Violent Protests in the Muslim World: An Interpretive Lens

Thomas Scheff and Suzanne Retzinger’s work on shame and rage offers us an insightful interpretive lens for the violence of the last few days (including the murder of the American Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and 3 others). This violence came in reaction to the anti-Muhammad video that had been posted on YouTube since July, but which had only recently been dubbed into Arabic.

Scheff and Retzinger’s basic theory is that, in all social relations, an interaction that awakens shame in a person or group, can lead to a response of rage. This rage response can be expressed in a variety of behaviors, ranging from disrespectful communication to violence. Such a response awakens shame in the originator of the interaction, leading to a vicious cycle of shame-rage-aggression-shame-rage-aggression, that escalates between the two parties.

This interpretive lens helps us understand chronic conflict in families; it also helps us understand chronic conflict in international relations.

Understanding the shame-rage cycle gives us the power to break it. One helpful response– and thankfully, it is a response being modeled by many leaders in the past few days– is to separate the abhorrent behavior of a few people, from the whole class of people they are representative of– in just the same way that it is helpful to separate a child’s episode of bad behavior from his/her essence as a person. A good parent rejects the bad behavior of the child, without rejecting the child.

So the more helpful response by those who are offended (shamed-raged) by the anti-Muhammad video is to condemn the makers of it, but not to condemn (shame) America, and America’s value of freedom of speech. Concurrently, the more helpful response by those who are offended (shamed-raged) by the violence against American persons and property is to condemn the perpetrators of it, but not to condemn (shame) Islam or Muslims.

Americans have a lot to be proud of, in their values and practices. Muslims have a lot to be proud of, in their values and practices. Scheff and Retzinger’s analysis of shame, rage, and violence suggests that the vicious cycle gets interrupted when people can affirm the justifiable genuine pride of the other.

Below, I include some of the reader commentary from Al-Jazeera English. There is nothing edifying in it; I include it as an example of the shaming, disrespectful language that can lead to aggression.

Yeah and your lack of freedom should also not be shoved down other peoples throats..

radioflyer 11 hours ago in reply to view tech

And you should keep your exceptionalism and arrogance to yourself. The West is in no position to lecture ME about your brand of democracy.

Trevor Day 11 hours ago in reply to radioflyer

Yes, we are. Seriously, we are. You have no democracy because its very nature is contrary to Islam. Island is the source of your problems, not the West.

Lucian 7 hours ago in reply to radioflyer

Nobody is lecturing you. It was a bunch of muslims that invaded the embassy, it was them who started the fire and killed people. What lecture on democracy are you talking about? It’s precisely because you people behave like you’re in the middle ages that the world looks down on you.

via Is the reaction to anti-Islam film justified? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.

Moderate Muslim Voices

At a Christmas party last month, my neighbor asked me, Where are the moderate Muslim voices? My answer: they exist, but they don’t get much play in the mainstream, and even not-so-mainstream, media. So I was happy to have found this item in today’s Christian Science Monitor, and reprint it here. The author is an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Faheem Younus:

And the Jan. 3 assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab – Pakistan’s largest province – is a message to every moderate Muslim in the country to dare not challenge the vitriolic blasphemy laws, or they could be next…. Repealing blasphemy laws is an idea whose time has come. These laws are at the symbolic heart of the battle over hardline intolerance and hypocrisy. This larger religious and cultural struggle is now destabilizing Pakistan. Not only are these laws a disgrace to Pakistan, but they also provide more harm than protection to the honor of Prophet Muhammad. Just look at what the Quran says about him, “And We have sent thee not but as a mercy for all peoples (21:108)”.

Faheem Younus is a former youth president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

via Pakistani Muslims must honor prophet Muhammad – by protecting Christians –

Cordoba Mosque Controversy– Some Context from “Salon”

I am skeptical of tidy, linear, cause-and-effect explanations. Still, I think there is helpful context in the following account. The  full article (click on the link at the end) contains, among other references, the link to a Fox TV interview with Daisy Khan, the wife of Feisal Abdul Rauf. I recommend making the time to read/listen.

The way we win against “religiously” inspired “Islamic” extremism (al Qaeda and its branches), and against puritanical, reactionary Islam (Salafism), is to befriend moderate Muslims in America, welcome their presence, and support rigorous, truth-seeking inter-religious dialogue. The premise of violent, puritanical Islam, is that Islam and Western values are incompatible. We need to pursue– and show– a more excellent way.

Blogger Pamela Geller and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

A group of progressive Muslim-Americans plans to build an Islamic community center two and a half blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan. They have had a mosque in the same neighborhood for many years. There’s another mosque two blocks away from the site. City officials support the project. Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon, the other building hit on Sept. 11, for many years….

via How the “ground zero mosque” fear mongering began – Ground Zero Mosque –

We’re Still Here at the “Ground Zero” Mosque. What Does That Mean?

I went out to the barn at the end of last week to build a stall for the calf, expecting to be blogging about something else this week. A quick survey of the news revealed that we’re still here.

Whether a mosque should be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site is a question that’s been pretty fully aired; whoever has an opinion on this is not likely to suddenly see the other side’s reasoning and be convinced.

