Middle East mobs freaking the hell out over YouTube video

This story is so weird. And with every advancement this week, it just gets weirder.

"Fury about a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad tore across the Middle East after weekly prayers on Friday with protesters attacking U.S. embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at its missions," reports Reuters.

Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, 20 countries so far are involved, just three days after the bizarrely bad YouTube video triggered (or was used as an excuse for) an attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libya that killed an ambassador and three other Americans on September 11. And outrage is spreading beyond the mideast, to Muslim centers in Asia and elsewhere.

Of course, one could rightly argue that the outrage isn't really about the video—but about the fallout of years of US wars in the region. A trigger, if you will, but not the underlying cause of the conflict.

The New York Times has more:

The broadening of the protests appeared to reflect a pent-up resentment of Western powers in general, and defied pleas for restraint from world leaders including the new Islamist president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, whose country was the instigator of the demonstrations that erupted four days earlier on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Below, screengrab of a very useful Google Map of the protests, assembled by some guy named John.

Read more: Boing Boing news archive for "Innocence of Muslims."


        1.  they appear to be trying to “get their act into gear” see: #arabspring, etc.  your statement could be taken as a bit callous considering we in the west have no real idea what they have been through and the courage it took as a people to come as far as they have.

          1. Sure but I was more suggesting that any society can have their freedoms when they want them just by walking away from the current power structures. But to do that they need to be able to trust each other enough to know that the next person to take control won’t institute a dictatorship again.

          2. any society can have their freedoms when they want them just by walking away from the current power structures.

            Assuming “current power structures” have nothing to do with provision of food and shelter, and additionally are not in possession of guns and other military hardware.

    1. In this context that seems like an actually pretty accurate assessment. They hate a government that lets people insult what they care about. Much of our freedom is based off the simple idea that just because someone doesn’t like some statement doesn’t mean they or the government can censor it. 

      1. Using an unqualified “They” might be going a little overboard. I haven’t seen any estimates of how big these riots actually are and I’ve seen lots of photos of people decrying terrorism and violence in response to this whole mess.

        To some extent, “they hate our freedoms” does express the views of the Muslim Brotherhood who are in no small part motivated by their rejection of what they see as Western hedonism and depravity. However, the MB was widely repudiated when they attempted to take over governments democratically in the 80’s and 90’s. Then they tried to start a violent revolution and again alienated pretty much everyone in the Muslim world. Then we invaded Iraq and the MB started to regain some popularity.

        It’s almost as if perceptions of the West are colored by the actions of western governments in the Muslim world.

        1. I agree that one needs to be careful with an overbroad they, and essentially agree with much of the rest of your comment which does a good job of applying nuance to my possibly oversimplified remark.

        1. Freedom ultimately implies responsibility for oneself and no possibility of blaming others. Isn’t this also at the heart of all major world religions?
          If God is the blame-free individual we invent as our support and example, individual belief in God might be irrelevant. No society could be ready yet to discard its belief in God. The believers could just be right (for all the wrong reasons).

      1. I don’t disagree, Ender, but I think the real problem is profound ignorance.  

        Please forgive an extended example: 
         I taught overseas in a small Third World country. I once met a local (Muslim?) man who had gotten some kind of scholarship to travel to a conference in Chicago. I was obviously an American, so he wanted to tell me about it.  It was a dream come true for him, and he was thrilled. I congratulated him, and then he says to me, “So I am reading Lee Iacocca’s book!”

        I’m like, “Um, you mean, the car guy? Why?”

        “So when I am in Chicago walking down the street, and I run into him, then we’ll have something to talk about.”  

        I was like, “Ummm…” and we went back and forth discussing the actual size of Chicago/America until I was frustrated and he was angry, so I wished him well on his journey and left.

        The key here: Not “if” — “when.”

        Further, I can’t tell you the number of times people there who asked me: 
        – How many car chases and firefights I’d been in?
        – What kinds of guns I owned?
        – How many gangsters I knew?  
        – How many people I’d killed?  I mean really.

        And so forth. They saw this stuff in the movies set in America, and since I lived there, I must be involved in all that is going on here. Like frequent car chases, with guns blazing.

        The notion that America is vast, with many millions of people, from many, many backgrounds may be clear to everyone on an intellectual level.

        Yet the actual realities of what that means, in real life, may totally escape them. Including: Very few car chases.

        So the idea that the American people could and should have prevented someone, somewhere, from doing something — *anything* — offensive, while bewildering to Americans, may seem entirely realistic to the rioters.  

