Blasphemy and Empire The rage over Innocence: why our secular elites just don’t get it

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Americans are baffled: why oh why are Muslims up in arms over a YouTube video, one which no one in America even knew about prior to the attack on our Libyan consulate and the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens? Having abandoned their own religion sometime in the last century or so, they just don't understand why someone would get all hopped up over a little thing like blasphemy – after all, all one has to do is turn on the TV or view the latest Madonna music video and you'll get a full dose of it.

Of course, this isn't true for everyone: in Flyover Country, the rubes still persist in the faith of their fathers, and our elites pander to that whenever they must. However, the Georgetown cocktail party circuit and the world of the Washington power brokers isn't a notably devout milieu: it is instead decidedly secular, and tinged with more than a little contempt for those Flyover Folks who must be pandered to around election time.

This is one major reason for Washington's incomprehension when it comes to understanding the wave of hatred for the US currently sweeping the Middle East. That complete cluelessness is endemic, too, in the US media, where reporters are no different than the elites they cover in their militantly secular outlook. So when a deliberately insulting video depicting the prophet Mohammed goes out over the internet, after its makers made a determined effort to get Muslims to view it, they scratch their heads and say they just don't get it.

Even as the protests spread, they insist it just can't be about what Muslim protesters say it's about: it's all just a u201Cflimsyu201D excuse, as Reason magazine editor Matt Welch told u201Cnational security Democratu201D Heather Hurlburt. The US response, he went on to aver, was u201Cnot a robust statement of American values.u201D It was, instead, u201Ckick me, pleaseu201D rhetoric from a spineless Obama administration. This is a fair summation of the general right-wing response to the crisis, limning the Romney campaign, and over at the Weekly Standard the neocons concur:

u201CWhat we have seen unfold in the Middle East over the last week is what distinguishes the region's societies from our own. The protests in Cairo and Benghazi were not really about the film, the preacher, or Muslim sensitivities. They were an exercise in raw power politics, partly aimed at intramural rivals in the Arab political sphere, but mainly against the United States.u201D

Like Welch, the Standard found attempts by the White House to remind YouTube of its terms of service agreement u201Cappalling.u201D Like Welch, the magazine claims the protests are about something other than what the protesters themselves say they're about. This view isn't limited to the political right, however: it's just what Rachel Maddow and some other Deep Thinkers on the left have been saying. Forget the video, we're told: it's not about that. It was all a pre-planned carefully-thought-out al-Qaeda operation, in effect another 9/11 – maybe not as spectacular, but hey it happened on the same day. Now that the administration is denying this, however, I bet we'll be hearing much less about that particular theory from Rachel and the other partisan shills at MSNBC.

In any case, the Standard is right about one thing: the riots now threatening the security of US diplomats throughout the Muslim world do indeed dramatize what distinguishes the region's societies from our own, and it's all about the role of religion in society.

Yes, I know, it's hard to believe: how could any civilized person take seriously the impulse to achieve transcendence and find meaning in the universe besides the pursuit of pleasure, fame, and money? I mean, really! How primitive can you get? Didn't that kind of superstition go out with corsets, free silver, and the horse and buggy?

A society in which blasphemy is impermissible is inconceivable to the warlords of Washington, who, after all, live in the same society you and I do: one in which religion is increasingly pushed to the margins and regarded by the country's elites with ill-concealed contempt. It's a culture in which gays want to get married, straights are setting records for divorce, and the way to appeal to women in an election year is to make it easier for them to kill their unwanted babies. It is, in short, a culture so far removed from the u201Cmedievalu201D world of our recently conquered Middle Eastern satraps that the distance can only be measured in centuries rather than mere miles.

In the modern world, physical distance is no barrier to empire-building on the other side of the globe: however, this only exacerbates the problems created by the incalculable cultural distance between Washington, D.C., and the somewhat run-down suburb of Benghazi, in Libya, where a mob took the lives of four Americans.

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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