Email from a Staffer…
From: Eli Sanders
Date: Sat, 11 Feb 2006 17:39:07 -0800
To: Dan Savage
Well, I am looking forward to my Stranger-financed trip to Beirut, but yes, I think “a tad racist” is a pretty strong charge to throw around. And I think the argument that I’m condescending to the protesters really twists my words, with the intention of making “colonialism” (and me) into an easy punch-line.
Of course I don’t believe Nasrallah and the like are really mad about colonialism. They’re demagogues, opportunists who are well aware of the long-standing frustrations in the Arab/Muslim world (some of which have to do with, yes, colonialism) and are tapping into them to draw a crowd and increase their own political power. And maybe it’s condescending to believe that the crowds they draw are largely uneducated, unemployed, angry Islamists, but it’s usually true in these situations. Or, in the case of (U.S. backed) Saudi Arabia, they’re people who don’t have a lot of choice but to toe the line of people like the Saudi cleric who’s quoted in that AP article you posted. All of which makes looking at the literal content of the crowds’ complaints a waste of time.
You think the way to deal with an angry mob led by religious demagogues is to stand in front of the mob and shout Fuck You. I think it might be better not to give the demagogues so much easy ammunition in the first place, and also to remedy the situation that now provides them such a large group of alienated, angry people to prey upon. That’s where we disagree. The rest we agree on.
And back to Beirut for a minute… The Stranger did send me to a tense place in the Arab world once: Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. And I don’t think that story shows much sympathy on my part for dopey liberals. It’s pretty clear, though, if you spend time in a place like Rafah, that the underlying social and economic conditions, and the unresolved political issues, and the perceived indifference of the West, all make it very easy for Islamic fundamentalism to take hold, and that we ignore all of that, and focus on outrage about cartoons, at our peril.