        And since we Americans didn’t stop this so-called filmmaker, well. We must all consent to what was portrayed in this asinine “movie.”

        So, in sum:  Ignorance is a dreadful, ugly, and brutal thing.  Which may, or may not, be related to a person’s religion, directly or tangentially, but often seems more like a societal issue.  Further, the main issue is being *so* ignorant that you don’t even realize what you’re ignorant about.  .  I’ve met some fascinating, bright, well educated Muslims.  So when I see stuff like this unfold, I often think: Wow, they must have unbelievably crappy schools throughout in the Middle East.

        1. Further, the main issue is being *so* ignorant that you don’t even realize what you’re ignorant about. I’ve met some fascinating, bright, well educated Muslims. So when I see stuff like this unfold, I often think: Wow, they must have unbelievably crappy schools throughout in the Middle East.

          You mean like how the overwhelming mass of Americans think that all Muslims are Arabs, terrorists, veiled, stone people for a hobby, etc.?

          1. Indeed.  

            For anyone optimistic about the effectiveness of our schools, a visit to the Yahoo News comments’ areas related to this story may be sadly revelatory.   

          2. Next you’re going to tell me that there are actually congressmen and women, and a sizable portion of Americans that believe our President is a Muslim born in Kenya….

        2. Yeah, I could also tell you lots of stories about being in the US and how many Americans assumed that because I was British I owned a horse, and that London was all cobbled streets and fog…

        3. the importance of the content of this comment can’t be understated.

          kinda like how so many people in the west don’t understand how people are so angry at the west for this video

          we all need to try as best we can to understand the perspectives of others, while not tolerating/forgiving violence.

        4. To be fair, car chases and shoot outs have been a pretty common thing in my Chicago neighborhood’s past….

      2. Yep. 

        Looks to me like there is plenty of evidence that Muslims, Christians, Jews, (and everyone else) share a common ancestor with primates.

  1. I am no expert in the Middle East but, regardless of that stupid film, something tells me the reason why they are mad at us may be that we have been systematically killing them by the thousand for close to a decade.

    1. And they’ve been killing each other off by the million for a lot longer than that.  The Syrians alone, in a series of the greatest atrocities since last week, are up to about 200 murders a day.  This is being protested by two men on a donkey in Algeria playing mournful tunes on kazoos.

      Notice how all these paroxysms of rage are neatly timed to coincide with various genocides and sundry other atrocities by the local 0.1%?*

      *The idea of the American 1% adjusted for the greater income disparities in the region.

      1. You may grow to hate your neighbors for their aggressions, but not to the degree you seethe at the rich folk from far away, who stomp you when it yields them a profit. We are Smaug.

        1. “We are Smaug” (from their point of view). A perfect summary of our Middle Eastern problems in 3 words. We need T shirts.

          1. Do you buy products made from, or powered by, Mideast oil? It’s not just the 1% who have benefited from our exploitation of their natural resources. Nearly all of us do in one way or another. And if you meant money, then on a worldwide scale, I suspect we’re both in the 1%.

          2. @Diogenes:disqus  i’m sure you are right on the world-wide 1%.
            i was replying to the phrase “we are Smaug” which would imply we’re pissed when someone steals something we knew we had but didn’t ever use or really want because we’re so rich. 
            but from their point of view, i guess we are…

      2. And they’ve been killing each other off by the million for a lot longer than that.

        Almost all our infamous modern conflicts in this part of the world can be traced back to Western colonialism (French in Syria’s case), divide and rule, and how these former Ottoman provinces were carved up into little countries without regard to the inhabitants interests, tribes etc., but with concern for Western interests after WWI.

    2. Ten years? That’s a little short-sighted, don’t you think? The current wave of anti-Western sentiment in the Middle East dates at least to 1918, with Britain’s colonial conquest of Mesopotamia and Wilson’s selling out the people of the Arab Peninsula to a bunch of redneck hicks named Saud.

      The thing is, after the people of the Middle East and the Western powers teamed up to defeat the Ottomans, there was never more positive feelings of Arabs and Persians toward the West. And we blew it.

      Does anyone else here remember when the greatest threat from the Middle East was — dun-dun-dunnnnh! — Creeping Socialism? Arafat? Mossadegh? Nasser? Anyone? Beuhler?

      It’s not like this part of the world has been full of medieval Islamic radicals for centuries. It’s really only been since the 1990s. C’mon — the Moon Unit Zappa video that Boing Boing posted a few days ago? That’s when we were worried about the PLO’s ties to the Soviet Union, and the mujahadeen were Freedom Fighters. This isn’t ancient history!

