Islamic mobs continue to demonstrate against the United States throughout the Middle East. Members of those disorderly throngs yell, scream and attack U.S. embassies and consulates; many of them rail against an ill-conceived and poorly produced film, which they claim portrays the Prophet Muhammad in a bad light.
The average American condemns the crowds and the governments for what appears to be an unusually strong reaction to a stupid attempt at belittling a religious figure revered in many parts of the world.
The U.S. media focus on the demonstrations, and speculate on the causes of the uprisings. The speculation often revolves around the pathetic film identifies the more likely motivations for the sometimes devastating demonstrations: frustration, a preoccupation with imperialism, a lack of unity, internecine struggles and a lack of U.S. direction.
The so-called Arab Spring may have liberated several of the Arab nations from their long-ruling dictators, but did not result in agreement on the fundamentals of nationalism. In nations like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, tribalism prevails; in such nations as Egypt, Islamists have conflicting ideals, from more moderate citizens. Both sides can become frustrated in their attempts to promote their ideals and beliefs.
The countries' preoccupation with imperialism is quite understandable. From the 19th century to the early 21st century a succession of Western powers have not only meddled in Middle East affairs, but also have supported dictators and then withdrawn support from the dictators without the appropriate transition plan or understanding of what regional democracy might look like.
The United States is often viewed in the region as the latest in the succession of Western imperialists and for that reason alone may be mistrusted and vilified.
Unity in the Middle East remains anathema to many of the citizens except through Islam. Tribalism or regionalism triumphs over nationalism. Sectarianism prevents a unified Islam.
Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya clearly demonstrate the sway tribalism holds over the development of a national government. Regionalism is strong in countries like Iran where the "Azerbaijanis," "Tehranis" and "Khuzistanis" differ considerably, even in their language and cultural orientation.
Internecine and sectarian struggles characterize several of the Middle East nations or areas referred to as nations. Take Iraq, for example. The Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have little in common and find it very difficult to build a unified country. The Shiites do not trust the Sunnis, nor do the Sunnis trust the Shiites. Add to the mixture the Kurds, who have long been a thorn in the side of Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish leaders, and you have a potpourri of cultures and groups that provide a simmering stew for upheaval and turmoil.
Like the Carter administration in its approach to Iran in the late 1970s, the Obama administration seems weak particularly to the Middle East militants, and that perceived weakness encourages the militants to move while they have the opportunity.
The Obama strategy toward the Middle East remains admirable and philosophically sound, but it conveys weakness and represents a no-no in the Middle East region. Most negotiations in the region can prove successful only when the perceived stronger opponent has a power advantage and the weaker negotiator can benefit from the manipulation of the power advantage. The U.S. must show strength while declaring a willingness to talk and compromise.
The ill-conceived, poorly-developed film depicting the Prophet Muhammad in less than a positive light has little to do with the current Middle East turmoil. The reasons are several and complex. A focus on the complexity is necessary for advancement toward less Middle East turmoil.
Franklin T. Burroughs, Ed.D., is an adjunct professor at John F. Kennedy University and a contract English language officer to the U.S. Department of State. He is a resident of Walnut Creek.