The Video Was Catalyst, Not Cause, of the Middle East Unrest
Published on: September 15, 2012
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  • Ronald Ruais

    The criticism of Romney is off the mark. The time line shows that the Administration did sympathize with the alleged offended. What other facts need be known? Is Romney supposed to know the future before he reacts to the administration’s reaction? Don’t be so stupid and so ideologically blinded that you reconstruct a time line. That is beyond the pail, the pail of BS that you carry around with you.

  • It seems to me that you downplay Muslim extremism, as e.g. documented here:

  • WigWag

    I counted.

    In this short post, Adam Garfinkle uses 7 pejorative adjectives to describe the film and the filmmakers at the center of this controversy. He calls the filmmakers “evil” once and refers to them as “nut bags” twice. He refers to the film as “scurrilous” (twice) and he calls the filmmakers emotionally disturbed and dumb as dog dung.

    What I am curious about is why Adam is so exercised about the quality of the film and the motivations of the filmmakers. As he himself freely admits, the extremists in question who used the film as a “prop” to pursue their own nefarious agenda don’t give a hoot about the quality of the film; they would have been just as happy to use the film as an excuse to pursue their vendetta against modernity even if the film was a work of art. After all, Adam mentioned the violent reaction against Salmon Rushdie’s, “The Satanic Verses,” a book no more blasphemous than Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Adam could just as easily have mentioned the death threats received by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk after he published his remarkable book, “Snow” about the headscarf issue in Turkey. Similarly, Adam could have mentioned the assassination attempt against the elderly Egyptian Nobel Prize winner, Nagib Mafouz that left the author grievously injured (he was stabbed in the neck outside his home). The threats against Pamuk and the attempt on the life of Mafouz were both perpetrated by Islamic extremists; the talent of their targets or the quality of their novels was the farthest thing from the mind of these particular Islamists. If Adam prefers to stick to the genre of film, he could have mentioned the murder of Theo Van Gogh, a highly respected Dutch artist who was murdered by Islamic extremists for the crime of producing a film (in partnership with Ayan Hirsi Ali) that some Muslims found objectionable. The fact that Van Gogh was a high respected artist (and a relation of Vincent Van Gogh) instead of a hack doesn’t seem to have concerned his murderer at all. So again, I wonder, why Adam is so exercised about the quality of “The Innocence of the Muslims” or inclined to excoriate the motivations of the filmmaker.

    Considering the fact that the film (if in fact a feature length film even exists) hasn’t been released yet, what makes Adam so convinced that it will be of horrendous quality? I watched the trailer; it looked ridiculous to me; but was it really any more ridiculous than the trailers for the immensely popular and offensive movies of Sasha Baron Cohen? Is the film in question here really so much more offensive or blasphemous that the “Life of Brian;” Monte Python’s send up of the life of Jesus Christ? Has Adam ever watched Mel Brooks playing Moses?

    Adam’ strange focus on the quality of the “The Innocence of the Muslims” and the motivations of its producers is not the only curious aspect of this post. Adam says,

    “There has been much talk in recent days about coolness at the top in relations between the United States and Israel, much of it brought on by some foolish public remarks initiated by the Israeli Prime Minister.”

    The problem with Adam’s assertion about Prime Minister Netanyahu is that he fails to put the remarks that he calls “foolish” in context. Netanyahu’s intemperate remarks were made in response to a hissy fit from Secretary of State Clinton who insisted that the Obama Administration would not be setting any “red-lines” when it came to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. One can argue whether setting red-lines is strategically wise or unwise, but if the goal is to send the message to Iran that the United States is serious about preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons, is Clinton’s remark more likely to convince Iran of America’s resolve or is it more likely to convince Iran that the United States is merely paying lip service to its effort to obtain nuclear weapons? My question to Adam is simple; were Netanyahu’s remarks more “foolish” or were Clintons?

    Even more perplexing is Adam’s comment that,

    “…I have to say that the way this tragedy dropped into the presidential campaign produced a reaction by Governor Romney that is unique for its maladroitness.”

    Was Governor Romney’s reaction really “unique for its maladroitness” or was it just about as maladroit as President Obama’s Middle East policy for the past three years? How does Adam think that Romney’s comment stacks up against Obama’s theory that if only the Israelis could be induced to stop settlement expansion there would be a clear path to a resolution to Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians? Were Romney’s comments about the attack on the Libyan Embassy really so much more maladroit that Obama’s belief that his remarks in Cairo at the beginning of his Presidency would set the United States on the road to a better relationship with the Arab world? Were Romney’s comments really more maladroit than the Obama Administration’s remarks about leading from behind in Libya or Obama’s policy on Syria? What about Clinton’s comments on red-lines and Iran; weren’t they as maladroit as they come if the goal is to get Iran to take seriously America’s insistence that Iran’s nuclear weapons program must be abandoned?

