Understanding Arab Anger

Shibley Telhami

With all the protests and violence in Arab and Muslim countries generated by a despicable and demeaning film about Islam, here is a sobering prediction: There will be more such films and clips, they will be even more provocative, and they will generate even more violent reaction among Arabs and Muslims. And no matter who is behind them, many will see the hands of Israel and the United States.

Yet this is not time for panic but for steady and intensive diplomacy.

This is an easy prediction to make. In the era of the information revolution, any 12-year-old can produce a short film and post it online. There is no shortage of racists, bigots or individuals with sinister goals.

And consider this payoff of a relatively cheap product with minor efforts: disruption of regional and global priorities, affecting U.S. relations with Arab and Muslim countries, influencing internal dynamics in the Middle East and possibly even affecting the outcome of U.S. elections. It is too easy and too tempting, even for those with low personal stakes — and especially for those with higher stakes.

The Arab and Muslim reaction is predictable enough. The people who mobilize and act violently are by no means majorities, but the issues of Islam and the prophet Muhammad touch raw nerves across Arab and Muslim societies so that meaningful calls for calm will remain limited. Coming after a decade during which Muslims felt their religion and values under assault, the empowerment of the Arab uprisings will most likely only bring more people into the public square — and some with more than peaceful anger. Who will stop them?

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