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(grown) men behaving badly

As usual, Mr. Pitts hits it out of the park:



Not to trivialize a deadly situation, but in considering these would-be defenders of Islam, one is struck above all else by their childishness. I am thinking of a specific scenario familiar to any parent of two children or more.

The kids are in the back seat, and suddenly you hear the dreaded words: "He's touching me!" It is whined at a pitch of such fevered urgency that if you didn't know better, you'd swear one child was killing the other. But no, it's only that child number two has discovered she can, with little effort, drive child number one into spasms of apoplexy. So she keeps doing it till you hear yourself yelling, "Don't make me turn this car around!"

Yes, the second child has gone out of her way to needlessly provoke her sibling. But you are also irked at the sibling for being so easily provoked, for not understanding that if he simply stopped giving his sister the reaction she craves, she'd stop doing the stupid thing.

It is that dynamic we see play out repeatedly among Muslim extremists. We saw it in 2005 when riots erupted over a cartoon depicting Mohammed. ("He's touching me!") We saw it in 2011 when riots erupted after a Florida "preacher" burned a Koran. ("He's looking at me!") Now we see it in the uproar over this stupid film. ("Don't make me turn this planet around!")

I think this is what many people find so frustrating about the culture wars, both globally and the American version that usually go by that name. They're just so thoroughly, idiotically stupid. Obviously people have died, including a diplomat who if the editorials are to be believed was a true patriot working very hard to fix things in this corner of the world. And that tragedy isn't stupid, but the event itself... it's tragic but also pointless beyond belief. I guess all tragedy is, but man.

Here's where I disagree with Mr. Pitts, though. Toward the end he writes:

Children, at least, have the excuse of being children when they fail to understand how an over-the-top reaction only ensures further provocation. The hotbloods of Islamic fundamentalism are old enough to know better. They ought to grow up.

Like with the fundamentalists of all stripes - you find them in most religions as well as non-religious movements like secularism, and groups that have nothing to do with religion as well, political groups and the like. And simply stressed out individuals. Children lack certain psychological capacities to deal with stress which most adults have, but when those groups feel pushed down for prolonged periods of time, denigrated and infantilized and denied what they expect or think is rightfully theirs.

I used the phrase culture wars advisedly above, because I think there really is a psychological connection between what we in Americans call culture wars and Muslim extremists throwing a first-class hissy-fit. I'm thinking of incidents like the annual "war on Christmas" outraged that stores might say happy holidays rather than merry Christmas. Or the way groups on all sides battle over such minor points when it comes to "issues" like abortion access and contraception coverage and someone praying at an event where politicians happen to be present and gun rights and ... the list gets depressingly long these days. These flashpoints occur around different things in different cultures, but they aren't limited to the Middle East or America, for that matter. The common factor, as far as I can tell, is that the people involved all feel put-upon for some reason or another. They either used to have a certain privilege that is being denied to them now (or is no longer uniquely theirs), or nearly as often they are hearing from their various quarters that they deserve some right, that everyone --or at least everyone that isn't an ignorant fob-- agrees with them, yet they still don't have this right they think they deserve. That can sap the emotional wherewithal any adult has to treat minor irritations as just that.

None of this excuses violence, or makes those deaths America's fault. And none of that changes whether a certain position is objectively good. Let me say this unequivocally: I really and truly am glad that stores say happy holidays rather than merry Christmas. But just because I like the happy holidays approach, that doesn't mean I can't feel sympathy for people who were used to thinking everyone was like them. I don't think they were ever entitled to that impression, and it's good that they're adjusting to a more accurate view of reality. But that adjustment is still draining and disorienting. It doesn't excuse the histrionics, but it does explain them a bit.

So think about the situation in the Middle East. European colonization and all that meant economically and culturally. The blame for 9/11. Drone attacks. The way terrorism has become seen as brown-skinned and Muslim, so white supremacists, when they kill groups of brown-skinned people you hardly hear the name. To say nothing of the inevitable collateral damage of conventional war. If I was a Muslim living in the Middle East, this would wear on me. Doubly so if I had been promised a brighter future, put my life on the line by protesting... and found change to be too slow or somehow insufficient. (It always is.)

I guess I can just get why people would get stressed and overreact in juvenile ways like this over and over again, without necessarily having to grow up. When I had a massively bad day last Thursday, by the end of it any little thing had me angry beyond belief. If that had gone on for a week, I can see myself getting angry enough to throw a stapler across the room. If we were talking years or even generations, in a much more volatile situation with much worse injustices and indignities, a stupid amateurish film might even be enough to make me storm an embassy or two.

I wouldn't be right to do that. In fact, I'd be incredibly in the wrong. But I can see myself getting that upset, without the need to grow up. There's just a limit to what humans can stand, and I think part of helping life from crossing that critical point is recognizing when you're pushing people too far.

Enough heavy. As a celebration of simple pleasures and happiness that I think are the best antidote to this kind of frustration, have a clip from the "Cosby Show."


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 17th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
What we are seeing here is the disconnect between the way the Western world perceives things (up to and including the idea of freedom of speech protecting people saying the most offensive, blasphemous bilge) and the Islamic way of seeing the world. In a lot of ways, there is very little common ground between the two perspectives - and therefore not a whole lot of ground for understanding.

Muslims believe any portrayal of Mohammed is both offensive and blasphemous. That's not all that hard to understand at least conceptually. Why, then, does someone else feel driven to not only portray Mohammed in a film, but to make that portrayal so despicable.

To fully understand the situation, we need to understand the progress of a religion's history. Islam is approximately 1500 years old. That's approximately the same shape Christianity was in the 1500's. That means Islam in its religious development is where Western Christianity was during The Inquisition. This, then, begs the question: why do we therefore expect Islam to do all that much better than Western religion did at the same relative age and stage of development?