      Every day, I feel more and more like I’ve stumbled into an alternate universe, where each new political development wipes out the past completely. We’ve always been at war with Westasia!

      1. Oooo!!!  ME, ME, ME!!!

        Who do you think helped to cultivate the religious alternative because of pan-Arabism and Socialism? Although many Arab countries were more within the Non-Aligned camp, I’d say. Not that they weren’t courted by both sides…

        Also, everyone always forgets that the PLO was far more secular/nationalists – in that it represented the Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, and Jews….

        Orwell was so nice and prophetic… But yes, people seem to have a very short memory about the history of this region.

        1. I agree, Mindy, most were non-aligned, but when they would do things like nationalize resource extraction or or pursue pan-Arab union, they turned into just another domino in the wildest paranoid fantasies of the Cold Warriors. (Of course, there’s a whole ‘nother thread about how not so long ago the Democrats and the Republicans were completely different political parties /*squints JFK-ward*/.) And speaking of Iraq, Hussein’s Ba’ath party was the anti-Communist offshoot of the Nasserites that was promoted and supported by the Western powers.

          None of this history is particularly difficult to follow — certainly, it shouldn’t be difficult for anyone who can follow the Marvel Comics universe or any of the Joss Whedon franchises.

          (I bet there’s a Boing-Boing reader who could produce a series of comics in the style of the various Pulps, Golden-/Silver-age comics/graphic novels tracing all the shifting alliances/heroes/villians/super-teams that make up the history of the Middle East since the fall of the Ottomans.)

          1.  It’s not in that style, exactly, but there are a couple books that come to mind:

            Palestine   -Joe Sacco
            Arabs and Israel for beginners -Ron David

          2.  Actually though, people I’ve known who read comics and like the Whedonverse tend to be better informed or at least more critical of the situation in the rest of the world… This is why I’m so surprised at some responses here.  I expect a higher level of discourse (at least for a blog).  To be fair, I think we’re having discussions here, and not shouting matches.

            And Anansi – I love Joe Sacco.  There is still some of his Yugoslav wars comics I need to read, but Palestine is great.  Have you read Footnotes in Gaza yet, cause that’s pretty amazing too…. I’ve never read Ron David, though.  I guess most of the stuff I’ve read on the Mid-east is academic texts… 

      2. Don’t forget that when the West subdivided the Middle East, some large countries ended up with virtually no resources of any kind and some tiny countries ended up with vast oil reserves.  How convenient for keeping the spice flowing.

    3. Pretty sure many of them hated us long before this decade-old war.

      Also, how many thousands of Libyans have we killed?

  2. the argument they’re just mad at the states would hold some water if it weren’t for the fact they reacted exactly the same way over cartoons published in a country that wasn’t responsible for ” years of wars in the region”.

    1. A) Denmark is a NATO state.
      B) Most “educated” Westerners can’t even distinguish between “Arab” and “Muslim”, between Arabic and Farsi, between South Asia and Middle East.

        1. “Politically incorrect” = “I am a brave truth teller for upholding the status quo and I want me some cookies.”

      1. So you’re saying that the Danish cartoon riots and death threats are somehow OK?  Do you think that the flag-burning fanatics are even aware that Denmark is a NATO state? 

        1. No, I’m saying that Denmark, via NATO, has occupying troops in Muslim countries, so it’s not particularly surprising that some people consider any NATO member state to be a hostile political entity.

    2. I think agitators on both sides take advantage of our human tendency to think of diverse groups as a single entity. While we see the “Muslim World” overreacting  over a slight to their religion, they see “The West” spitting on them yet again. Perfect material for radicals on either side.

      “Look how primitive they are, we can’t live with these people.” I’m European and over here that’s the core of the issue, for the right at least. Multi-cultural societies don’t work, yadda yadda, hence – I don’t know what, really. I suppose Muslims need to become invisible or leave for some people to be content.

      “They hate us, seek to oppress and destroy us” is perhaps the kind of thing radical Imams say in the countries where these violent outbursts have occurred. Though really, I have no idea. Whatever the spiel, it seems to work well for them in recruiting people to their cause.

      1.  Yeah.  While I agree that it’s unfair to lump large, diverse groups into a single entity I gotta add my own two cents.

        Imams and leaders (not necessarily majority leaders) constantly are screaming death to America, calling the west the great satan and burning American flags.  There are a lot of people who do this all the time (not a majority by any means, but a sizable number nonetheless).  This does NOT cause rioting in the street in America, even though we find it offensive, and it constitutes an ideological attack on us.

