Friday, September 14, 2012

Anti-Muslim film, the Internet = riots and revolt

This week the cultural collisions continue apace, as theocrats on one side of a religious argument prompt outrage from theocrats on the other. One side is racist, the other outraged. Fundamentalism always ends like this: bloody murder. The unfortunate aspect of this particular event is the inevitable hardening of positions. The more we are on line the harder the positions get! The Internet is the era of the new fundamentalism.

What started as an as yet unknown plan by US based media producers who were spoken of as Iraeli-American (!who come up with this identifier and who in news rooms lets it into public circulation?) to make a film mocking the prophet Mohammad was more than a joke. It was probably intended as an affront to Islam. From the Moslem perspective it is blasphemy.

The US ambassador and embassy staff - US citizens - killed in Libya, burning of KFC and other US businesses destroyed late in the week as the matter escalates in intensity. And the film or extracts of it continue to circulate on the Internet. Here is an unintended consequence that I predicted within the jihad approach to resistance. In Uprising the jihad case study offered a view of the way this particular religious and social movement would be unassailable as the unique characteristics of ideological grooming played out. Fundamentalist excess has an inevitability about it.  Here it is, another step towards a conflagration that is motivated by the circulation of offensive media on the Internet. (It is worth reflecting on the alternative: has any one ever killed a US representative, burned down a KFC or sacked an American government compound because of pornography. If anyone knows of a case please share your knowledge).

On 13 September 2012 the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was reported in her usual high handed lecture mode berating everyone who might not like the US! It's a big list. Why does Hilary Clinton not back down on this? The film is a disgrace and she said as much - thank you Hilary! Then went on to her preferred position - referring to "reasonsable people" and "responsible leaders" who need to do something to defend the good and the great - that is the US and its citizens and representatives.

Here we are again with an example of the standard language of the Enlightenment ("reasonable" and "responsible"). It is thrown around as if the use of this language is followed by the kind of behavior nice people prefer and practice. (Me too, by the way!) I would prefer not to have the film made and for it not to circulate and for everyone to live together in peace. That is not about to happen. The Internet has accentuated the identity politics of every religious and other group who seeks reinforcement of their prejudices. The new fundamentalism is here now.     

Overlay this with the US insistence on free speech. As Cass Sunstein argued (and as I said in Uprising) there is a moment in the Internet era when the question of free speech must be visited, explored anew and if necessary rewritten. Purist perspectives on this ideal are a derivation of Enlightenment, pre-internet communication. The new media of the Internet is free in a contradictory way that cannot be sustained in line with US Constitutional ideas.

The US Government itself has moved to stop the circulation of the anti-Islam film, thereby making the case that it too recognizes that there is a limit to what can circulate (we know that already with Government sanctioned limits on some extremes of pornography, especially involving children.)

Google has other ideas as The Guardian reported:

"The search engine Google on Friday night rejected a request by the Obama administration to reconsider a decision to keep a clip from Innocence of Muslims online, Reuters reported."Guardian - read last paragraph

The response to the film as it circulated on the Internet offers another perspective on the relationship between media and social action, revolt and dissent. For media theorists, there's a lot of hard thinking to be done.