As Muslim crowds dissipate and American diplomatic missions return to normal activities, here are three final thoughts on the riots that began this Sept. 11 and killed about thirty:
Annemarie Schimmel's "And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety."
I respect and learn from all these writers, but disagree about the video. Yes, individuals, organizations, and governments goaded the mobs – indeed, there always needs to be some instigator who mobilizes Muslims against an offending statement, text, drawing, or video. But it would be a mistake to see the mob as but a tool of clashing interests (such as Salafis vs. Muslim Brothers in Egypt) or American political imperatives. Rage directed at the video was heartfelt, real, and persistent.
The person of Muhammad has acquired a saint-like quality among Muslims and may not be criticized, much less mocked. German orientalist Annemarie Schimmel pointed out (in her 1985 study on the veneration of Muhammad) that his personality is, other than the Koran, "the center of the Muslims' life." Outrage among Muslims over insults to his person is sincere; note, for example, the notorious section 295-B of Pakistan's Criminal Code, which punishes any defamation of Muhammad, even if unintentional, with execution. These regulations have so much support that two prominent politicians, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 merely for voicing opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Their murders had nothing to do with the West and certainly were not diversions in a U.S. presidential campaign.
Salman Taseer (L) and Shahbaz Bhatti, two prominent Pakistani politicians, were assassinated in 2011 for their opposition to blasphemy laws.
Trends: As someone who's been watching that clash since Khomeini's time, I ascertain three main trends. First, Muslims increasingly devote themselves to the political imperative of preserving Muhammad's sanctity. Second, Western governments and elites (i.e., journalists, lawyers, intellectuals, artists) have become increasingly timid over time when facing Islamist fury, willing to apologize, appease, and placate; for one appalling example, see the U.S. embassy in Cairo's effusions on this Sept. 11, as a mob raged outside. Third, Western non-elites have increasingly responded to Islamists with a You-want-to-be-insulted-well-take-this! attitude that includes Koran burnings, "Defeat Jihad" ads, belligerently offensive French cartoons, and a promised roll-out of Muhammad movies.
In combination, these three points lead me to predict that the conflict over values will continue to heat up.
Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2012 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.
Oct. 2, 2012 update: Barry Rubin writes me to correct my including him in the list of analysts above: "I only mentioned Egypt on purpose. Everywhere but Egypt, where a demonstration was already planned and announced on other issues before the video was ever mentioned and Libya, where it was a terrorist attack, the video was a real factor. So I didn't disagree with you at all on your point."