        When one Coptic Christian Egyptian immigrant makes a horrifically insensitive and disgusting movie, multitudes of protesters in the middle east from dozens of countries show up at our embassies and start rioting and killing people.

        I’m not saying that Muslims, or people of Islamic faith are inherently violent.  But it seems from the events transpiring that if they want any place in the global community these people will need thicker skins.  It’s insane to get so worked up over one guy’s really offensive opinion.  It’s not justified.

        I in no way support whoever is behind the film.  But if you stop and think for a second, it’s just mind boggling how sensitive these cultures are, while simultaneously a lot of people in them are cursing the west, and cursing all other religions.  People in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.  Or possibly people who throw rocks shouldn’t live in glass houses?

        1.  Let me just condense what I meant to say into something a little less stupid sounding:

          American’s are pretty agitated, some people in Libya killed our ambassador there, as well as an information officer and two ex-Navy Seals.  They also burned down our embassy.  We haven’t killed anyone in America (that I know of yet) over this, much less Libyan diplomats in an embassy.

          1. They also burned down our embassy. We haven’t killed anyone in America (that I know of yet) over this, much less Libyan diplomats in an embassy.

            Of course we haven’t killed anyone here. We bring our violence to other countries. We’re killing them there.

          2. It’s fairly well established that the diplomats were killed as part of a planned militant operation and used the rioters as cover. Can we please stop spreading this stupid myth that the diplomats were killed over the film?

        2.  Of course, you are not hearing all the Imams and leaders, just the ones that are being filtered through to our media (who have their own agendas and spin on the news of the day).  But, just for a start – the Saudis aren’t yelling death to America, nor are the Jordanians or really the Lebanese or any of the leaders of the Gulf states. And neither are really folks like Morsi, who seems to be walking a political tight rope over this issue. I kind of feel sorry for the guy. 

          And it’s precisely because we back such dictators in much of the Middle East that opposition groups shout at us.  But also, because it’s probably a safer outlet for frustrations (that and Israel).  At what point does our foreign policy which is often oppressive and duplicitious deserve people being angry.  At what point are people allowed to throw off oppressive regimes and to condemn those who support those regimes?  Was that only good for one time, in late 18th century?  Why do you and others think that what has been happening in the region for nearly a century does and should not have repercussions? 

        3. …it’s just mind boggling how sensitive these cultures are, while simultaneously a lot of people in them are cursing the west, and cursing all other religions.

          We’ve invaded their countries, bombed their wedding parties, overthrown and manipulated their governments and incessantly demonize them in our media. Your characterization of them as ‘sensitive’ is mind-boggling.

          1. Mod me out if you want. I haven’t really been proof reading what I’ve been saying, and I can see right now that I should probably just turn in my internet card for the night as I’m too sleep deprived not to say stupid sh*t anyway.

            I do know we have a lot of history in the region, I’m just pretty pissed off that an ambassador died and the justification that I’ve heard so far is that some people’s feelings got hurt. I know it’s not remotely that simple, and it’s all filtered through the media, but I’m tired and seem to have keyboard diarrhea.

            So good night from my timezone. Maybe I’ll think better when I can get some sleep

          2. one wonders where the animosity towards russia is then? they’ve done pretty much the same, but apparently there are no hard feelings towards them.

          3. @boingboing-f43bc9f9775ade3e3c6734d457f30767:disqus , Russia’s activities have not been as widespread, as recent, or as successful. In any case, hatred is rarely equal opportunity – one tends to pick one’s biggest enemy and focus all of one’s hatred on them.

            The fact that the unrest was sparked by a stupid YouTube video (and that there are calls for harshly punishing the idiot who made it) is lamentable, and is good grounds for those societies to take another look at themselves. However, we should also never forget that the way we conduct our foreign policy abroad would spark absolute and utter outrage were a foreign nation to conduct itself thusly on US soil.

            And it’s not even restricted to the ME. Imagine how a sizeable fraction of Americans would react to German or Japanese military bases.

    3. @boingboing-f43bc9f9775ade3e3c6734d457f30767:disqus ,

      ? Russia has no similar colonial history in this part of the World.  Why would you expect them to be mad at Russia?  They’ve had their own issues in the Caucasus.

  3. It’s not just the YouTube video; that’s just the spark. In Yemen in particular, reporters on the ground say that the main source of anti-American anger is the drone strikes, which have killed a lot of civilians.

