Pushing Muslim Buttons

My eight-year old twin sons are masters at pushing each other’s buttons. In a matter of seconds, one small provocation can transform peaceful playtime into Armageddon.  Usually the dispute is over something unbelievably stupid, like who has the right to a specific Lego piece (out of the thousands of pieces that litter their room). However, the boys have a history – and if the provoked twin gets angry enough, he will haul off and smack his sibling provocateur.

Like many Americans over the past week, I have been somewhat bewildered by the tragic violence provoked by “The Innocence of Muslims” video. How could a cheesy movie trailer provoke such a dramatic response? Well, today I took the time to actually watch the 14 minute trailer. As I suffered through this piece of shlock (a bizarre mash-up of amateur porn and the worst Saturday Night Live video you’ve ever seen), a light-bulb suddenly went off. This video pushes all the Muslim buttons. While I didn’t pick up on all of the slights, I’ve heard enough anti-Islamic rhetoric on topics such as the age of Mohammed’s wife Ayesha to understand why this video would be so offensive to Muslims. Then I thought about how after eight years of history, my sons can be moved to violence by a seemingly small provocation. So how surprising is it that people who have decades of troubled relations with the US would be likely to respond in a similarly disproportionate manner?

David Kirkpatrick’s recent article in the NY Times sums it up well:

Others said that the outpouring of outrage against the video had built up over a long period of perceived denigrations of Muslims and their faith by the United States or its military, which are detailed extensively in the Arab news media: the invasion of Iraq on a discredited pretext; the images of abuse from the Abu Ghraib prison; the burning or desecrations of the Koran by troops in Afghanistan and a pastor in Florida; detentions without trial at Guantánamo Bay; the denials of visas to prominent Muslim intellectuals; the deaths of Muslim civilians as collateral damage in drone strikes; even political campaigns against the specter of Islamic law inside the United States.

Kirkpatrick goes on to quote an Egyptian political scientist, Emad Shahin, who says that the video was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

I am not in any way condoning the violent responses to the video. The death of diplomat Christopher Stevens and destruction of property has been terrible, tragic, and self-defeating. As Muslim Syed Mahmood notes in his response to the video on YouTube, these responses are exactly what the creators of the video wanted.

However, I am also saddened by much of the response I have seen from Americans to this whole mess. Many of the comments I’ve seen online are as sensitive as these:

  • Other religions get made fun of and teased all the time, Muslims need to develop a thicker skin about it.
  • If your religion is worth killing for, start with yourself.

These kinds of attitudes just contribute to the perception that Americans don’t respect or understand Muslims. It seems we are in a vicious cycle of disrespect and overreaction.

There are certainly other aspects to this story, such as the fact that much of the violence has been the work of a small group of radicals (just as the video itself was produced and promoted by a small group of nut jobs), and that many Islamic countries do have different cultural attitudes towards religion and free speech.

However, although Muslim culture may be different from ours in some ways, we are all human. No one likes to be dissed. We all know what it feels like to be fed up, tired of being insulted. We all know what it feels like to snap.

So just as I keep teaching my boys to learn to control their tempers when they are provoked, I am praying that the voices of reason in the Muslim world will help bring peace and calm back to their countries.  But I also teach my boys to avoid pushing each other’s buttons – to avoid provoking each other in the first place. I hope that more of us in the West will learn that lesson as well.

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8 Responses to Pushing Muslim Buttons

  1. Very well said! And a pat on the back for trying to teach your children well, sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one making an effort to teach my kids to be respectful and empathetic.

    • seeingfaith says:

      Thank you, and yes I try to teach them although a lot of the times I’m not so sure they’re listening! I love your posts as well – the one about teaching responsibility was great – I keep thinking about that. Anyway, thanks for reading!

  2. jbalexander says:

    Once again, you nailed it. The kids analogy is spot on. The buttons our kids have seem silly to us and probably to the button pushers. But I suspect if we look hard enough we would find a real vulnerability in that button; regardless, it doesn’t take long to realize that it is almost impossible to get our children to give up their buttons (heck, most of us grownups give them up only after years of therapy!) Instead, we come to realize that peace is more cheaply bought by changing the behavior (if not the heart) of the button pusher. Here’s hoping for that change of heart.

    • seeingfaith says:

      Amen to that – particularly noting that adults have buttons just as much as kids. I don’t know if you heard the crazy story this summer of the guy who shot his former work colleague right outside the Empire State Building. The victim had ‘pushed the buttons’ of the murderer.

  3. Lizzy says:

    Louise you utilized the perfect analogy to give rare perspective to this situation. Very well written, I’m sure many would appreciate this.

  4. Joan Michie says:

    As a person who was involved in interfaith dialogue for the last 20 years off and on, and a teacher I want you to know how much I appreciate what you said here. The misunderstanding about all the major faiths in our communities is huge, in general – even our own particular faiths. How many of us have a graduate degree in any faith or in world religions? How many of us were taught nothing further than by church school or Hebrew school teachers who did not have that kind of education themselves? There is so much to learn, and my hope is that the teaching starts just like you said – in homes where children learn that we are all children of God/creator/whatever term works for you – to encompass compassionate love and peace and respect for all.

    • seeingfaith says:

      Thanks Joan and yes we all have a lot to learn. It’s funny – I feel like sometimes the most important part is just getting to know people from different faiths/backgrounds. On 9-11 Emmy came home and started talking about what she’d learned in school about it, and when I reminded her that 9/11 was done by a small group of people who do NOT represent the views of most Muslims, she responded “Yes, right, that Muslim lady who came to our house last year – she was really nice”. That was the PW gathering where we had a Muslim woman speak, and Emmy came downstairs to listen. Just that one encounter has made all the difference for her.

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