove an idea of a rumor about something most had not seen in the first place?
How do we get people to watch a WHOLE MOVIE that explores what responsible people are trying to understand and solve? When “Paradise Now” was put up for the foreign film Oscar, it was thrown out because it could not be attached to a nation, since Palestine is NOT one. Various end-runs were tried but finally the national origin was tied to the financing. Israeli writer Irit Linor points out that "according to internationally accepted conventions, the nationality of a film is usually determined by the country that invested in it - and that while the film was categorized by the Academy as representing Palestine, it was produced with European funds, by an Israeli-Arab director."
The director was Hany Abu-Assad, who “made a plea for a Palestinian state, saying he hoped the Golden Globe was “a recognition that the Palestinians deserve their liberty and equality unconditionally."
In an interview with Jewish-American Tikkun magazine, Hany Abu-Assad was asked "When you look ahead now, what gives you hope?",
"The conscience of the Jewish people" he answered. "The Jews have been the conscience of humanity, always, wherever they go. Not all Jews, but part of them. Ethics. Morality. They invented it! I think Hitler wanted to kill the conscience of the Jews, the conscience of humanity. But this conscience is still alive...Maybe a bit weak...But still alive. Thank God."
Is not conscience a part of every religion? What is it about the sons of Abraham (I’m including Christians) that makes them quarrel so? Must we bring in some wise old Australian aborigine to point out that violence is always a boomerang?