Racism and Riots: Why the Protesters are Right

David Jamieson defends recent protests in the Middle East and attacks Western, liberal hypocrisy.

Another day, another racist provocation from the west directed at Muslims. And, of course, another opportunity for western politicos, journalists and assorted others to portray Muslims as irrational and intolerant when they choose to protest.

There is a long history of this vicious cycle – the most memorable example being the so called ‘Salman Rushdie affair’. The version most westerners get to hear goes like this: brave artist lampoons dangerous religion and is threatened by book burning fundamentalists. The real story is that Rushdie wrote a semi-literate anti-Muslim polemic, ‘The Satanic Verses’, which portrayed Muslim men as sexual predators and Muslim women as inviting of sexual violence.

Rushdie knew what he was doing of course; his accusations are established slanders against Muslims. Liberals were sent into a senseless frenzy by protests against the book. To be frank if I found a crowd of Jews burning copies of a book that perpetrates the blood libel I’d pass some matches, my attitude to the ‘Verses’ is much the same.

Our controversy is over a similarly disgusting work that portrays Muslims as infantile, sexually perverse, violent and insane. But this is not the full context for the rioting at embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. These countries have long suffered under the heel of the United States – Libya is currently the subject of violent U.S intrusion, Egypt labours under a U.S backed military dictatorship and Yemen suffers near constant bombing.

Imagine, then, the reaction in the protesters minds to Hillary Clinton’s claim that the film is “no excuse for violence” (what excuses does she have?). And no wonder U.S officials are investigating whether the killing of a U.S ambassador in Benghazi is actually a more routine political assassination un-connected to the film.

Muslims around the world have ample reason to protest outside western embassies and this vile piece of hate cinema is just more fuel for the justified fire.

29 Responses to “Racism and Riots: Why the Protesters are Right”

  1. Gripnik says:

    Of course it would be wrong to criticise Muslims in any general way as this would be bigoted (not racist as the Muslim faith is practiced by many nationalities) and ridiculous.
    However it is perfectly reasonable to criticise violent acts or acts of terror no matter who they are committed by. We should be able to do this without fear of harm or the smear of being called anti Muslim.
    I believe that the appalling American foreign policy which I agree has done so much harm in recent years does not excuse reciprocal evil.
    The film in question was made by a bigoted individual not by the west in it’s collective sense. These are complex issues which are not helped by generalisations and lazy argument.

  2. johng says:

    I stuck this up on my facebook so thought it only fair to post it here. Importantly for me David’s article symbolised what I think is a wider tendency rather then something I wanted to single out as peculiarly terrible:

    Discussion: some comrades are arguing as if the demonstrations in Egypt and Libya are in some sense anti-imperialist, one commentator on the left goes further and actually suggests ‘they are right’ and that we’re on their side against Islamophobia etc.

    Its certainly true that the US are not happy about having a diplomat killed or about the demonstrations in Cairo.

    Its all part of a wider reality, denied by some, whereby the US has begun to lose control of the region. But I think its quite wrong to argue as if those demonstrating are in any way part of the left or part of any possible progressive force.

    These represent the most reactionary currents of even Islamic politics and in fact represent a very small minority. Its the blowing up of their significance we should criticise in terms both of Islamophobia and the drumbeat to war:

    Its true that they might pull wider anger behind them. But this is a bad thing not a good thing, and in all those countries a blow to lefts which actually exist and are attempting to create space for themselves in a new situation.

  3. David Jamieson says:

    Gripnik – Islamophobia is racism because its logic is racial rather than theological. There is nothing ‘evil’ about rioting against racism – and your reference to ‘acts of terror’ are suspicious to say the least.

    John – How is it exactly that attacking the U.S in Libya is a blow to the left? You’ve lost me.

  4. Omar says:

    What I’m seeing is a recruitment drive for the far-right/Saudi based Salafist movement across the Arab world and down into Sudan. A massive polarisation of communities the kind that extremist movements from Israeli settlers to Salafist groups like to see. Its going to hurt Egypt particularly in terms of the MB. As they try to call for order and criticise the video the Salafists are gonna be all over the streets trying to whip up ideological resentment as anything the MB do can easily be portrayed as weak. Then the Salafists pick up numbers on the street as they demand Egypt uses this to cut all ties with the USA. Still good tear up in Khartoum though. THREE Embassies mashed in one day. No deaths.

  5. johng says:

    Well David ask a Copt from Egypt. I’m sure they’d tell you. Look the point of my post was not to score points. It was to sound a warning. I would recommend reading Chris Harmon’s old piece (which in some ways is normative for all of us) again. I’m very worried that if things turn out bad (I hope they don’t) then the bulk of the left will retreat from the position Chris outlined. Our scenarios should always include the worse.

