February 07, 2006
Mobilisation and Redirection of Anger: The Emergence of a Common Message
To follow up on the exposition of the Salafi origins of the cartoon controversy, it is worthwhile to examine the unfolding address of religious figures and institutions in the Arab world and their follow up on on the manufactured and delayed eruption of the problem. A few weeks into the cartoon fiasco, there has emerged a clear message on behalf of religious figures and hardliners. The reduction of the cartoon controversy (or its inflation) into a matter of loyalty to the Prophet and Islam has developed into a campaign to present the whole affair as an indication that the West rejects the Islamic World. Overlooking the manner of demonstration called upon, both extreme parties (the Saudi Bin Baz organisation for example below) and non-official moderates (such as Amr Khaled) have ultimately seized upon the incident redirecting and channelling the anger into creating a sense of solidarity and identity.
The reaction on the part of religious figures across the Arab World, official and otherwise, has come in a disappointingly uniform package. The address through the media has unfolded in two stages over the past two weeks. Initially, as they appeared on channels such as Iqra and Al-Majd, the message was a mobilising one. In a previous post our own Bint expressed perplexity over the fact that these broadcasts were merely a statement (to the average Arab Muslim) of the bleeding obvious as they heaped praises on the Prophet. The purpose of these almost primary school religious class sermons was more than just a knee-jerk expression of love but an attempt to motivate. The issue of depicting as such was rarely examined in much depth as stories demonstrating his sublimity were followed by what scholars and clerics presented as religious evidence that if the feeling of aggrievement and offence were not enough, then there is evidence from the Quran and the Sunna to prove that the defence of the Prophet and the chastisement/punishment of infidels is incumbent upon the Muslim population. Take for example an excerpt from the very popular Egytpian preacher Amr Khaled's address to the Muslim world:
My message to the Muslim Nation and Muslim youth is, loving Allah’s Messenger, dignifying Allah’s messenger, defending Allah’s messenger and living on the path of Allah’s messenger is a duty and a responsibility that we will be asked about on the Day of Judgment. O youth, there is a responsibility resting on our shoulders. O Life-Makers, there is a responsibility resting on our shoulders. O ladies, there is a responsibility resting on our shoulders that dignifying Allah’s Messenger is a trust that we will present to him on the Day of Judgment when we meet him at the hawd. We will go to him (SAWS) and tell him we are your ummah, we have fulfilled our duty. Perhaps we may have been wrongdoers, perhaps we sinned and perhaps we did not always work perfectly to reform and revive your ummah but we could not but dignify you and make the whole world dignify you. This is a responsibility that we return to you on the Day of Judgment that you may use to intercede for us and allow us to drink from your hawd while patting us happily. You (SAWS) would then say to us, yes, you made mistakes and committed sins, but dignifying me was so dear to you. Then you would make us drink from your hawd.
The content of such messages even though ostensibly repetetive, unoriginal and regurgitated, does not fail to instill a sense of cause, one that perhaps several moderates would not have adopted had they not been bombarded with emotive media messages by religious figures who to many are the legitimate voice of informed religiosity. After this message has been established, by moderates unaffiliated with official religious institutions such as Amr Khaled, and/or hard liners such as the Bin Baz (long the head mufti of Saudi Arabia) followers, a slowly unfolding second message could be heard.
This second message seemed to smack of the Salafist tendencies insightfully outlined by The Lounsbury. My colleague's approach was to examine the conspiratorial Salafist genesis of the issue but what is emerging now is a universal tapping into the insecurities of Muslims to wrest them away from the West and its infatuations. The general recent Islamic re-awakening spearheaded by young trendy preachers has focused on Muslim youth and the lost moderate middle class in an attempt to inspire these sectors not necessarily into a fundamentalist revolution but into forging a sense of loyalty and belonging to the Salaf (those who have preceded, namely the Prophet, his disciples and the Caliphs) and the Umma, the Mother Nation of Islam. The blatant severance of links to the West is not as apparent as it is in more Wahhabi-like tendencies but there is still a clear message that the rennaisance of the Islamic people through religion can only be in a direction away from the West.
A verse from the Quran that has been oft quoted in the past few weeks is:
In case your fathers, and your sons, and your brethren, and your spouses, and your kinsmen, and riches that you have scored [Literally: committed] and commerce whose slackening you are apprehensive of, and dwellings you are satisfied with, in case these are more beloved to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way, then await till Allah comes up with His Command; and Allah does not guide the immoral people
A clear suggestion that all the Arab Muslim nation's hopes for development are dashed without Allah's assistance and guidance, which cannot be granted while we sit idly as his Prophet's (who should be dearer to us than any material accoutrement) status is desecrated.
