Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Caught in the Middle

“Agent Provocateur” – this was the title of an interesting op-ed piece in the NY Times today. It was interesting for a few reasons. First, it almost acknowledged the fairly obvious fact that the current “cartoon crisis” is a manufactured situation. Of course it did this by citing the opinions of average Pakistanis, but it didn’t deride them as “unbelievable conspiracy theories” as is so often done. In fact, it almost seemed sympathetic to the notion. Here is a quote toward the end of the article:

Later, over dinner, a member of my family said: "It's just racism. You act in ways that you know will provoke the extremists to start ranting and then you get bearded men frothing at the mouth, and — because those are the only images that get significant news coverage — you can then turn around and say, 'You see, all Muslims are fanatics.' "

"And that plays straight into the hand of the right wing in Europe whose greatest strength comes from racist polemic?" I finished. That really didn't seem a million miles away from suggestions of a conspiracy.

That’s beginning to get pretty close to what’s going on, certainly a lot closer than you’ll read in most news articles. While the immediate need for the provocation is almost certainly to get more popular support in Europe for the impending attack on Iran, the more general purpose is to foment the idea of a “clash of civilizations”. And the desire for this notion to gain momentum seems to come from the extremists on both sides: the increasingly fascist right wing of the western powers and the radical Islamists. And despite their public declarations of each other as the ultimate enemy, they seem to, and often do, work together; I suspect the current cartoons and ensuing riots are just such an occasion.

Earlier in the article is a quote from a school teacher, who was asked what the point of the cartoons’ provocation was:

“Whoever knows what’s going on? It’s something internal going on in those places. Or something to do with their own politics about, who knows, Iran, Israel. It could be anything.”

This reminded me, in its tone, of a quote from an Iraqi I read a while ago: “I would never have believed the Arabs to be so vicious or the Americans so merciless”. There’s a sense of helplessness, of being caught up in the middle of events that have a great, and almost universally disastrous, effect on individual lives, because of the ambitions of a small number of hostile, deluded leaders. And these disastrous results are not limited to Islamic countries; they are clearly being felt in Europe and America, where our freedom and democracy are being threatened by the very people that claim to be protecting them. I sincerely doubt, as the neocons like to claim, that our children will be singing our praises years from now.


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