    It seems to me that as maladroit as Romney’s comments may have been, it is an exageration to say that they were “uniquely” maladroit. I understand that the foreign policy glitterati found Romney’s comments objectionable but I find it very hard to believe that his remarks are likely to handicap his already long shot campaign. The comments will probably have no effect on the campaign at all, but to the extent that they do, I suspect that they will represent a net positive for the Governor.

    Romney is running for President; not Pundit in Chief. Given his expertise, I don’t doubt for a moment Adam’s insight that,

    “Muhammad is understood by Muslims not just as a prophet but as a triple master: a tribal head, a war chief, and an arbiter. His unique qualities to this day resonate very deeply in Arab cultures: Muhammad is a model of personal emulation, the quintessential symbol of piety, compassion, dignity and leadership. All of this is described in detail and at length in the sira literature, the epi-biographical narratives about the life of Muhammad. It is the duty of all Muslims to learn as disciples from their masters, whether in divine matters or in everyday matters.”

    I am sure that Romney’s Middle East advisors like Dan Senor understand this as well as Adam does. What I do doubt is that it is possible or even appropriate for Romney to provide this level of nuance when critiquing Obama’s Middle East policies. The point that Romney was trying to convey was that Obama’s instinct is to apologize for American power. Romney is correct that Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism and a debate about American exeptionalism is perfectly fair game in a Presidential election. The fact that Romney necessarily used a short-hand device to make his point is both understandable and entirely acceptable. To the extent that it matters at all, it is likely to win Romney votes not lose him votes.

    This brings me to the strangest part of Adam’s post; his anecdote about growing up in Virginia during his youth. He tells his story to support the proposition that just because the “vast majority of bicycle thieves in that neighborhood were black did not mean that the vast majority of blacks were thieves.” As a metaphor for Islamic extremism, Adam’s anecdote fails.

    Very few Americans believe that all or even most Muslims are terrorists or extremists. Surely most Americans understand that the vast majority of Muslims want the same things out of life that they do; especially security, prosperity and peace. But most Americans understand that Islamic extremism is a major problem not a minor problem. They understand that the number of Muslims who believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories number not in the hundreds or the thousands but in the hundreds of thousands or millions. They understand that anti Semitic and anti Christian beliefs are not held by a tiny number of loud Egyptians whose decibel level dramatically exceeds their numbers, but that these beliefs are held by wide swaths of Egyptian society.

    The question is what is the best way to deal with this reality; the answer isn’t obvious and people of good will can disagree. While most African Americans don’t steal bicycles and most Muslims don’t blow up pizza parlors or murder ambassadors, is it really wise to pretend that criminality isn’t pervasive in African American inner city neighborhoods? Is it really wise to pretend that in the 21st century, terrorism isn’t mostly an Islamic phenomenon?

    I think that for many Americans that is the crux of the debate. A good case argument can be made that Obama, Clinton and those who share their views aren’t willing to prosecute the campaign against Islamic extremism as vigorously as they should because they are so willing to find excuses for extremism in the social milieu of the extremists. These same people in the 1970s and 1980s were unwilling to use all of the tools of law enforcement against the bicycle thieves in Halls Hill because they were paralyzed by their focus on what they thought the root causes of crime in that community were.

    My take away from the episode that we are discussing here is that ultimately Prime Minister Netanyahu is entirely correct to have the sense of urgency that he does. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, many of the unstable nations where the anti-American demonstrations are taking place will feel a need to acquire nuclear weapons of their own. Sunni Muslim nations that provide an illusion of stability may, in fact, be far less stable than they seems at first glance.

    Will America be safe when Islamic nations subject to the mob possess nuclear weapons? Doesn’t the recent anti-American violence make stopping Iran more important than ever?

    We know what Obama and Clinton think about this; they don’t set red-lines. I just find it very surprising that Adam finds Romney’s statement more bizarre than Obama’s policies.

  • Pedro Marquez

    What WigWag said.

  • Kolya Krece

    Perhaps Adam should nominate himself for the the job of speech tzar in the next Obama administration. He could then formulate an amendment to the US constitution so culturally sensitive mandarins like himself could regulate the speech of the rest of us. It’s for our own good of course.

  • WigWag

    Speaking of remarks that are unique for maladroitness we have Maureen Dowd’s column in today’s New York Times,

    It seems that Dowd thinks that Dan Senor is a slithering neocon using his magical powers of mind control to put words in the mouths of Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. Like the Devil in the form of a slithering serpent manipulating the innocent Eve, it seems that in Dowd’s view, Romney and Ryan are little more than clay in the hands of their Jewish sculptors like Senor. What’s the goal of Senor and his band of neocons? Apparently Dowd is convinced that the goal is simple; to drain the United States of it’s precious bodily fluids all in the interest of promoting the nefarious desires of the Jews.

