"Don't judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins." - Native American Proverb
We must condemn violence unequivocally, but we must also defend people's right to free expression, at home and abroad. We also need to understand that when the rule of law is weak; it is the mob mentality that carries the day. There are many peaceful protests in the Muslim world, but it is the ones that turn violent that get more attention.
Mob mentality is not a monopoly of the Muslim world, but a common human behavior. Liverpool soccer fans, WTO protestors in Seattle, and a Jama'at Islami rally in Lahore all have unpredictability as their common denominator.
Demonstrations by nature are not organized activities. The organizers merely gather the numbers, but cannot control or predict their behavior. The spontaneity and flow of events often have a life of their own. When the rational side of the individual participant cannot catch up with the exhilarating momentum of the collective, the individual's rationality is left behind in the dust while the collective commotion thrusts forward.
This is precisely why the police are trained with the dual task of alternating between crowd management and crowd control as the situation dictates. The slightest miscalculation can have disastrous consequences, especially when groups with a specific agenda manipulate the momentum of the masses and hijack protests.
Instead of understanding this phenomenon from the point of view of the collective psyche and group behavior, our prejudices get in the way in defining the truth. As analyses of political events of recent times have shown Western media has a tendency of linking and associating every negativity in the Muslim world with their religious identity. We in the West as the consumers of that media did not see these recent protests as expressions of free speech, but we quickly identified them as religious extremists protesting violently against another version of freedom of expression.
Muslim leaders who subconsciously bought into this media portrayal and depiction bent over backwards to distance themselves from the ugly side of the protests. They correctly called the violent behavior un-Islamic and felt especially embarrassed that the protests were supposedly defending the good name of Prophet Muhammad, who was a man of peace.
While the destructive behavior of extremists ought to be condemned, especially when there is loss of life and property, many Muslims were apologetic, even when they were victimized twice--first by the provocation and then by the violence perpetrated in the name of their religion.
We cannot appreciate America through the beauty of its 21st century cultural diversity until and unless we learn to reverse perspectives and see ourselves through the eyes of others. Whispering suspicions dictate compliance to assimilative norms persuading even the 'godly' among us to accept only those who look like us, think like us, and believe like us. In essence some among us object to God's creative power manifested in the divergent shades and hues of our humanity. Many among us are not culturally sensitive to fathom the severity of the offense from a Muslim's perspective.
We believe in the freedom of speech, of the press, and the right to peacefully demonstrate for a redress of grievances. We have practically sanctified the U.S. Constitution because it enshrines such lofty ideals. However, social contract demands that we make exceptions to the First Amendment to the Constitution for the greater good of the society, for public safety, and even to comply with norms of social etiquette. The First Amendment does not protect hateful speech or racial slurs nor does it allow shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theater, for instance. The media edits and beeps out certain words the FCC does not allow.
We do not cross these red lines in domestic affairs and would most probably make exception to the First Amendment rights if protests such as those around the world were taking place in our cities and towns.
We have assigned sanctity to our Constitution, but do not recognize others assigning sanctity to their Qur'an or their Prophet. We will compromise on our ideals to maintain peace in domestic affairs, but we do not extend these to the rest of the world. We often speak disparagingly of those who attempt to practice these rights abroad at great risk to their lives especially when their grievances are directed against America and Americans--be it the man in the streets of Cairo or the one taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Violence in any form must be condemned unequivocally. With there now being a higher degree of the predictability of violent reaction, those who incite, instigate, and foment violence must be held responsible.
Religious fanatics are dangerous, but they can do more harm when they wield more power. The 42-million-dollar strong (and growing) Islamophobia industry that has been behind numerous media, books, and films projects including the NYPD training film and the 14-minute video trailer must be held responsible for inciting hatred through hateful speech. Their fanatics may have hijacked peaceful demonstrations and turned them violent, but it was our fanatics who have instigated the whole bloody affair. It is not just a video, but a lot of built-up resentment resulting from a series of provocations against Islam and Muslims
We hushed Bush's September 16, 2001 "crusade" comment as a slip of the tongue, only to realize that it was actually a Freudian slip. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones recounts how George Bush tried to talk his 'common faith' Christian, the French president Jacques Chirac into supporting the invasion of Iraq telling him that: "Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East.... The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.... This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins." This after Bush had entered an unholy alliance with Toney Blair and had looked into the soul of Putin. Neither was the symbolic significance of the Inquisition-era waterboarding lost on anyone nor the adoption of the worst KGB torture techniques employed from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo and all points in between for extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, and 'forced coercion' outsourcing.
Ten years later we realize that the fanatic with the tie in the White House has done much greater harm to world peace and Muslim-Christian relations, world and U.S. economy than the fanatic with the turban on the street ever could.
The trail of provocations continued with CIA interrogators flushing the Qur'an down the toilet in Guantanamo, Cuba; our servicemen have burned Qur'an in Bagram, Afghanistan and Terry Jones desecrating the Qur'an ceremoniously in Tampa, Florida.
With Muslim faith and fancy lands and resources under continuous military and media attack for more than a decade, we should not be surprised at their resentment. They may or may not understand that our government did not sanction the video, but governments do intercede for the greater good.
Can we expect the rest of the world to adhere to our ideals while we disregard theirs? Can we then claim that we lead by example as the leader of the free world when we define those freedoms based only on our own value system? This is more a clash between American exceptionalism and the global community rather than a clash of cultures. We can set examples for others, but we cannot set standards for others and expect them to adhere to American exceptionalism as an international norm.
Isn't it time we hear their call saying, "Why do they hate us so much?" It is time for introspection.