It's been three years since Barack Obama's Cairo speech, 11 years since 9-11 and the onset of efforts to reform Iraq and Afghanistan. If Americans and others still need to learn about the Middle East, they might focus on continuing riots over the Muhammad film ("Innocence of Muslims"), topped up by protests against cartoons published in a French magazine.
The latest wrinkle in the protests is the burning of movie theaters in Pakistan, although it is unlikely that any of those theaters were showing the film. Another 15 dead in that country, where the violence against the insult to Islam pits Muslim against Muslim.
(Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. On one of my visits a man by the name of Herbert Feldman sought me out. He came to India as a British soldier in World War II, stayed on, converted in order to marry a Muslim, and wanted to talk to me about Israel.)
Further insight into the clash of civilizations comes from comparing Muslim protests against perceived insults with Israeli protests against the ever more constant phenomenon of anti-Semitic cartoons, films, and school lessons that are standard in Palestine, Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere. For examples, click here, here, and here.
For examples of violent protests throughout Israel against those items, you don't have to click. Their absence makes the point.
A former student who attended a conference of Israeli high school civics teachers reported that the emphasis of most participants was the need to emphasize the civil rights of the country's Arabs. There is some concern that leftists have taken over civics education.
A parallel squabble about the political science department at Ben Gurion University concerns the teachers' tilt toward "post-Zionism" or "anti-Zionism." The Council of Higher Education, responding to a report from a committee of international experts, has moved toward a suspension of the department on account of its departure from a conventional curriculum. University officials are standing by the principle of academic freedom. So far no burning of buildings or other violence, but argument will continue toward the opening of Fall Semester after the holidays.
A Bedouin Member of Knesset initiated a suit in a Jerusalem court, asking that Google be required to block access to the Muhammad film for browsers in Israel.
According to one of the supporters of the ban,
"Islam is a religion of love, living together like brothers, and good livelihood. It's lies what they said, and anyone who said anything bad about Muhammad needs to have their tongue cut out."
Those noting that Islamic love like brothers includes cutting out the tongues of those who disagree might also have noted from one of the clicks above that a school lesson about hateful Jews and neighborly Muslims also praises parental beatings of kids who don't get the message.
The court rejected the demand for an immediate injunction against Google, and asked the parties to return after Succoth with additional briefs.
One of the judge's comments did not bode well for those wanting to prevent the film from reaching Israeli clients of Google.
"Whoever does not look for the film will not find it, so the public who would be offended by the film can avoid seeing it,"
Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations spawned an academic and journalistic industry of advocacy and criticism. Most obvious is the point that the notion of civilizations is overly simple. It overlooks variations within nations and regions said to share cultures.
That's true, but about as banal as the film provoking current protests.
"Oversimplification" is true of all theories within the social sciences. They are meant to guide rather than explain everything.
Edward Said went further than others in criticizing Huntington, and expressed his own version of an Arab's tolerance for dispute. He described Huntington's idea as a "vulgar notion," "invidious racism" and "Hitlerian science."
Israelis need no reminder of multi-culturalism within their Jewish communities. Secular, religious, and ultra-Orthodox Jews squabble with one another as well as among themselves, along with settler activists against Jews who see everything over the 1967 border as Palestinian..
Neither Huntington nor Said are alive, so we don't know how they would comment about responses to the Muhammad film and the French cartoons.
While both American and French sources are lamenting the film and cartoons, and defending the right of free expression, American and French embassies and consulates throughout the Muslim world are giving their personnel a vacation, and in some cases transporting senior diplomats and employees' families out of those countries. The German Interior Ministry put on hold a poster campaign meant to counter radical Islam, out of concern that now it would infuriate the 4 million Muslims living in the country.
Those of us living close to the borders of civilization (Isaweea is 200 meters from these fingers) need no reminders of the differences. There was a fire fight Friday on the Egyptian border that resulted in the deaths of one Israeli soldier and three Arabs. It is not yet clear if they were Bedouin from the Sinai, or Palestinians coming from Gaza through the Sinai. Their munitions suggest that they were on their way to whatever mayhem they could create within Israel.
Another clash of civilizations is likely to erupt when Israeli delegates raise the issue of Jewish refugees at a meeting of the United Nations. The topic is an old one, which Israel raises every so often in order to remind the world that the matter of Middle Eastern refugees is more complex than in the Palestinian narrative.
The well-known difference (parallel to the difference between Muslim and Jewish responses to offensive films and cartoons) is that Israel has absorbed Jewish refugees. They and their descendants have reached everywhere in the society, including my own family. Arab countries have preserved the misery of Palestinians by denying citizenship and the opportunities that come with it. Squalid neighborhoods, called refugee camps, are useful to repressive regimes in their fight against Israel.
Obama and Romney are doing their best to be politically correct with respect to freedom of expression, insults to Islam, and Muslim violence. The issues are on the campaign agenda, although outside the purview of the presidency. US Courts may have to express themselves about the film. The White House can avoid dealing with French cartoons.
Another clash of civilizations is the tiff between Bibi and Barack over Iran's nuclear program. It is not simply a dispute about when to stop the Iranians. It is a more profound difference in perspective between a small and vulnerable country under the shadow of the Holocaust and close to Iran, against a large and distant country whose leadership is tired of wars in the Middle East, would rather argue about the domestic economy, and may only be paying lip service to the Jews.
From reading the media as well as some emotional notes in my mailbox, it appears that American Jews are lining up pretty much where they align on other matters. Dennis Ross and Alan Dershowitz, described as "high-profile supporters of both Israel and US President Barack Obama," are among those trying to assure Israelis that "Obama has your back."
A Republican group, not exactly under the control of Mitt Romney, featured Bibi in a clip it has broadcast in Florida, where he is not so obliquely criticizing Obama for failing to clarify what he would do about Iran.
That has produced heightened criticism of Netanyahu for violating the Israeli norm of staying neutral with respect to American politics. That, in turn, brought disclaimers of involvement from the Prime Minister, as well as a visit in Chicago between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who most likely is still in touch with the White House.
According to the Chicago Sun Times,
"Emanuel and Barak -- friends for some 18 years -- lunched in Chicago's City Hall and the mayor presented him with a six-pack of Chicago's Goose Island 312 beer."
With friends like that, we'll hope for the best, despite clashes of civilizations.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at September 22, 2012 06:24 AM