More Than A Single Silly Video

Protests against a recent anti-Islam movie as well as blasphemous cartoons rage on across and beyond the Muslim world, with people calling for the prosecution of the elements behind the blasphemous acts.



 by Jim Taylor


With all due respect to the innumerable pundits who have pontificated about the anti-American riots sweeping through the Islamic world – and beyond into Asia – I think they’ve missed the point.

They’ve been looking at the situation through the lens of American culture. Or at least through the lens of western European culture. Where our highest values are abstract concepts, fostered by The Enlightenment in the 18 th Century, concepts like freedom of speech, individual rights, thinking things through….

Those concepts do not adequately describe the Middle East. Or Pakistan. Or the Philippines.

The places where anti-American riots have taken place all have honour/shame cultures. Their primary motivation is the honour – more precisely, the dishonour — of the entire family, the tribe, the clan, the nation. To dishonour any member of that culture is to dishonour the whole culture.

And obviously, to dishonour the culture’s iconic prophet is to dishonour everyone.

In that setting, there can be no moderate voices. You cannot distance yourself from the protest without being considered a traitor.

Although we in the western nations have theoretically moved past those honour/shame cultures, Federal cabinet minister Vic Toews invoked the same polarizing mindset against critics of his tough-on-crime bill: “You can stand with us, or with the child pornographers.”

So did G.W. Bush: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”


I would also suggest that the aforementioned pundits have misread the pent-up fury of the riots. With a few exceptions, they have focussed blame on a YouTube video that mocked Mohammed.

They described the offending video as the spark that lit the woodpile, the leak that broke the dike, the trigger that ignited the explosives….

These metaphors misdirect our attention. They incline us to concentrate on the spark, the leak, the trigger. We should be looking at the wood pile, the floodwaters, and the dynamite.

The assumption seems to be that if the video had not gone viral, none of this would have happened. Or perhaps that if Obama had blocked the video, the hostility would fade away. As if sticking a finger into the dike would make flood levels on the far side recede.

Before a spark can ignite the woodpile, you need a pile of wood.


And that wood has been piling up for most of a century, in U.S. foreign relations. Consider some of the regimes that the U.S. has treated as its friends:

•  Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi , the Shah of Iran.

•  Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, in China.

•  Ferdinand Marcos, in the Philippines.

•  The land-owning oligarchies of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The U.S. even trained their paramilitary death squads at the School of the Americas in Georgia.

•  Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.

•  The generals who seized power from elected governments in Pakistan, Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile.

•  Francisco Franco in Spain.

•  Prince Norodom Sihanouk in Cambodia

•  Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Van Thieu in South Viet Nam.

Bluntly put, the U.S. has a track record of backing regimes that were later overthrown by popular uprisings, whether peacefully or violently.

The U.S. has also shown itself to be a fickle friend.

It supported Saddam Hussein when he fought against Iran, then turned against him when he threatened U.S. oil supplies.

It backed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan while they fought the Russians; then turned against them when they became the Taliban.

It cozied up to military dictators in Pakistan, while cold shouldering democratic governments in India.

It devised the Monroe Doctrine to protect newly independent nations in Central America and the Caribbean from their former European masters. Then it used that same doctrine to justify intervening in the internal affairs of those nations.

It even suppressed information about Stalin’s atrocities in Poland and the Ukraine to avoid offending a current ally — who later became its enemy during the Cold War.

This kind of history does not incline non-Americans to trust American good intentions.


But for the Arab world, America’s most offensive act has certainly been its unwavering support for the state of Israel.

Whether that support is right or wrong is beside the point. Right or wrong, America’s financial and military backing of Israel is the primary cause of anti-American sentiment among Arab and Islamic peoples.

Before you accuse me of anti-Semitism, imagine a parallel situation. Suppose a consortium of foreign nations decreed that southern Texas was the ancestral homeland of Mexican people, and arbitrarily transferred ownership to them. Would Americans meekly accept their loss of territory?

And suppose those Mexicans thrived, and brought in more Mexicans, who kept expanding into the rest of Texas, displacing Americans who already lived there. Would Americans take it lying down?

Not bleeping likely!

Because of Israel, all the Arab peoples feel dishonoured. They feel like victims of a home invasion. Their birthright has been besmirched, their household vandalized.

Their resentment is not reasoned. Rather, it is a deep gut anger that has been simmering for generations.

In that situation, it takes very little extra heat to make the pot boil over.

Jim Taylor is a Canadian author and freelance journalist, with over 50 years experience in radio, television, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of 17 books, and continues to write two newspaper columns a week. 

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1. Peace Be Upon You 2. New US Envoy In Libya Reaps What O-Bomba and NATO Have Sown  
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