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US Embassy Attacks – No Quick Fixes

September 13, 2012

Monday’s attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo, and today’s in Sanaa, are yet another example of the warped ladder of inference that comes into play whenever the name of Islam is perceived to be besmirched.

A film is released defaming the Prophet. Where was it made? America. Ergo, America is responsible for allowing it to be released. And by America, we mean the US Government, don’t we?

And then the reverse ladder. Who did this? Muslims – Arab Muslims. Why did they do it? Because they hate us and want to destroy us. What can we do about it? Build more drones and bomb the bastards. We’re in a War on Terror – we can’t afford to let our defences down, so let’s keep pumping the dollars into the Pentagon.

We’ve seen it before. Time and again. From Pastor Jones and his imbecilic Quran-burning stunt, to Danish cartoonists lampooning the Prophet, way back to Islamabad in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini blamed the US for the Mecca insurrection, and a Pakistani mob stormed the US Embassy and killed four people.

This month’s attacks neatly coincide with the publication of Salman Rushdie’s account of his years in hiding following Khomeini’s fatwa urging Muslims to kill him because of his blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses.

Manipulation by rabble-rousing Muslim clerics, followed by manipulation by rabble-rousing Christian clerics.

So what comes next? Death squads scouring the US, hunting down the enemies of Islam?  Attacks on Copts in Egypt because one of the wackos that made the film happens to be an expatriate Copt? Car bombs in Israel because one of their own also seems to have been involved?

And from the US, Obama announcing new measures against “terrorism” to pre-empt criticism by Romney of his weak response? Attacks on innocent US citizens in Dearborn?

Emotion, emotion, emotion. Fear, hate, anger, paranoia. Is Islam not strong enough – the message not secure enough in the hearts of the faithful for a Pakistani kid of sub-normal intelligence not to be in fear of her life for an unthinking insult to the Quran?

And is there not enough for Muslims to be concerned about within the Ummah? Sectarian slaughter in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan? Discrimination on the basis of belief in other countries?

The answer is yes, there is more than enough. More than enough to blame “the other” for the poverty, instability and grief wracking the Muslim world. Which is where the mobs come in. And the shoe bombers, the hate preachers and all the other narrow-minded bigots out to make a name for themselves on YouTube, in the mosques or the matams.

Notable political figures like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia are doing their best to promote dialogue between Muslims of different hues. But while the great and the good can talk until the cows come home, their sermons will never reach the hate-filled Imams who stir up the half-educated rabble who have never known much beyond lifetimes at the bottom of the societal pond, oppressed and controlled by their political betters. Or the rabid extremists of other faiths whose votes can twist policies against the better judgement of presidents and prime ministers with their fingers on the nuclear button

Much of the violence we are witnessing today is the legacy of revolution. Some achieved, some thwarted, some desired, some stirred up by agendas light years from the aspirations of their foot soldiers.

Is there a grand political settlement out there that will bring peace and prosperity to all the inflamed hot spots in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa? No. Are there leaders capable of channelling the energy of the angry into peaceful cooperation and common purpose? Probably not.

Because like it or not, we are in a connected world in which interests coincide and collide. The best we can hope for is small wins.

Improved education, by which I mean education fit for purpose, not the one-size-fits-all learning pyramid designed to produce successive generations of self-interested elites. Imaginative programs that bring economic resurrection, not through subsidies and debt but through ground-up initiatives that spread outwards through their success.

We’d best understand that there are no quick fixes. We are looking at a process that will evolve over generations. And it will be a process not based on economic growth for one nation or group at the expense of another. At some stage we will understand that prosperity is not about growth. It’s not about China becoming rich as Europe grows poor. Or about one Arab nation enjoying temporary ascendency because it’s lucky enough to be floating on a sea of oil, much to the resentment of its neighbours.

Yes, some economies need to grow in order to combat the frustration and wastage of unemployment. And the enforced distribution of wealth through communism or popular revolution only serves to create a new elite that gathers the wealth and privilege seized from others around itself.

Capitalism as practiced over the past two centuries has served to create its own elites. Despite the fact that most of the more successful capitalist societies have grown up in democracies that curb the worst abuses of the winner-takes-all mentality, 2008 has shown us that even in the most regulated societies capitalism is an inherently unstable system. Regulators cannot easily reach beyond their jurisdictions. Most large enterprises are transnational, and their leaders can pick and choose their own nationality and the location of their businesses in order to preserve their wealth.

Has anyone come up with an alternative to all the failed models? Muslims would say yes, we have the Shariah. But has the Shariah delivered peace and fairly-distributed prosperity in countries which claim to be led by its principles? Not in my experience.

My personal view is whoever ordained that growth is the primary measure of progress did not reckon that for each action there is usually a reaction. We must look to other measures of prosperity, including ditribution of wealth, productivity, fair use of resources, health, education, and yes, happiness.

So what’s the answer? Small steps leading to bigger ones. Alternatives to current economic systems will not arise because of the great visions of political leaders, business leaders and economists. They will evolve like life. Through incremental improvements, through things that work and are copied by others. Through example and sometimes through responses to catastrophe.

So no quick fixes. Hold hard, don’t let your values be perverted by others, and be prepared for a lifetime of change, of sporadic outbreaks of violence and suffering, much like the lifetimes of all our predecessors. But hope that we can leverage the connected conscious brought about by a wired world to everybody’s advantage, that we can extend freedom from deprivation and ignorance to ever more people, and make this century one in which we truly learn from the mistakes of our parents.

Use your goodwill, your time, your personal example and your vote, if you have one. It will not be easy. But then it never was.

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