Westerners who fuel the Muslim world's grievance culture

Condemning the "grievance" as much as the perpetrator is fast becoming the default response to mass Islamist violence. This must not be allowed to stand

So flag burning isn't a "provocation"?
Jeremy Havardi
On 15 September 2012 12:25

Rather predictably, The Guardian this week argued that the wave of violence sweeping the Middle East was a spontaneous reaction to the anti Islamic film, "The Innocence of Islam". The film, we were told, set off a "long fuse that led to an explosion of violence that killed the US ambassador to Libya".

The Independent adopted a similar line with its article headlined: "An incendiary film –and the man killed in the crossfire". It added: "The mob enraged by film mocking Prophet Mohamed kills US ambassador in Benghazi rocket attack".

Then on BBC Newsnight on Thursday, ex-Foreign Office mandarin Sir Jeremy Greenstock waded in. The film, he declared, was definitely the "immediate, proximate cause" of the bloodshed.

Nor was this a British reaction alone, for in the US Hilary Clinton made the same causal linkage. The Guardian's Andrew Brown went even further. "The Innocence of Islam" was an "incitement to religious hatred" that deserved to be banned.

Those who blame this murderous mayhem on an obscure film miss the point by the proverbial country mile. The killing of the ambassador appeared to be the result of a carefully planned assassination by jihadist extremists, such as the violent Sunni group, Ansar al Sharia, rather than a mere spontaneous act of anger.

Far from being an expression of Muslim protest in Libya, it was a deranged act of militancy from radicalised Muslims for whom America and all western influences are mortal enemies. The same can be said for much of the violence sweeping every major Arab capital right now. Reducing murderous violence to "protest" risks legitimising behaviour or at least failing to understand its true motivations.

Certainly, one can understand why this amateurish production, a 13 minute clip of which appeared on YouTube, was insulting to Muslims. Its depiction of Muhammad as a pervert and child molester was certainly designed to be intensely provocative. But so are the venomous anti-Semitic and anti-Christian cartoons and images that proliferate in the Middle East. These too cause outrage but we never see mosques or the embassies of Muslim states torched as a result, and rightly so.

It stands to reason that those who are genuinely enraged by this film have a choice about their behaviour. To suggest otherwise is to paint Muslims as backward people who cannot respond to insults except by the sword or the bomb.

It attributes to them a complete inability to defuse their rage by more democratic forms of protest, effectively viewing them as savages from which little better can be expected. Such a view panders to the Islamist grievance culture rather than demanding that Muslims, like everyone else, behave better.

But condemning the "grievance" as much as the perpetrator is fast becoming the default response to mass Islamist violence. In 2002, Muslim mobs went on a murderous rampage in Nigeria, following newspaper comments that Mohammed would have approved the Miss World pageant which was being held in that country. Afterwards, some commentators condemned the organisers of Miss World in more forthright terms than the violent jihadists.

In 2006, there was a prolonged and outrageous display of global violence following the publication of satirical Danish cartoons in Jyllands-Posten. Some of the cartoons depicted the prophet Mohammed in unflattering terms though again, much of the violence was stoked up by local agitators using these cartoons as an excuse.

But as well as condemning sword bearing, embassy burning fanatics, former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and some of his European counterparts condemned "irresponsible" Danish newspaper editors for publishing the material.

There was another global outpouring of Muslim rage following a speech by the Pope in September 2006 in which he quoted an obscure medieval Emperor, Manuel II. Manuel had condemned Muhammed’s command to "spread by the sword the faith he preached" and the Pope noted, quite correctly, that Islam had a history of using force to spread and defend the faith.

Indeed the instant frenzy of anti-Christian violence was evidence for that very point. Again, many non-Muslims made the mistake of criticising the Pope’s comments, rather than condemning the illegitimate responses of the extremists. Some media outlets gave airtime to the outrageous and incendiary comments of the Islamist Anjem Chaudhry who argued that "capital punishment" would be an appropriate punishment for the Pope.

Lumping offensive remarks or publications with barbaric behaviour excuses the latter while nurturing the extremists’ own victim mentality. But in one sense, this already mirrors the Zeitgeist in liberal Europe. Islamic fanaticism and its terrorist offshoots are seen as the understandable response of a minority aggrieved at "unjust" foreign policy. It is our "provocative" policies in Iraq, Afghanistan or "Palestine" that cause a violent reaction among Muslims.

Hence, it is necessary both to condemn the terrorism and address its "root causes" in foreign policy. As well as being an intellectually false argument, it is morally dubious because it suggests that there is only one inevitable way for enraged Muslims to respond to "our" behaviour. Terrorism remains a choice, and a highly illegitimate one.

Certainly, "The Innocence of Muslims", like the Danish cartoons, is provocative and, for most Muslims, blasphemous. But mob terror and the slaughter of innocents is the preserve of those with an unyielding hatred for western values.

To truly defend those values, our leaders must uphold a system in which we can be offended and, in turn, give offence. The alternative is that we cease to be a magnet for those fleeing from repressive and backward societies.

Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books: Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton

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