The picture above is from a humorous Facebook advertising campaign by Dr Pepper a brand of soda drink, which has always tasted, to me, like carbonated mouthwash, and is inexplicitly popular in the United States. Various stridently Christian groups are opposed to this advert as it seems to condone evolution. It seems to have stirred up the usual hornet’s nest however they have not burned down embassies, or shot people to support their views, unlike what is happening in parts of the Muslim world.
Why? Well it’s a fine old mess, it points up fundamental differences between the West and America, and the Islamic World (for want of a better term) and in some ways exhibits a dialogue of the deliberately deaf.
Here is the foreign context ol’ Mitt really needs to get his head round before he shouts his mouth off. Again.
Free speech will always be a difficult sell to the average Mustapha in the Arab Street because there is no concept in many Islamic countries of separating church and state. And little idea what “free speech” really means.
It is difficult to get the idea over that if an American video blaspheming the prophet Mohammed, or making fun, like Dr Peppers advert of entrenched dogma, is made by a private citizen, and then is played in public or on YouTube or Facebook it does not also automatically represent the views of the government of the United States; because to the majority in the Arab street, governments have the power, and perhaps even more importantly the duty, to protect religion against attack.
Thus, if anyone in America is seen to attack Islam, and the government does not stop this, then the government of the United States must be approving of this anti-Muslim video.
Misunderstanding this has cost Mitt credibility as someone fit to deal with a difficult world.
Now of course not all Muslims believe this, but a large uneducated element does. Remember these countries, like Egypt or Libya are not politically monolithic, there are great splits and factions at work there as in any country. There is an ongoing struggle for power. The minority, who we all saw at the time of the “Arab Spring” as clean shaven, dressed in jeans and tee–shirts with unveiled girlfriends, speaking good English, were the educated westernised minority. Behind every one of these progressive city types, rise a vast number of his and her peasant, uneducated, illiterate, brethren. Within this mass, there exist forces who find western ideals of democracy, the entire concept of women’s rights, equal education for girls, health rights, abortion, support of homosexuals, utterly, utterly abhorrent. Their leaders find the liberal thrust of the west threatening to their own positions and power; even if it only undermines their being pater familias of their small domestic worlds. So their leaders will use this stupid film and the indignation of the masses for perceived insults against their founder Mohammed, to drive down the democratic impetus and entrench their own ultra-conservative views. They seek to win their internal arguments by displays of violence and aggression as much to cow and awe their fellow countrymen and women as to make a point to the USA. An America, which is seen by many as the supporter of the previous dictators in their countries as much as any kind of recent help in their struggle for freedom. And that is how we should read the riots of the last few days.
Being rude to the religious has no history in the Islamic world, and America with her democratic principles, is a revolutionary force in this part of the world. The American way is seen by many as a complete upheaval in their world view. But, America in the last decade has let down her good intentions of democracy and extension of human rights and sufferance, by her own foolish actions in becoming involved in wars which had no foundation of legality, assassinations in friendly or neutral countries, huge civilian losses of life in those wars and well publicised acts of tactless insensitivity to the faiths of others. Add in torture, war crimes and imprisonment without trial, and America has a long way to go to win back significant influence. Her previous generous support of the very dictators that the uprisings condemned does not assist her in pressing the progressive elements of her case. Were America to ride back on her abuses, and take a more considered approach to the Muslim world as a whole there might be hope for improvement in this area. By his rush to the microphones this week Romney doesn’t appear to be that hope.
Still, I will leave with this delight which, were the west as sensitive as the Muslim world, would never see the light of day. And no, I do not know who composed it or if it is spoof or not, it doesn’t matter it’s just a joke.
Copyright David Macadam 2012