Foreign Policy asked me to elaborate on the last point I made in my post earlier this morning about violence against U.S. interests in the Middle East continuing into the future, and I was more than happy to oblige. The piece is up and can be found here and I’d love to hear people’s feedback.
With all due respect to the author, you don’t have a clue.
Thanks for your in-depth and well-argued analysis.
Interesting analysis. You state that there are three things that portend future protests: (1) different conceptions of freedom of speech and expression in the US and Islamic world, (2) past grievances against the US’ policy of supporting authoritarian regimes in the region and (3) the emergence of democratic politics from the Arab Spring, so leaders pander to popular sentiment (with a dominant strategy being to fan anti-US sentiment). All these three possible reasons are international or transnational in nature. However, I wonder if you are omitting a domestic politics story for the possibility of riots. You seem to hint at it with (3), but argue that all leaders would have incentives to encourage anti-US protests, and also couch the democratic politics angle in terms of US values vs. Islamic values. The domestic politics story argues that in certain countries, such as Egypt, elite leaders may be able to score domestic political gain against their rivals by fanning anti-US sentiment. Rather than treating Islamic countries as a monolithic actor, leaders within each countries face a different calculus on whether to encourage protests or not. The work of Snyder (2000) and Wikinson (2004) on the politics of ethnic nationalism and riots find that domestic politics best explains riots and nationalistic sentiments. Their research points to the manipulation of the masses by elites being as the most likely story to explain the recent protests. Fareed Zakaria also seems to echo this sentiment http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/14/qa-what-the-mideast-protests-reveal/?hpt=hp_t2. While there is a common shock of salience of anti-US sentiment, the outcome of protests varies widely across the Islamic world (your previous post highlights the muted response in Turkey). This would suggest that domestic political factors explain the protests better than any international or transnational dimension. Thoughts?
Great comment, Thomas. You are absolutely correct on the domestic politics angle, in my view, and there is of course manipulation of the masses by elites at work here. My aim was to give a broad systemic overview, but as one of my colleagues suggested to me yesterday, there is a lot of room here for good political science on what patterns of domestic competition make this kind of violence more or less likely and whether the relevant variation is in the cohesion of Islamists, in their class bases, in their geographic locations, etc. FP was not really the place to do that, or to even run down the differences across different Arab states, but I think there are makings of a really good journal article in what’s going on.
First, congratulations on your recent piece in FP magazine regarding the U.S. embassy riots now engulfing the region. It was indeed refreshing to read an impartial analysis of the underlying causes of this current crisis in U.S. foreign policy.
But how, in your opinion, can the U.S. – and more broadly the West – reconcile important rights of free speech, with observant Muslims’ profound adherence and belief in the sanctity of religion? There must be a third way. How can groups producing islamophobic propaganda be held accountable without impinging upon free speech rights, or compel U.S. politicians to become better informed on the complexities of the Islamic world (e.g. no one is observing how the “Muslim Street” in Turkey has been riot-free, and why) ?
I actually did note that fact about Turkey (see my previous post), but as to your main question, I’m not sure there is a way to reconcile the two approaches. I think all sides need to be more respectful and empathetic of differing positions, but I don’t expect either the 1st Amendment or a principled position on blasphemy to be changed any time soon.