|Protestors in Pakistan are outraged at the Innocence of Muslims.|
A cursory view of any of the major headlines in the days since September 11, 2012 gives the impression that the Muslim world, a term I use synonymously with the Ummah, has risen up in opposition to the West. Predictably the pundits have given us their views and the politicians have ascribed meaning to each and every Molotov cocktail. In the year or so since the so-called Arab Spring, the will of the people is exercised as much by the ballot as by the bullet. Given the polarizing political landscape of today’s United States, however, we are expected to believe one of two mind numbingly simplistic explanations for the violence that has claimed the lives of the ambassador of Libya, among others. Either we are facing a popular rebellion by hordes of savage Muslims or the violence is being perpetrated by a vocal minority. The reality, as it always is, is more complex. The Ummah is flexing populist muscle for the first time since independence. It is neither a savage horde nor a society threatened by a belligerent minority. It is a region awash in religiosity and guns that has a view of the world directly contrary to that of the West. Add to this the high number of young, unemployed and undersexed men and it is clear the powder keg is more than primed; the fuse has been lit.
The Innocence of Muslims YouTube film, claimed as the impetus behind many of the riots that have plagued the Ummah since its translation into Arabic, is merely the most recent clash between Western and Islamic sensibilities. Islamists, many coming out of or still living in oppressive regimes, are incredulous to the fact that the movie was not sanctioned by the United States. And so we have our embassies assaulted. While some of the coverage has attempted to downplay the scope of the violence and as Muslim apologists have correctly stated that the ‘majority’ of the Muslim population is not up in arms, the fact is that significant minority of it is. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia currently give Hamas an approval rating of more than 30 percent. Hezbollah averages over 25 percent and al Qaeda and the Taliban both have sizable followings as well. The ‘majority’ of Muslims in the Ummah do not support extremism. But millions do. Support for violent extremism in the Ummah is not by any definition rare. So while the West is grappling with just how far we are willing to go in the defense of free speech, the Ummah is busying itself proving the consequences of it. France is learning lessons and shutting down its embassies and schools in the Ummah in advance of expected riots over satirical cartoons of Muhammad published by a French outlet. (The Onion noted that no one died because they published this image.) There is something different about the Ummah.
In a global society where information travels the world in the time it takes to upload a YouTube video, the freedom of expression in one country is capable of provoking violence in another. While Westerners may express outrage at the vulgarity of the Innocence of Muslims film, or the Onion’s cartoon, no one fears public violence. But part of the global village is not operating according to the same ideals. The Ummah, even those nations where dictatorial regimes were overthrown, wants Islamic law in place; and Islam, like Christianity, is a religion predicated on a global vision. While Christianity may have calmed down since its tumultuous Medieval years, Islam is today very much in the throes of red-blooded religiosity wherein a slight against the religion demands a physical response. The freedom of expression is secondary to the honor of Islam – how dare the West allow its people to speak ill of the prophet?
Furthering the violence is the fact that the Ummah, partly as a result of its proclivities towards polygamy and sexual repression, is strangled by young men who are little bound to this earth by pleasure of any sort. Most of the Ummah has codified for polygamy, a social institution ensuring many young men stay unmarried and ‘unsettled.’ Add to this the average age of many of the countries currently boiling with rage and the concoction is deadly. The average age of men in Pakistan is 21, in Afghanistan is 18, in Egypt and Libya is 24. Young men, especially single young men, are overwhelmingly the cause of the world’s violence. Add crippling poverty, oppression, repression and very real injustice and the result is predictable. In the Ummah, religious rage is couched in male violence as a matter of course. All Muslims are not violent, but all societies where young males are the dominate social group and where religious zeal is law tend to be violent. The West may not have officially sanctioned the Innocence of Muslims, but it hardly matters, because the mob is a creature that feeds on emotion, not reason.
The past weeks have shown that the West and the Ummah are headed on a collision course where one side will clearly be the victor. It’s a cultural battle; but much as the cultural debate in the United States spilled onto the battlefield in the 1860’s, the alternative world views offered by the West and the Ummah are so entirely antithetical as to necessitate some sort of clash. Either Muhammad is off limits, or he is not. And this is not to say that it must be a violent clash. Indeed, cultural diffusion is a common and often peaceful process. The point is that it is already a violent clash and shows every sign of increasing belligerence. So as Western embassies continue to be pelted with stones, we must remember the ideals that separate us from the mob: the freedom of speech, of assembly, of expression and of belief. All of this is compatible with Islam, but none of it with the fanaticism of the Ummah. The civilizations are clashing.