Politics fuelling religious strife

There are those, call them what you will: extremists, fundamentalists - I usually settle for nutters - so bitter and twisted they even object to the very idea of happiness. To them, the thought of women having any say in the world is sacrilege; concepts such as fulfilment, enjoyment and pleasure are to be frowned upon, and a lifetime of misery is seen as a small price to pay for an eternal afterlife. And no, I'm not only thinking of the Catholics.

The eruption of protests and attacks against US embassies following the emergence of a vile anti-Islamic video (produced by a bunch of vile Americans) once more throws religious zealotry into the spotlight. If you believe much of what you read and hear, it's merely the latest case of a religion wanting to subjugate the world. Potted story? Not only should Muslims be punished for offending Muhammad but so should anyone else.

Scratch the surface, however, and the affair becomes a little more complicated. I mean, yes, there's bound to be a proportion of loony Muslims out there who see all others as infidels; just as it's easy to find their Christian equivalents. You only have to consider some of the bat shit crazy Bible freaks in the US to know that. Still, to place all the recent mayhem solely at the feet of Islamic radicals is to ignore a very large elephant in the room.

Of course, you won't hear Barack Obama (much less Mitt Romney) blaming anti-American sentiment for the rage and violence. But that's what it almost certainly is. Those who carried out the fatal attack on the US embassy in Libya reportedly used the anti-Islamic film protests as a cover for their operation. Demonstrators in Yemen were chanting anti-American slogans. In other non-western countries, much of the opposition was state-backed.

Forget religion for a moment. Consider the US deployment of drone aircraft in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Controlled not by the American military but by the much less transparent CIA, the attacks have been identified as one of the main reasons for escalating anti-American sentiment in the region. Add the Israel-Palestine conflict and the ongoing US operation in west Asia, and the resentment is more understandable.

Then there's the patently Islamophobic Americans who get their kicks from baiting Muslims. Nothing seems to thrill them more than producing a violent backlash, even if innocent lives are lost. According to them, it simply highlights the intolerance of Islam. Instructionally, the 14-minute video clip blamed for the most recent angst was posted to YouTube back in July. But it only gained serious traction after being promoted by US, Muslim-hating Christians.

People talk about the chasm between the followers of Jesus Christ and Muhammad. Happily, there seems to be a light at the end of that particular tunnel, at least if studies in other countries are any gauge. In the UK, for example, a survey has shown that, while older people are much more prepared to embrace anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim sentiments, the younger generation is far more likely to a reject them and accept multiculturalism.

Doubtless, that's a good thing. On the other hand, to blame recent uprisings around the world on solely religious differences would be to miss the point by quite some distance. Same goes for the idea the protests represent some sort of clash between those who understand the freedom of speech and those who don't. Yes, there might be elements of that but it distracts from the bigger problem: Decades of over-bearing American interference.

What's fuelling this? With apologies for tampering with an election slogan, it's not the economy, stupid. And nor is it the religion. It's the politics.


» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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