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."