    None of it would be so disturbing if Dowd was a nobody but she’s not; she’s one of the most celebrated columnists in the United States.

    What can Dowd do for an encore? I’m waiting for her column on matzah and the blood of Christian children.

  • R.C.

    I have not seen the film.

    I have seen the trailer, and observe from it that the production values of the film are bad. I mean, they are This-Could-Have-Been-My-Kid’s-Middle-School-Drama-Class-Project bad.

    So, okay, not well-done art.


    Are the specific allegations/insinuations made against Mohammed accurate?

    I ask this question because I don’t know. I don’t know what misbehaviors by Mohammed are depicted in this film. I know that he misbehaved in many ways (the classic example being taking the six year old as wife and deflowering her at nine) and I assume that the film depicted these.

    Did the film also depict anything not true?

    Frankly my attitude is, with respect to valid criticism of Mohammed, the truth hurts. The guy was no prophet; he was someone who stitched together garbled secondhand Christianity, garbled secondhand Judaism, and some of the tribal Arab demonology, into a very robust meme, which was customized to justify Mohammed’s warlord-ism. Mohammed, in short, was Shaka Zulu in Arabia, with a bit of Joseph Smith thrown in.

    A movie which said all that quite explicitly is going to offend Muslims. Sorry. Get used to it like Jews and Christians and everyone else.

    Now, if Mohammed was depicted doing something he didn’t do, then that’s an injustice by the filmmakers.

    And of course inflicting such a poor-quality film on the public is an injustice.

    But I don’t see good cause to lambaste and vilify the filmmakers on content grounds without first making the case that the content was inaccurate.

    For that, we need a list: What does the film allege, and how does each allegation check out, so far as we know?

  • WigWag

    “I know that he misbehaved in many ways (the classic example being taking the six year old as wife and deflowering her at nine) and I assume that the film depicted these.” (RC at September 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm)

    RC, it pays to be careful when applying contemporary standards of propriety to historical figures; especially those who lived centuries in the past. Many critics of Islam refer to the incident that you bring up, but in fact the type of arrangement that you mention was common in the West as recently as a few hundred years ago.

    By way of example, Catherine of Aragon was betrothed to the heir to the English throne, Prince Arthur, by her parents, the very Roman Catholic Ferdinand and Isabella, when she was only three years old. She married Arthur who was probably homosexual when she was 15; Arthur died five months later. The Royal families of both Spain and England were insistent that the a marriage uniting the families take place and after dispensation was obtained from the Pope (the Pope granted the dispensation based on Catherine’s claim that she and Arthur never consummated the marriage; hence the probability that Arthur was homosexual), Henry was engaged to Catherine when he was only 11. When he turned 14 (and he was legally able) Henry rejected the marriage to the much older Catherine but he finally agreed to marry her when he assumed the throne at 18.

    An even more recent example is provided by the fifteenth child of Maria Theresa; Marie Antoinette who became the bride of the Dauphin of France. Negotiations between the Hapsburgs and the French for her betrothal to the future Louis XVI began in 1765 when Marie was 10; she ultimately married the Dauphin when she was 15.

    I hope you take my point; the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis took place less than 250 years ago; Mohammad lived almost 14 centuries ago. Applying contemporary standards of sexual propriety to his actions just doesn’t make sense.

    It is also only fair to point out that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have notions about sexual activity that may seem bizarre when measured against contemporary Western standards. One example is Judaism’s strange concern with menstruating women. Another is Christianity’s insistence that the mother of Jesus was a virgin (not to mention the Roman Catholic Church’s mandate for Priestly celibacy).

    Two other examples you might reflect on are contained in Genesis 19:1-11 (Lot offers his daughters up for a gang rape rather than allowing the rampaging Sodomites to have homosexual sex with the angels disguised as human visitors) and Genesis 19:30-38 (Lot’s daughters get him drunk and engage in sexual intercourse with him with the express hope of getting pregnant.) Down through the ages, Jewish and Christian sages have attempted to come up with rationalizations for these bizarre stories. The real explanation is that what seems bizarre and horrendous to us now simply wasn’t viewed as bizarre or horrendous when these stories were written. Measured against the actions of Lot and his daughters, the story that you mention about Muhammad seems downright benign.

    A belief held by some Islamists that seems bizarre to many westerners is the idea that religious martyrs are rewarded with intense sexual pleasures in Paradise through the good offices of willing virgins.

    Whenever I read in the newspaper about an Islamic suicide bomber sure that he will reap his heavenly sexual rewards, I am reminded of the famous poem by Andrew Marvell; “To His Coy Mistress.” Marvel was one of John Milton’s closest friends and he is partially responsible for convincing the Restorationist authorities not to execute Milton. By far the most famous line in the poem comes at the end of the end of the second stanza. It reads,

    “The graves a fine and private place, but none I think do their embrace.”

