Friday, September 21, 2012

Intriguing Insights

I don't normally write about political issues but lately a question has been on my mind.

"Why do they do that?"

And its corollary:  "I just don't get it."

I'm talking about the wild eruptions in the Middle East over the (dumb) (little) film on YouTube.

And I'm sure many of you share my confusion.

We think, Ok, these are human beings, like us.  They get up in the morning and go to work.  They like a good meal.  They worry about money.  They want the best for their children.  They hope for a good night's sleep.  And obviously we are different cultures but still, maybe not that different deep down.

But the wild over-the-top anger over a film.  We just. don't. get. it.

Today as I often do I talked with my sister who is in my opinion an expert on the Middle East, being fluent in Arabic and having lived there for years.

I asked her about this.

She had some intriguing insights which I will paraphrase here that might give us all a bit more clarity.

Keep in mind, she said, that:

1. We are all subject to the mob effect, but Westerners are somewhat less so because we've been taught all our lives to think for ourselves.  In the Middle Eastern culture, it's important to think and act like the group, and children aren't usually taught to evaluate and analyze and stand alone, so they're more likely to get caught up in a group display of anger/violence without quite understanding why.

2. Remember that what looks like a big crowd on TV may not be a very big percentage of the population.  Maybe 2000 young men demonstrated in Sanaa over the film.  Sanaa is a big city.  Most people, young men included, were minding their own business and studying for tests, cooking dinner, taking temperatures, picking fruit, or driving a taxi instead of demonstrating.

Maybe kind of like the Occupy movement in the U.S.

3. The demonstrators tend to be the angry, unemployed, and disenfranchised rather than the polite, connected, mature, and responsible.

Again, possible parallels to many American demonstrations.

4. People in power are only too happy to manipulate the young and angry for their own purposes, like to divert attention from unethical political maneuverings.  Also, if you want to pull people together, America is an easy target.  You can take a lot of differing factions and unite them under the "Wrath to America" banner, a great strategy if fifteen different groups are about to rise up against the government for fifteen different reasons.

And of course the various media would never dream of exploiting or encouraging the demonstrators for their own purposes.  Surely not.

5. The Arab/Muslim culture is all about shame and honor.  You're expected to fight for the honor of your family or religion.  So if someone insults or shames either one, you're expected to do some yelling and I don't know, maybe break a few things, to show that you're doing your duty of fighting for the honor of things that matter.

I found that interesting.


  1. Dorcas, I found this post very interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Gert Slabach9/21/2012 7:08 PM

    tell your sister thanks for the insight.

  4. I appreciated the ideas you posted. An additional thought might be that in many areas of the world "Freedom of Speech" is not a concept they understand. They may assume that the US government controls everything that is filmed in this country and/or put on You Tube.

  5. This information from your sister is very helpful in trying to understand the violent reaction to the film. My brother found it on the internet, and says it's very crude and cartoon-like, bordering on silly.

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