Assumptions

Charles Honey is thinking about the role of riots.

But 24-hour news serves up repeated images of protestors trashing U.S. diplomatic facilities and burning U.S. flags. We don’t see the millions of Muslims who are not sacking and pillaging, and who are dismayed by the violent abuse of their faith.

The rage quickly took on a life of its own in protests beyond all proportion to a crummy video clip. Many rioters in Yemen admitted to USA Today they hadn’t even seen it.

Given that, is it right to assume that it’s just a matter of wanting to burn something, as Honey says

A lot of angry young men in the Arab world — especially the “unemployed, alienated and radicalized,” as one Mideast expert put it — just want a reason to burn things. An anti-Islam video provides the ideal ticket.

The protests in London, Indonesia, India and the Maldives and elsewhere suggest the video is functioning less as an incitement than as one more confirming evidence about assumed Western attitudes to Islam. If the torching of the KFC in Tunis or the attack on the German embassy in Khartoum is any indication the griefs involved also include generalized complaints about the West.

For the video makers, there is also something of confirmatory bias at work. They intended their message; this was not accidental. The mission group with the video beams Arabic language to the Mideast; the outraged community is one they seek speak to, and as such they bear a moral responsibility. They chose rash words. And more important, they understood their potentially inflammatory nature. That is, they were premised on the notion that Muslims generally were like the rioters, violent and extreme. So, every smashed window, every burnt flag, every staged riot only seems to confirm the assumption.

And there is the mutual tragedy. Both sides represent minority positions within their own communities, both see in the other the warrant for their actions, the proof positive that the other side is evil and corrupt.

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