It seems as though the world had turned on its head the past few weeks. Incited by a deeply offensive amateur film, angry, sometimes, violent protestors across the globe have come out in large numbers. The turmoil has claimed lives and cast suspicion on the potency of the ‘Arab Spring’, with those who considered as a force for positive change now in doubt.
The whole episode is a tremendous disappointment. Yes, the video is completely idiotic and should be denounced widely. About that there can be no question. And yes, I understand protesting its content. But clearly, there is a more peaceful way to go about it. What is gained by attacking individuals and/or countries who had no hand in its production? Aren’t folks (albeit a tiny percentage of them) doing exactly what the filmmakers hoped they’d do? We must recognize that there are other factors at play – politics, social unrest, economics. But inciting violence for political gain has never ever worked in anyone’s favor. The always excellent Bill Keller of the New York Times has written a piece on the entire issue, which you can read here.
As Keller explains, the problem with these kinds of confrontations is that it riles up extremes on every side. In response to the protests, media outlets in Europe and the United States have decided to stoke the flames by producing materials that falsely paint Muslim communities in broad strokes. I was once told that sometimes the right response to vitriol is silence, and I’m realizing more and more how true that is.
The only glimmer of hope in this debacle was the Twitter response to an absurd cover story by Newsweek about ‘Muslim Rage’. #muslimrage was taken over on Twitter by some incredibly funny and witty responses from folks who recognized the stupidity in all of this. Some of my favorites in this Wired magazine article – http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/muslimrage/
Humor is not always the answer to hatred and ignorance – but it certainly is one of the most effective. An example that I love from a few years ago is the Pink Chaddi campaign. By using deceptively simple ways to draw attention to the absurdity of the situation, people often do what the media fails to with extremes – they do not give any lip service to malicious arguments. And to my mind, that works far better than mobs attacking innocent targets.