  6. Tom Webster says:

    While I agree with the overall sentiment of the issues of misrepresentation, often deliberate misrepresentation, the waters need muddying further. As far as the homogenous ‘West’ is concerned, on fb alone, there have been posts from 98% with pictures of Fred Phelps, the homophobic baptist, Breivik, Todd Akins and Terry Jones the pastor who encouraged people to burn the Koran and is now promoting the movie, on top of four predictable Muslim hate-figures encouraging people to see neither as representative of their respective religions, and an image from Occupy Wall St apologising and stressing that ‘this hateful video’ is neither America nor Christianity.

  7. innes says:

    Surely the problem is the focus of the western media on this film as opposed to the other underlying causes namely imperialism,it would be more useful for the left to point this out rather than play into the western media’s presentation by supporting the 21st century equivalent of book burning, call me a liberal if you like but I’m really not cool with that.

  8. Andrew says:

    This article is offensively bad.

    The Rushdie point is not about whether or not the book is offensive or not, it possibly was, I havent read it, but whether or not people have the right to challege and offend, which they do.

    If Rushdie’s book is offensive then surely the response was dramatically more offensive? No writer should ever fear for their life because of a book they wrote, least of all a work of fiction that few of the people up in arms had actually read.

    I haven’t seen the film in question, I’ve watched parts of it, but regardless of how little merit it has that doesn’t make any of the protests ‘right’. How highly do you value free speech? You’re right that there are legitmaite reasons to protest outside embassies, but there is absolutely no argument to say that this film is one of them, don’t be so stupid.

  9. David Jamieson says:

    Innes I do exactly what you suggest in the article.

    Andrew no one is challenging Rushdie’s rights, everyone is challenging the right of people to protest against racism – as are you. Once again, it is right to protest against racism.

  10. Rachel says:

    David, you seem not to realise that there are all sorts of different types of Muslims, with different opinions. Different political points of view, different struggles. Just like any other religious group! At any given time there are many other demonstrations going on throughout the Muslim majority countries, including by trade unionists, women, minorities. These groups will usually be in direct conflict with, for example, the Salifis who are gaining power through the protests. Even if they are all Muslim! Go figure! They often risk their lives to challenge both state and religious authorities. Yet you take a side with their enemies. Either out of belief that ‘anti-imperialism’ trumps everything, or out of sheer ignorance. For once I agree with johng – please go read some Chris Harmon.

  11. Rachel says:

    Some other interesting reading

    But mostly my back goes up when lefties start talking about ‘Muslims’ as if the reactionary ones represent all.

  12. David Jamieson says:

    Rachel – the reactionary ones? Give me a break – it is not reactionary to protest against racism, how many times? Also you’ve posted an article by liberal conspiracy – it is an utterly crappy blog. Liberals aren’t left wing, this site is – we aren’t going to agree any more than the left and the republican party are – get used to it.

  13. Dan says:

    Would you defend Christians burning embasys over something that offended their beliefs?

  14. Rachel says:

    am I banned already?

  15. Rachel says:

    Oh, maybe not.
    I wrote to David – Salafis aren’t leftwing either. That’s my point. You should try to understand what are the forces behind the protests against the film – they are different in different countries and often involve reactionary political groups trying to build power.
    Where do I protest about the racism of not seeing any distinction between different groups of brown people?

    Re the Liberal Conspiracy posting – hey, we are adults, we can read and learn from many different sources without agreeing with all of the views we encounter. In fact I suggest that you should read a little more widely before expressing such naive views.

  16. James says:

    Hi David, perhaps you should fly out to Pakistan to show these people your support. This is one of the worst fallacies of the left, the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. I fully support their right to protest, but as the death toll increases how can you support this level of violence and describe the protesters as “right”? Whilst there is nothing ‘evil’ about protesting against racism there is something ‘evil’ about the death of an innocent man. With such a sensationalist headline as well, i’d expect better from this site.

  17. David Jamieson says:

    James – the U.S ambassador was not an innocent man – but that’s by the by because his killing was nothing to do with the film. Also – nobody on the left argues that ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’ – even those who advance crappy positions, like say support for Gaddafi, take that position. Their position is that to be properly anti-imperialist you have to support the leadership of the country attacked – its wrong but there it is.

  18. DanFactor says:

    So you advocate the US ambassadors killing then David?
    In what way was he not innocent?

  19. Dan Factor says:

    So David do you think his murder was justified then?

