Monday, September 17, 2012

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Hidden Causes of the Muslim Protests

By Robert Wright
Share2 Sep 16 2012, 4:28 PM ET Comment What are the sources of simmering hostility toward America that helped fuel these demonstrations?
Protesters gather outside the U.S. embassy in London. (Reuters)
As the Muslim protests subside, more and more people have come to realize that what seems to have sparked them--one of the worst YouTube videos ever, which is saying something--isn't what they were mainly about.
But what were they about? Here theories differ, and some of the best theories haven't been getting much attention, because they're not on the talking-points agendas of Democrats or Republicans--which means they won't be occupying much airtime on network or cable TV during an election campaign.
Ross Douthat, writing in Sunday's New York Times, embraces a theory that's true insofar as it goes: these protests often got a boost from local political jostling. For example, in Egypt the struggle "between the Muslim Brotherhood and its more-Islamist-than-thou rivals" is what led those rivals (Salafis) to call protestors onto the streets.
Fine, but since people aren't sheep (though they sometimes do a good imitation), we have to ask why the protestors responded to such calls in Egypt and elsewhere--and why sometimes the crowds swelled.

DroneStrikes2.JPGPart of the answer is that the video itself did offend people. But, as when a single offensive remark from someone you've long disliked can make you go ballistic, the explanation for this explosion goes deeper than the precipitating event. What are the sources of simmering hostility toward America that helped fuel these protests? Here is where you get to answers that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney wants to talk about and that, therefore, hardly anybody else talks about.
Below are three examples, but first the customary disclaimer: I'm not excusing any violence that American policies may have helped cause and I'm not blaming America. But when American policies have bad side effects, Americans need to talk about them.
[1] Drone strikes. Obviously, President Obama doesn't want to say anything bad about the gobs of strikes he's authorized. Neither does Mitt Romney; if you're going to spend your whole campaign calling Obama a hyper-apologetic girly boy, you can't turn around and complain that he kills too many people! But American drone strikes--which seem to always target Muslim countries, and sometimes kill civilians--are famously unpopular in the Muslim world. Note which countries tend to cluster toward the bottom of this graph from the Pew Global Attitudes Project. And watch the one-minute-clip below of my conversation on BhTV with Robert Becker, an American who lives in Cairo, taped after the protests had started. I asked him to list the most common Egyptian complaints about America, and here's what he said:

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