Some Muslims have been protesting violently about the publication of some cartoons depicting the Prophet negatively. Embassies have been torched. Property has been destroyed. Threats have been made. Our newspapers are full of words and pictures about it. Our society is outraged.
Several Muslims have died as a result of the protests. (Not the hundreds that were killed during this year’s Hajj, admittedly, but then some Muslim deaths are more interesting than others.)
Muslim protesters rage not merely against this single act of blasphemy, but against what this act symbolises. They rage against European arrogance, Western governments’ mafia-style looting of Arab lands, media campaigns demonising anyone in a beard or hijab.
Great anger does not necessarily need great provocation. Anger is cumulative. Ills are totted up until their number is too great to bear. Like breakage of the proverbial camel’s back, after a while, a single straw will be enough.
The media is so saturated with this story, it whips the storm to ever greater intensity. More violence, better story. More coverage, more mileage for incensed non-Muslim columnists. More debate. More invented “Sensible Freedom-loving West vs. Archaic Tyrannical East” binary oppositions. More hate bred on each side.
The more the story is prodded, the angrier it gets.
In Westminster, an unpopular prime minster consults expensive public relations advisers as to how best to break the news of military action in Iran to a jaded public. The scene is replicated in European and American ministerial chambers.
The problem is that the general public do not see Muslims as “other”. The public are unable to perform the emotional detachment necessary to sanction another aggressive campaign. The ‘C2/D/E’ demographic are still open to manipulation without too much trouble, but the broadsheet readers are currently off-message. Their feeble ethical rebellion cannot stop progress, but it makes the job of presenting a benevolent veneer slightly more demanding.
If only a way could be found that would stop the leftists and pacifists from obstructing the path of Western corporate power. If only we could damage the reputation of Islam and those who follow it. If only something could be done to back Muslims into a corner and create the illusion that the wildest extremists speak for all. If only Islam could be portrayed as unreasonable, backward, dangerous, subversive, unpleasant, stupid.
If only followers of Islam could be hanged by the zeal of its most extreme adherents, in a way that would carve a deep chasm between ‘them’ and ‘us’, between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. We know their weakness. We know which buttons to press. If only we could find a way to use that knowledge to our advantage.
If the flames of such a campaign could be fanned, it would give us the moral high ground. It would hush the whine of middle class pinko indignation and deflect pundits’ attention to such laughably naive concepts as “free speech” and “science versus religion”. While the dinner party set’s attention and sympathies are diverted elsewhere, we’d have just enough leeway to start our Iran campaign and tidy up the dregs of Iraq and Afghanistan. As a bonus, we’d probably win the “Are Hamas terrorists or freedom fighters?” argument too.
Of course, expensive public relations firms and governments do not need to ask “if only”. They just need to orchestrate an appropriate story and appropriate coverage. It is easy to guide public thought, and these men and women are experts.
For their part, the media will run any story released to them at any angle required, provided it does not conflict with the needs of their advertisers or shareholders.
… Well, whaddya know. Pure luck and good timing, of course. Perhaps God is an Englishman after all.