  20. Grant says:

    First of all, Islam and Muslims are not a particular ethnic group, they are a religious group, so therefore, racism is the wrong word to use. Also, ‘Islamophobia’ it seems to me is tossed around too much by many in order to halt any legitimate criticism of fundamentalist Islam not based on prejudice, implying that the person criticising is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Finally, it does seem that you indeed justifying the murder of a U.S Ambassador, as well as fundamentally siding with religious theocratic fascists over the rights of free speech and expression, however vulgar or offensive. If you do not stand for freedom of speech, what do you stand for? Totalitarianism?

  21. David Jamieson says:

    I see this comment stream has become a compendium of every weak liberal trope going. Once again, the U.S ambassador in Libya was co-ordinating the U.S violent intrusion into the country – that is why he was killed, nothing to do with the film. Anti-Muslim sentiment is racism because it is fuelled by a racist narrative, not a debate over theology – by no means are all the protesters Salafists – in fact in some places attacks on embassies were led by left-wing students – you don’t have to be a Muslim to be against racism.

  22. Dan Factor says:

    David answer the quesiton, was the US ambassador’s murder justified?

    “Anti-Muslim sentiment is racism because it is fuelled by a racist narrative, not a debate over theology”

    Yes much of it is racist. But what about criticism of actual Islamic belief? Is that racism?

  23. David Jamieson says:

    Was the killing of the U.S ambassador justified? Yes – and I know I could face imprisonment for saying this – I don’t give a damn. The U.S ambassador in Libya was a murderous terrorist. The people of Libya have the sovereign right to deal with terrorists as they see fit. The job of confronting reactionary interpretations of Islam belongs to Muslims and them alone – our job is to confront British imperialism and the racist attitudes it spawns – period.

  24. Dan Factor says:

    Ok then would you say that to his family’s face?

    “The job of confronting reactionary interpretations of Islam belongs to Muslims and them alone.”

    By that logic confronting reactionary interpretations of Christianity belongs to Christians. Surely you would think that ridiculous.
    Tell me if a Muslim said something to you which was bigoted would you not confront it? Or would you think to do so would be racist?

  25. Grant says:

    Well i repeat, critiicism of a religion, though it can be manipulated and exploited by racists, is not racism, despite what you believe. I am sorry but that is just the facts. You can’t just go around calling things other things and changing their meaning.

    Also, like Dan, i would have to ask what exactly do you mean when you say “The job of confronting reactionary interpretations of Islam belongs to Muslims and them alone.” Are you saying that if i am not a Muslim myself, i have no right to criticism or debate certain ‘reactionary’ versions of Islam or the Koran? That seems absurd.

    By the way, though i do think personally that our country and civilisation is doing more to subtly erode free speech and expression every day, i don’t think that(yet) you will risk prison by simply saying you think someone deserved to die lol.

  26. Dan Factor says:

    Of course in order to counter the bigotry of this film one needs to make a criticism of evangelical Christianity. Surely that’s not racist!

  27. David Jamieson says:

    For the final time. Grant if you think that racism is about the colour of skin – then you don’t know what racism is. Critiques of any religion are usually futile and idiotic. Is criticism of Evangelical Christianity racist? Of course not. I hope you have noted the discontinuity – what moronic liberal call ‘hypocrisy’ – white Christian weasteners are not the victims of racism. Racism is a power relation – if you are in power you cannot be a victim of it. And before you shoot of your illiterate mouth – no islam is not in power anywhere – not in Iran or Saudi Arabia or anywhere. If you can grasp the nuances of that, which I dare say you can’t then you are half way to being sentient.

  28. Grant says:

    How do you mean Islam is not in power in Iran and Saudi Arabia? How can you say that fundamentalist versions of Shia Islam are not in power in the case of Iran, and Sunni Islam in the case of Saudi Arabia?

    Also, i do know what racism is. I grew up seeing it, and then subsequently became oppossed to it, figures like MLK and Mandela being partly inspirational in this. Racism is not something that can only be attributed to ‘power relations’. Racism is racism, whether it be from white, black, brown or yellow, and is by definition prejudice based upon ethnicity. I do not know where you get this ‘power relation’ definition stuff. By that then logically, if an ethnic minority insults, persecutes or judges a person of the ethnic majority based on their skin colour or ethnicity, presumably that is not racism, simply because they are in the minority? What kind of logic is this? Does you not see the obviously flawed reasoning in this? Racism is not a one way street. It does not matter who is in the minority or majority. What is this nonsense?

    I shall repeat also, criticism of a particular religion, be it Christianity or Islam, is not racism. How can it be?

  29. Dan Factor says:

    “Critiques of any religion are usually fuetile and idotic”.

    So you would not critique right wing Christian anti abortionists then?

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