We've heard about the cartoons, seen the effects, probably even seen at least one of them. People are rioting from the West Bank to Pakistan. There are a lot of points to be made out of this series of events, most already tired out. People are calling this the anticipated "clash of civilizations" or saying it's proof that a clash is inevitable. Sometimes I'm tempted to see the situation that way. People see the "Arab street" as a monolithic swath of would-be suicide bombers, throwing rocks at international peacekeepers all day. However, this is not the case. Essentially what you're observing is the precept "the loudest are the ones with the least to contribute." A moderate majority still exists. In everyday life, most muslims live in a way that's consistent with contemporary Judeo-Christian teaching. Most permit portrayal of the prophet, even though in both Islam and medieval Christianity, this was forbidden. A similar situation exists in the West Bank, where (up until now) a majority of the population would negotiate with Israel given the opportunity. (Likewise, an overwhelming majority of Israelis would negotiate with the Palestinian government in exchange for peace. This may no longer be the case with the recently elected government, however.)

The problem is the generation being educated right now. Regime, militant, and zealot-controlled public education and media are the standard in the Arab world. An insane amount of the Palestinian population grows up sympathetic to true radicals thanks to this effort, which institutionally praises self-sacrifice as the highest human calling. We are talking television media, the press, K through whatever they have there schooling, religious education, religious training, "investigative" government commissions and initiatives. It's reasonable to say all these institutions continue to supply people with a steady stream of unequivocal incitements. Iran just commenced an "independent government commission" to investigate the true history of the holocaust. This is despite the fact that the president has already prepossessed their conclusion.

This all ignores the fact that the middle eastern governments are characteristically weak, including Iran (which is Persian, so kill me), Iraq Syria, Lebannon, Saudi Arabia and the PA (or whatever it's called now). That's a good thing, right, because then inherently good-natured people are going to rise up against their oppressive demagogue governments and establish moderate civil society that attends to the people's needs of employment, education, and civic institutions and allows them freedom to modernize or to practice Islam to whatever degree of strictness they want, and all will live in peace. Well, it's not a coincidence that it's also one of Al Qaeda's explicit directives is to topple the governments in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, on top of the tired old rants against the west. I believe those who say it is not a clash of civilizations yet are correct. It is a war within Islam and the Muslim world, first. Through all these institutions which convey ideologies, pan-Arab Islamist movements are attempting to unify the entire muslim world around a single goal of the revival of Islam through resistance to subversive forces like the West.

It is scary, but from the perspective of Arab muslims, the case is awfully compelling. Unemployment might be very high, you might be lacking basic human resources. The government as a rule does not work for the people. Of course this varies by country... If you have an education in history, you probably know that Islam had been a great world civilization and empire until the Crusades. If you know modern history, you know that Europe and America have divided and exploited the Middle East for over a century. Geopolitical division, direct occupation, military and financial interference in internal politics, and reciprocal patronage with dictators who neglect their peoples, you name it. If you don't have the internet, although the number of users is surging, the news you hear every day probably goes something like "Zionists / the West _________ (fill in the blank)" The prominent person in your area is probably a firebrand cleric who spreads even more insidious and inflammatory rhetoric. So you think, "Our governments neglect us, our states are continually played off against each other militarily to keep all of them weak, and the news (some of it truthful, but distorted) says that the West continues to attack us and plot to take our resources." Suddenly the group espousing a pseudo-fascist solution based around the shared heritage of Islam doesn't sound bad.

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