The interesting questions at this point are: 1. What are the dynamics driving the passion on this issue, and what does that say about who we are, as an American society, in 2010?; 2. What role do church and faith-community leaders and institutions have, in offering guidance for that society? (In other words, how do we– in general– bring wisdom (rather than adrenaline) to bear on vexing public questions?)

Ramadan Begins– take a moment to reach out with a generosity grounded in God

Ramadan begins today– a time of intentional self-denial for Muslims, an opportunity to re-focus one’s life upon God.

In response to the recent spirit and words of fear that have marked some people’s reaction to Islamic centers and mosques being built in New York, Tennessee, and California; and as an act of generosity and grace grounded in the God of Abraham, here’s something we can do: we can offer Ramadan greetings to Muslims and Islamic communities near us.

I sent this greeting to a Muslim acquaintance at the Worcester Islamic Center in Worcester, Massachussetts: “I offer my best wishes and prayerful blessing upon you and your community as Ramadan begins.” It’s a simple, respectful acknowledgment that this is a special time for Muslims.

For readers in New Hampshire, you may find email addresses to send your Ramadan greeting, at the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester:  (You can copy and paste this address into your web browser; “Contact Us” is in the sidebar at the left.)

Mosques in America, continued

Reactions to mosque building in such diverse places as Manhattan and  Murfreesboro, TN, are revealing, and merit our continuing attention.

What do those reactions reveal?

They reveal something old in the American psyche. We’ve been here before: on the one hand, fear and demonization of the other; on the other hand, an appeal to tolerance– a reaching out to the other in generosity of spirit. American history is full of both. Here’s what it looks and sounds like in Tennessee in 2010:

In June, Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik issued a statement that included the following:

“Lou Ann stands with everyone who is opposed to the idea of an Islamic training center being built in our community. This ‘Islamic Center’ is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.”

“Yes, we are tolerant, but our nation was founded on the tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition; we have a right to defend that tradition. Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”

via Tennessee: New Vandalism at Mosque – “Tea Party” Candidate Rejects Mosque Proposal :: Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.).

On the other hand:

Another Congressional candidate, U.S. Marine and Iraq combat veteran Ben Leming, had this to say about opposition to the mosque, about Americans, and about fear:

“Once again, fear is our enemy, not law-abiding Americans who are exercising their constitutional right to worship free from persecution…. We must reject the loud and angry voices that manipulate and motivate people through fear. We are Americans, strong, brave, and proud.”

“The people that want to build a house of worship in Murfreesboro are not the enemy. Osama bin Laden and his band of thugs and criminals are the enemy.”

via Mosque expansion proposal in Murfreesboro spotlights fear, shame | | The Tennessean.

Tolerance may spring from a recognition of the rights of others. Tolerance, for a Christian, is grounded in an identification with God’s own self-disclosure in Christ: a self-disclosure whose character is a daring, generous, all-embracing agape-love.

The practical application of God’s hospitable agape-love is not naivete, nor is it insipid, namby-pamby can’t-we-all-get-along-ism. It is courageous, patient, wise-as-a-serpent-and-innocent-as-a-dove relationship-building.

Rights and Right– Part Two

As a reminder, the end of the Anti-Defamation League’s statement on the Cordoba Mosque contains this helpful distinction between rights and right:

But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

What’s missing in this moral judgment are many other factors, in addition to the one– the conceivable pain felt by some victims– that the ADL cites. Here are some others– some with more import than others, but all relevant:

1. The exact  location of the proposed Islamic center is morally relevant. It makes a difference whether this location is within the footprint of one of the towers; within the 16-acre World Trade Center site; or two blocks north of that site. Any moral objection to building an Islamic Center/mosque in this part of Manhattan is stronger, the closer it is to the tower footprints. The exact location is 2 blocks north of the 16-acre site. I would say: close enough to be pertinent; not close enough to carry significant moral weight.

2. While it is useful to distinguish rights (legal permissibility) from right (morally correct judgment), the two are related. The legality/illegality of the process of acquiring the property and getting necessary planning committee approval is morally relevant. This was done legally. I would say: this fact weakens the moral case against the Cordoba mosque proposal.

3. The funding for the project is morally relevant. I would say: If the Cordoba Initiative is being funded by the same people who fund Hamas and Hezbollah, this would morally de-legitimize the project.

4. The stated mission of the Islamic Center is morally relevant. Here it is: “Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.” I would say: in the moral equation, this is compellingly on the side of the good.

5. Any spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative is morally relevant: the more distant the connection, the weaker the moral argument against the mosque location.  As in Christianity, there is a spectrum of Islamic belief and practice; and then, even beyond legitimate differences within a religion, some people do things in the name of a religion that are, in fact, diabolical. I would say: there is no spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative– the 9/11 murderers served a spirit of death; the Cordoba Initiative aims to serve a spirit of life.

6. Healing is morally relevant. What promotes healing is good; what retards healing is bad. Healing is not about feeling no pain; healing is about integrating one’s pain into one’s own life story, and using the pain in one’s own life to be able to feel the pain of others. Based on my experience of journeying with people in grief, the deep and true healing so desired by those for whom the ADL is concerned, will not be promoted or retarded in any significant way by the Cordoba mosque.

On balance, the moral case against the Cordoba mosque is, at best, weak.