Yes, from a Western point of view, the rioting Muslims are behaving like children. In taking that perspective, most manage to ignore the fact that the film-makers are doing the very same thing. One does not poke a wasp's nest with a stick and not expect to get stung.

So what possible reason could exist for making such a film in the first place? It surely can't be to bring attention to the fact that the overwhelming response of the Muslim world to anything that might possibly be seen as denigrating their Prophet tends to end up in violence. Frankly, the world knows this rather well. One might then wonder if the film-makers intended to foment violence for a more subtle reason: to maintain or increase the distrust between two diametrically opposed world views. After all, weapons manufacturers and dealers depend upon such distrust and mutual aggression to bolster their bottom lines.

Or it could have been an act of utter stupidity and ignorance.

The thing is that we now have the situation, the violence. So what is the wisest response to what is going on now?

Ah! There's the rub, as Shakespeare said, because it's far too easy to sit back and point out that the Muslims are acting like children complaining "He touched me!" It's far too easy to look down on them - on either side of this - as if they're somehow less mature, less understanding, less anything than we are.

A wise parent, when children are bickering like that in the back seat, stops the car and gets to the root of the problem: why is the first child tormenting the other? Why cannot the second child just ignore the taunts? On a more global scale, that is an extremely difficult feat to pull off. The second child is quite swept up in their tantrum; and the first child is fully invested in feelings of superiority.

Patience is needed, and emphasis on the message that not all want to participate in the tantrum. Images even now are coming out of the Arab world that show that those who riot don't speak for the whole. We need to hear them, listen to them more than we do to the rioters.

Our government rattling its sabres isn't the answer either. Tantrums go away when the adults stop making a big deal of the tantrum - when they walk away from it, in fact. In my experience, my kids' tantrums stopped the moment I told them "Let me know when you're done behaving like this - because I'm just not interested in your screams. You want to talk to me, then talk - until then, I've something better to do."

And once both sides have regained their sanity, the lesson needs to be reinforced that those who taunt and harass the reactive mob tend to be discouraged when NO ATTENTION IS PAID TO THEM. The moment that lesson is learned - on both sides - then the world will be a safer place.

Mr. Pitt is right in his characterization of the situation. He just doesn't go past pointing out the problem and looking down at folks involved in the process.
Sep. 17th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
It's possible that I'm misreading you here, but it seems like you're saying that the Muslims really are behaving like children because their religion really is less developed, and that Christians and other people from what used to be called Christendom have a kind of noblesse oblige to not provoke them. The problem with this is that it really is infantilizing, or seems that way to me.

The puzzling thing to me is that while all Muslims consider depictions of the Prophet to be blasphemous, the vast majority aren't nearly this violently upset. So I think it is worth asking the question: why do some Muslims see something as blasphemous and react one way (be insulted, get angry but keep that anger from boiling over into violence) whereas others feel that blasphemy justifies violence? That seems a legitimate question, and I don't think speaking about Muslims as if they're one homogeneous group does it justice.

But I think you're definitely on to something when you say the good parent figures out what the root problem is and tries to address it. That's actually what I was trying to do it. To the extent that some things the West does provokes this (drone attacks spring to mind, but also treating Arab terrorists different from caucasian terrorsits), understanding can maybe help us do better.

Interesting thoughts! Thanks for sharing them.
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:08 am (UTC)
I'm not saying that Muslims are behaving like children because their religion is less developed. I'm saying that the kind of extremism that has no trouble behaving violently without any regard to innocence or reason is a major facet of a religion that is still maturing - a facet that takes a very long time to dissipate as the religion matures. And even then, there will a certain element of the "throw-back" present and willing to throw tantrums for a very long time to come.

Besides, the violence we're seeing isn't child-like - neither the Inquisition nor the current rioting - but it is evidence of a less well-developed sense of reason. If anything, what I see as immaturity (not childishness) is the extremist, black vs white mentality - and the lack of discrimination as to the proper (if such a thing exist) target of the protest - that characterizes fundamentalisms of all flavors (and not just Muslims.)

As for why some people react violently, while others (usually the vast majority) simply are quietly offended, it helps to realize a couple of things:

1. The Middle-east still has a very strong tribal identity. As a rule, a strong tribal/nationalist identity makes it very easy to target someone "other" for potential violence. We see this in wartime when we verbally de-humanize the enemy into "Japs" or "Rag-heads" or "Krauts" or "Spics" or "Kikes" or "Commies". That's a human response - it makes committing attrocities easier when the victims are less than human. Such a thing can also be done along religious lines: "Heathen", "Infidel", "Blasphemer", "Apostate", "Westerner", "Muslim". Once more, once a person is placed outside the "in" group, their value as a human being can be dismissed and the most horrible atrocities committed on them with impunity.

2. Moderate voices are precisely that: moderate. They do not scream, shout, throw violent temper tantrums, etc. They speak calmly, rationally - and are for the most part completely overlooked by a news media driven by the need to sell advertising space by use of sensationalism. Blood & guts & riots sells ads, people voicing their protests with dignity is... boring. So... guess what? We never hear about them (unless we're on FaceBook and have the kind of organizations "liked" that broadcast the images of such people trying to express that viewpoint moderately.)

All of which makes understanding something as complex as the paradigm clash that is Islam vs Western Thought an end one must actively and conscientiously work for - almost to the extent of having to do the kind of research that leads to a term paper. Tell me, how many folks in this world are really prepared to do that kind of digging - and how many are too lazy to do their own thinking and so are willing to simply buy into whatever the media, and/or their religious leaders (on either side of the issue) feed them?

You and I are a minority. I've been here for a while - nice to have you aboard. :-D
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )



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