    1. That’s something you don’t hear in the media.  it’s like Glenn Greenwald has been shouting about this in the wilderness.  If your kids, your neighbor’s kids, and their neighbor’s kids were dying from hellfire from above, I think you’d want to riot and attack an embassy too…. 

  4. This has to be the most successful troll of this century so far. Any other contenders?

    (I’d argue that lies about WMD and yellow cake to Dubya and company were not trolling since they were /exactly/ what the people hearing it wanted to hear, kind of an anti-troll).

  5. This has got me to thinking about Sarajevo. It used to be a world class city, hosting an Olympics games even, and then ten years later people started killing each other.

    I think somebody trolled that city with much success. Much as we are being trolled now.

    1. For ages, it was the heart of ottoman Balkans, and it remained a cosmopolitan city through both Yugoslavias (and the second world war).  Milosevic, Karadzic and Tudjman just tore that city apart.  They couldn’t bear anything that contradicted their narrative of ethnic purity (or undermined their bottom line). It represented the historical fact that yes, actually Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Slovenes, and Bosniaks lived together quite well, and actually thrived in doing so…  By taking out Sarajevo, I think they were trying to rewrite history to fit their own agenda.  If there is anything nearly as fraught and controversial as the history of the middle east, it’s the history of the Balkans. 

        1.  You do know that Mlada Bosna was something of a pan-slavic movement right?  I know that lots of people think it was a serb nationalists movement, and the trigger man, Gravilo Princip was indeed a serb and the Black Hand might have had some infiltrators in the group, but the group defined it self as cross-ethnic/national and were keen on throwing the Austro-Hungarians out of the area (the ottoman’s too, but they had been pushed back pretty far during the 2 Balkan wars).  Keep in mind that the great powers all had their fingers in the Balkan pie as well, trying to persuade and divide up the region.  I’m not saying the Balkans have always been a peaceful paradise until the West showed up, but they did bring lots of expectations to the party and many of the most ardent nationalists in the Balkans were often educated in the west and probably had never been to the rural areas where the mass of people lived. I’m saying that this image of the Balkans of always having the supposedly ethnically pure people there at each others throats is largely wrong, that’s what I’m saying.

          1. Blimey mate. All I did was post a pic of a news item from 1914, supporting your final remark about the fraughtness of the Balkans, and all Hell breaks loose.

            You’re not Balkanian are you?

    1.  Great pictures – somebody should teach the young man in #12 the difference between a peace symbol and the Mercedes icon, though…

  6. You know, this is an election year. And this kind of stuff is not uncoordinated.
    It’s all horrific, but barely has anything to do with a crappy movie.

  7. Here are a couple of interpretations (after a couple of beers):

    1. Recent entrants to the polity are shocked by the mores of secular, urban, industrial societies. They are coming from rural communities where social relations are mediated by extended family and religion. This is replaced by the state and commercial society, and the anomie inducing  effects of social atomisation.

    2. Egypt becomes an oil importing nation. 3 to 5 years later, they go broke, and the gravely overpopulated Nile Valley goes hungry.

    3. Modern media creates a new urban, industrial collective consciousness.

    4. Blowback. See Chalmers Johnson.

    1.  And Satelite TV.  Their expectations of the city are tempered by TV as well.  Has been for a while, actually:


      That doesn’t mean family units and religion aren’t important, just that there is another factor involved.

      Also, there is lots of labor unrest in Egypt since the revolution.  Some parts of the country are very urban and industrial… 

      2 beers makes people more thoughtful….

  8. I say the Mullahs are just MAD because they know secularism might follow the Arab Spring. They’re just making sure their flocks stays ignorant and easily manipulated.

    1.  I don’t think you call them Mullahs in Egypt.  The Brotherhood is a political party.  They are not Khomeni by any stretch of the imagination.  I really do think that the people of Egypt are not nearly as ignorant as you imagine. They aren’t a bunch of fellahin who just feel off the…. olive truck, I guess.  At least no more ignorant than most Americans. Are we really a well informed, thoughtful, and rational electorate here?  Really?  What gives you that impression.  Cause I really have not seen that.

  9. I’ve heard that every newscaster is like a jihadi Glenn Beck explaining everything in terms of a conspiracy theory. There’s jihadi news Glenn Beck, jihadi weather Glenn Beck, jihadi business Glenn Beck, jihadi sports Glenn Beck.  Soccer team lost? It’s an American-Zionist conspiracy!

  10. These folks could really use some grassroots organizations that aren’t radical Muslims. 100 years of murder of oppression, hundreds of thousands of deaths in the last decades and it just sounds like they hate freedom.

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