Muslim reactions, Mormons and the Youtube trailer.

While I've always sympathized with Muslims in the Middle East, it has been with mixed emotions. Like many people, I find it difficult to understand their extreme sensitivity to any perceived disrespect of their religion by The West. It's as if they are looking for something to upset them and even the smallest provocation sends thousands into the streets for protest. But recently I had what felt like a breakthrough in being able to understand their actions. It was sparked by the remarks comparing the infamous youtube trailer mocking Mohammed and the Book of Mormon musical. If you have not heard this mentioned, the two strains of comments are: If it is okay to mock the Mormons in the Book of Mormon Musical, then it is equally okay to mock Mohammed and Middle Easterners are entirely unjustified in their outrage. Or: if it is offensive and unacceptable to ridicule Islam, then it is equally unacceptable to make fun of Mormons and the Book of Mormon Musical should be seen in the same light as the 'Innocence of Muslims' trailer. I think it is important for rules to be fair, so it seemed like a good and reasonable comparison, but it didn't sit right with me in a way that I couldn't put my finger on. I pondered this until it occurred to me that when mocking or criticizing someone, it makes a big difference what your status is compared to theirs. If a person who is poor and struggling makes a video critical of politicians, perhaps even slanderous, it is a reasonable act of protest and opposition. But if a rich, successful person made a video that was critical and slandering of a poor, struggling, single mom, it would just seem like bullying. Mormons as people, do fairly well for themselves and are generally accepted by mainstream America, even if the religion itself is seen as wacky or heretical. And of course, a Mormon is running for president of the conservative Republican party, the group that would most likely be their enemy. So when a musical is produced poking fun of Mormons, it comes across as the light hearted ribbing it is. Equals satirizing equals. No big deal. Middle Eastern Muslims however, aren't doing so well. They are poor, have little power in the world and for many Muslims, the war in Iraq and Afganistan was not simply against those two countries but a war on Islam as a whole. For people in their position, who already feel beaten down by the most powerful nation in the world, to have a video or cartoon appear in western media that is disrespectful to their beloved prophet, the main source of hope and inspiration in their lives, from a country where one of the the worst possible things a presidential candidite could be is a Muslim, to the point where even having a Muslim sounding name has been a point of concern for some. A country where a sizable minority would genuinely like to see Muslim culture destroyed, these scornful depictions would seem to confirm their belief that The West hates Islam and their presence in the Middle East is as an oppressor trying to displace their culture, even if that may not actually be true. It would feel like bullying. The helpless feeling of being antagonized by a force so much stronger that you know you could never hurt them. Being bullied makes people behave in ways that are not always rational and even counter productive but very understandable. This doesn't mean I think people should be prevented from criticizing, or mocking Islam, or even that it is necessarily wrong to do so. It also doesn't mean that I think killing people is a proper response to feeling bullied by a larger country. But it does help me see that, like always, situations are complex and when looking at a person or groups behavior from their perspective it usually makes their actions understandable and even sympathetic (in the 'deserving of sympathy' sense of the word).

No comments: