The Angry Muslim Archetype

Steve Coll turns the mirror on the Western commentariat:

[T]he notion that a generalized Muslim anger about Western ideas could explain violence or politics from Indonesia to Bangladesh, from Iran to Senegal, seemed deficient. It was like arguing that authoritarian strains in Christianity could explain apartheid, Argentine juntas, and the rise of Vladimir Putin. Nevertheless, the meme sold, and it still sells. Last week, Newsweek’s cover splashed “Muslim Rage” in large type above a photograph of shouting men. Inside came advice on how to survive “Islamic hate.” Cable news channels—Fox and MSNBC alike—showed similar images, hour after hour. By now, many Americans must find nothing remarkable about the conflation of Muslim faith and contorted faces.

Along the same lines, Hussein Ibish, responding to comments by Stanley Fish, rejects the idea that “free speech can only be the product of Western, and indeed, Protestant political, social and intellectual traditions”:

It is solipsistic, if not narcissistic, to imagine that—because the culturally-specific features of contemporary American liberalism (that, after all, in our own history was long in the making and is still not fully accomplished) derive from certain Protestant Western European traditions—this is therefore the only context in which such values can be firmly rooted. By pretending to “understand” the illiberal attitude of what he imagines the protesters’ mindset must be, Fish simultaneously privileges the American, Protestant and Western traditions (in that order) and implicitly dismisses all others as belonging to different experiences that cannot produce an adherence to values such as free speech.

Modernity may have originated in the West, but it no longer belongs exclusively to the West. Almost all existing societies participate in and help shape it.

Marc Lynch makes related points:

[T]he Arab uprisings make it harder for a single issue to dominate the public agenda than in the past. In 2006, the Danish Cartoons could dominate politics for weeks on end because it provided a useful political issue for a variety of Islamists, and most Arab regimes found it convenient to have popular anger directed at Western targets. But now there are so many other issues competing for space, and far less patience for any attempt to monopolize the arena. Syria demands attention at the regional level, of course, but local issues are the most potent challengers for attention. In Yemen a few days ago, for example, more than 10,000 came out to demand an end to the immunity for prosecution granted to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Jordanians are protesting about new internet restrictions. Egyptians and Tunisians have a lot on their political mind. What is more, intense domestic political competition means that other political forces have little interest in allowing one Islamist trend to define the public agenda. A sign seen in Benghazi today reading “Our Revolution Will Not Be Stolen” could have stood in for the attitude across many of the region’s now well-entrenched activist communities.