    Obviously, Marvell had never met an Islamic suicide bomber convinced that his surest path to sexual satisfaction was to strap himself full of explosives designed to blow himself up and anyone else he came in contact with on a Jerusalem bus or a Tel Aviv pizza parlor.

    If you have not read it, I highly recommend the poem to you. A good rendition can be found here,

    In the poem the narrator is doing his best to convince his coy mistress (or, to be more precise, the coy young lady that he would like to be his mistress) that the time has come for her to succumb to his advances. The argument he uses that is that in the fullness of time they will age and die; her beauty will fade and disintegrate and his lust will abate and turn to ashes. The time for their sexual rendezvous has arrived; they need to get it on before it’s too late. Specifically he says,

    But at my back I always hear
    Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
    And yonder all before us lie
    Deserts of vast eternity.
    Thy beauty shall no more be found,
    Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
    My echoing song; then worms shall try
    That long preserv’d virginity,
    And your quaint honour turn to dust,
    And into ashes all my lust.
    The grave’s a fine and private place,
    But none I think do there embrace.

    It’s hard to imagine a world view more different from this than the world view of the young Jihadis convinced that their martyrdom will be rewarded in heaven by sexual satisfaction beyond their wildest dreams. To them, the beauty of their mistresses will not disintegrate in their worm-infested marble vaults; nor shall their own lust turn to ashes and dust. Of course “they love death more than Westerners love life;” they are convinced that the sex is better there.

    Talk about a clash of civilizations.

  • Wig Wag, you are a genius, you should publish your collected comments somewhere!!!

  • Tom

    If I may point out some context for WigWag’s comments on sexuality in the Bible…

    Lot is not presented as heroic, and the incestuous relationship he was with his daughters leads to the production of some of Israel’s enemies. So, in other words, while the story of Lot makes Muhammed seem less insane by comparison–Lot was never the hero of the piece.

  • WigWag

    Tom, Lot may not have been portrayed as a hero, but there are other examples of revered religious figures behaving in a manner that appears less than scrupulous by modern standards. For example, those who cite the example of Muhammad’s behavior that R.C. mentioned in his comment never mention the example set by Lot’s uncle, Abraham.

    I understand that Muslims view their Prophet as the most unique figure to ever walk the earth in a somewhat similar way to the manner in which Christians view Jesus (although Jesus is venerated as a
    deity while Muhammad is not), but there are other religious figures of great consequence to Jews, Christians and Muslims; Abraham is one of the best examples. Does Abraham’s conduct pass the smell test if the standards we are rating him by are 21st century western standards?

    Think about it; Abraham married his half sister. That’s usually frowned on today. On two separate occasions he insisted that Sarah refrain from mentioning that he was her husband; he instructed her to report that he was her brother. This may have saved Abraham’s life and earned him good treatment but on one occasion (during their sojourn in Egypt) it probably got Sarah raped. Most 21st century Americans would consider a neighbor who behaved this way to at best be a cad.

    Then there was the question of Abraham having sexual relations with Hagar, his wife’s maid. To make matters worse, he was 86 at the time and Hagar was less than half his age. I suppose that Abraham’s behavior was mitigated by the fact that he had Sarah’s permission (at least that’s what the Bible tells us) but I think most contemporary westerners would conclude that this type of behavior is highly unethical. How long ago was it that the press reported that former Governor Schwartzenegger had impregnated the former nanny of his children. It’s true that he didn’t have his wife’s permission and Schwartzenegger wasn’t 86 but exactly how different was the behavior of the biblical patriarch from the behavior of the former governor of California?

    Nobody thinks less of Abraham because his sexual behavior while appropriate to his time is not appropriate to ours. Yet critics of Islam insist on judging Muhammad’s behavior not by standards of his time but by contemporary standards.

    My question is why?

  • Tom

    I take issue with your next-to-last paragraph. Abraham ended up being the father of Israel, but again, it is made very clear that not all of his actions are to be viewed positively–the Hagar incident and the two times when he tried to pull the “my wife is my sister” gambit in particular, considering all the problems those caused. Also, perhaps I’m reading a bad translation, but in the version I have, Sarai’s ancestry is never specified. That his behavior is oftentimes reprehensible is made very clear.
    Now, I must confess that I am not altogether familiar with the Koran. How are Muslims to think of Muhammad’s behavior?

  • WigWag

    “Also, perhaps I’m reading a bad translation, but in the version I have, Sarai’s ancestry is never specified…” (Tom; September 21, 2012 at 4:13 am)

    Genesis 20:2 (KJV)

    Abraham speaking to Abimelech,

    “And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.”

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