Muslim Rage

10.01.12

The Politics of Muslim Rage

Husein Haqqani goes into the weeds to examine the political roots of "Muslim Rage."

There is nothing in Islamic tradition that requires Muslims to come out in the streets and throw rocks or set things on fire every time they hear of someone insulting their faith. Like Jewish and Christian scriptures, Islam’s sacred texts speak of divine retribution as well as of God’s mercy. References to holy war are interspersed with exhortations to charity, kindness toward others, and respect for life. Every chapter of the Quran begins with the words “In the name of Allah (God), the most compassionate, the most merciful,” encouraging believers to practice mercy over retribution.

In fact, the Quran refers to Prophet Muhammad as “Rehmatul-lil-Alameen” or “the one bringing compassion for all worlds.” After announcing his prophethood, Muhammad prayed for those who insulted or opposed him. In one famous episode, he once went to inquire about the health of an old woman in Mecca who had thrown garbage on him every day. When she failed to show up to deliver her daily insult, he was concerned. Such compassion won converts to Islam and contributed to the faith’s expansion.

But a religion is what its followers make it, and the demands of Islamist politics in recent times have helped to stamp Muslims as being prone to anger and susceptible to violence. Meanwhile, bigoted nobodies have been made influential when their anti-Islam provocations have succeeded in unleashing the fury of tens of thousands around the world. But to the orchestrators of the protests, none of this matters. Their target is not the perpetrators of the insults and abuse. Instead they are only looking for ways in which to mobilize Muslims against the West, if only to present themselves subsequently as the mediators who can bridge that divide.

Since falling under Western colonial rule, the Muslim world has developed a narrative of grievance. The view is shared by Islamists, who consider Islam a political ideology, and other Muslims who don’t. Like all national and community narratives, it has some elements that are true. It is a historical fact that the Muslim world spent centuries in ascendance before Western influence rose, and Muslim power declined. And there is no question that Western imperialism in the 19th and early 20th centuries was far from benign. It divided Muslims, denigrated them, and used modern technology—from the printing press to electronic media and the moving image—to render a caricature of a once-preeminent civilization and the faith that rests at its heart.