Tapping into a very real sense of inferiority, such campaigns paint the disadvantaged, disaffected state of Arab Muslims today as a function of an enslavement to West and its alien philosophies. At its most moderate this campaign depicts the West as a civilisation at a material advantage but spiritually vacant and hence doomed. A culture that Muslims can benefit from materialistically but ultimately must reject because of its core values of secularism and personal freedom before religion. At its worst this address rejects the West as rotten to the core and aims to reclaim Muslims from its temptations even trying to interpret verses from the Quran suggesting that the coming of the false Messiah (Al Maseeh Al-Dajaal) is nothing but a metaphor for the false message of the West that seduces Muslims away from their heritage and faith.
The nexus around which the entire attempt to engender some sense of dynamism and self-respect (outside of government official activity, feeble due to preoccupation with political calculations) revolves is the ability to paint the West in terms of the other. The cartoons provide a perfect example of the lack of synergy between Islam and the West. Whether it is to foward a personal agenda or to instill in Arab Muslims some sense of nationhood (always best sparked off via confrontation) and identity, Arab religious address to the public has tapped into a sense of orphancy. Abandoned and disappointed by their blood governments, insulted and rejected by their adopted ones, the straight and narrow path of unadulterated consistent Islamic loyalty has been presented to the disenfranchised as the only one to take. Whether it has come from orthodox Imams during the sermon after Friday prayer in Mecca or modern trendy often anti-establishment preachers, the message was initially to forge a firm sense of loyalty and finally to herd back those who thought they could have a foot in both camps back into the arms of their Islamic heritage, standing tall with arms open welcoming back its misled children.
Postulation on the scale of the reaction, whether the crisis will blow over or escalate or whose problem terrorism is, is so far, auxilliary to the fact that there is only one party that seems eager to define its very survival and success in terms of the rejection of the other. That suggests that ultimately the weaker, more penetrable one is the former and that the infiltration of the Islamic Arab world by Western values (and not the cartoons and their content as such) is the real perceived long term threat here.
Posted by Meph at February 7, 2006 12:58 PM
Filed Under: Islam & Politics
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What makes me uncomfortable now is the alignment of religious messaging and political opportunism. Makes the situation even more volatile if some governments are encouraging violent protests, rather than repressing them.
Does anyone have a sense of the reaction in Egypt or are they too preoccupied with the ferry disaster?
Posted by: eerie at February 7, 2006 10:23 PM
No, they are not so very preoccupied with the ferry disaster as far as I can tell. They are more preoccupied with the Africa games. But I live in Cairo and work in a wealthy neighborhood, I am sure the dynamic may be different elsewhere. This weekend I am going to Shobra to visit the in-laws so if I notice anything related to the cartoons besides just sort of general chit-chat based on news headlines, I'll let you guys know.
Posted by: Anna in Cairo at February 8, 2006 02:24 AM
There is not violent protest encouragement by the Saudi government at least. A long tradition of prohibiting demonstrations and the fear that there may be other genies let out of bottles has ensured that. Indeed most monarchies in the Gulf have not been encouraging. There are some advantages to limiting of poilitical freedoms after all.
Posted by: Bint at February 8, 2006 05:31 AM
" that there may be other genies let out of bottles"
Indeed, that is the thrust of the "Chinese" post of mine, but here more succinctly said.
Posted by: matthew hogan at February 8, 2006 08:32 AM
there's been a demonstration in cairo & the shaykh of al-azhar has exhorted muslims to boycott danish products. as has some gov't newspaper (al-ahram? one of them ...).
just wait 'till egypt looses against ivory coast in the world cup final & someone "discovers" that the coach has danish ancestors ...
i would still argue that the attacks that HAVE happened so far had been done either because the respective regimes - syria & iran - have allowed them to happen, or that for internal reasons the security apparatus was not willing/able to hold the rioters back - lebanon.
in egypt, i think the situation is similar to that in the gulf or the maghreb - the regime is disallowing violent protests since it is afraid of opening a bottle of genies.
Posted by: raf* at February 8, 2006 05:41 PM
I wrote that the overblown reaction is tied to a revenge fantasy against the West that is prevalent in the Middle East. I'd be interested in your reaction.
You can view the column here:
Posted by: Nibras Kazimi at February 8, 2006 06:55 PM