Sunday, February 05, 2006


For those of you have been following the exercise of free speech in the Nordic countries, like Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, and others, you'll have noticed that they're experiencing some problems with Muslim communities around the world.

Far be it from me to judge a culture and a people about whom I know virtually nothing, but I do find the fact that Syrians have set fire to the Embassies of Denmark and Norway to be signs of two very different views of how to interact with the world.

In countries whose government and social structure have grown out of the enlightenment, the 30 Years War, and two World Wars, there has developed the idea of freedom of the press. More specifically, there is a culturally accepted concept of critique and discourse on which nearly any topic is valid. Also, a thickness of skin (usually) that allows people to make statements or draw pictures, which, taken at face value, may be offensive; but taken as they are intended are metaphors for a larger issue.

In addition to being illustrative of the fact that Syria isn't exactly a model of stability, the universality of the protests at embassies around the world demonstrate two truths about the world as we inhabit it right now. Without understanding these, the U.S. (our allies, and anyone else around the world) will have a hard time effectively understanding and responding to the world as we are now presented with it.

Issue One: The majority of people in the Middle East do not share Western Europe and North America's penchent for Free Speech. It's not a rejection, per se, it's more a lack of ownership for it, or an opportunity to fully express (and thus utilize) something like it. Having spent most of the past century under repressive colonial rule, or home-grown repressive rulership, there is little- to no wide-spread understanding of the freedom of speech (to say nothing of the U.S.'s other 9 points in the Bill of Rights).

Combine that with the fact that democratic participation in Mid-East countries is lauded when presidential outcomes are so "fair" as to be 88-7:

"The great people of Egypt have voted in a multi-party presidential election -- and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism."
The result? Not shockingly, a generation of Arab Muslims (and their cohort around the world) growing up resenting the U.S. (and, by extension, the West) for our support of repressive regimes in their front yards. When you're given no opportunity to express dissent on domestic topics, it's difficult for the government to stop a group of passionate people from protesting international issues that come up--ask the Chinese. Without an opportunity to discuss/voice/raise issues on a wide scale, when an issues does present itself, it is usually protested out of proportion to th issue at hand.

Second, thge issue of religiously ostricized people the world over. Muslims throughout the world are feeling ostricized, isolated, and singled out for their faith. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. What matters is that they feel this way. When they see cartoons run in papers of foriegn countries--and when they don't have sufficient experience with free press, they lash out as they have done. It's the same across cultures and times. The difference is that now it's happening against non-colonial European nations instead of colonial nations or other developing countries.

I'm wagering, though, that the root of the protests, the burnings, and all the other dissatisfaction about these cartoons isn't the fact that they exist, but the people who feel targetted by them feel as though they have little recourse to improve their lives, and that European powers are part of the reason. Why? I'm not entirely sure--except for the fact that Syria is a particularly non-participatory regime whose recent accomplishments include (allegedly) arranging to assassinate a Lebanese minister and journalist who were pro-Lebanese Independence. Definately a pro-democracy stance from Syria there.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that there are definate lessons to be learned from the lack of restraint showed by crowds in front of two embassies in Syria. It's also of note the the Syrians, likely sensing something violent was on the way, allowed the crowds to get that close to the embassies in the first place.

1 comment:

alektra said...

First off: Europe hardly has the free speech we have here in the U.S. There are lots of libel and slander cases in Europe that would never happen here. The First Amendment gives us very strange laws even compared to the rest of the Western world.

Secondly: Mohammed's image is never depicted in Muslim art. It is a great heresy, and even the Vatican is trying to explain this one to Europe. You can't spit on someone's religion like that and not expect retaliation. I don't condone the violence, but it shouldn't be so surprising.

Third: "Rendering [Mohammed's] turban as a bomb"? Come on. They REPRINTED the cartoons. After the attacks. It's quite obvious how much Europe is frightened by the influx of Muslim immigrants and how much they try to suppress them. If we think the U.S. is ignorant and cruel to Muslims, we've got NOTHING on France and Denmark.

I think you're backing the wrong horse here, kid.