Recently international news has been dominated by two non-peaceful demonstrations – anti-American demonstrations throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Australia and anti-Japanese demonstration in the People’s Republic of China.
The catalyst of the heightened anti-American sentiment is clear – the online distribution of an anti-Muhammad video supposedly made by several American citizens. The cause of the anti-Japanese demonstration is a bit vague.
This summer has been a difficult one for Japanese diplomacy, with Asia-Pacific’s favorite nation of the late 20th century now hated by its neighbors and former colonies over maritime disputes. Its prestige in sports, culture and even electronics have been overshadowed by South Korea, which was engulfed by a highly strung nationalism, to the point of questioning the patriotism of its celebrities who refused to join the boundaries debate. Taiwan, a supposedly “Japanophile” nation during and after Japanese colonization, joined in the debate just so that the islands (rocks, actually) do not fall into China’s hands.
But what actually made the urban Chinese pelt the Japanese embassy, burn a police car just because it was a Japanese brand, sabotage Japanese factories, attack Japanese restaurants and harass Japanese residents?
The explanation is not very straightforward. Supposedly, the mass have been provoked by news about the development of the territory dispute, enraged by the Tokyo’s plan to buy the island from its private owner (before the hawkish Governor of Tokyo does) to the movements of both Japanese and Chinese military ships around the islets.
Then on September 18, Japan invaded and took over northeastern China, also known as Manchuria. But hold on, that was back in 1931.
In personal matters, to get “mad” weeks after you receive bad news seems ridiculous. In societies and political arenas, however, it does happen, often. Many educated radical Muslims say that modern world history is all about the Crusades. Everything that transpired after Richard the Lionheart - Columbus, the United States of America, the British Empire, World War I, and so on and so forth - is part of the Crusades. This long-term view of history also applies in China. Even a teenage Chinese boy will hate the British for the Opium War of 1842, the burning of Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 and will certainly hate the Japanese for various events starting with the Twenty One Demands back in 1915 (and he will assume everyone needs to know what that is).
The same can be seen with Innocence of Muslims. The video was actually uploaded in July this year, in two installments. Two months later, the news about the defamation of Muhammad erupted soon after Sept. 11 had passed, first in Egypt and then in Libya and as a result of the anti-American rage in Libya, the American ambassador was killed. He was killed in a well-planned ambush rather than by a delirious mob. Global media quickly unmasked the film’s producer as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Christian Egyptian-American but commentators continue to refer him as his cover alias, Sam Bacile, a Jewish-American.
The “Wag the dog” theory, based on a 1990s American satire where the American president creates a fake war to distract from his sex scandal, seems a plausible explanation to both incidents in China and Libya (and elsewhere, including Indonesia).
Observers agree that the visitation of the South Korean president Lee Myung-bak to the disputed rocks has diverted Koreans’ dissatisfaction with corruption and the conglomerates. Instead, now Koreans are united in their hatred against Japan and even ironically, sympathizing with the multinational Samsung in its battle against Apple.
A similar story is unfolding in China. The Communist Party is nervous about the succession, leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping is missing, the economy is slowing down and people are starting to grumble about corruption and inequality. But like everything else in China, it is very complex and mysterious to see what party actually launched the anti-Japanese rhetoric first. Past attempts by the government to create a distraction and to point to a common enemy have gone awry, most notably with the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. And certainly the shutting down of Japanese investments and business is not in the Party’s favor.
In response to the Innocence of Muslims, it is easier to see the culprit. The video is genuinely made by a lonely and angry man and there are tamer variations of him writing letters to the editor every week. It took two months for people across the globe to get angry. News about the video was first broadcasted by Salafist channels in Egypt. Egyptians believe that 9/11 was a Jewish plot to smear Muslims and that the video was broadcasted on “American state television”. In contrast, demonstrators in Indonesia believed the film was shown at cinemas here, although Blitz or Cinema XXI is yet to even screen The Three Stooges, which is deemed offensive for Catholics.
After that, radical groups in Asia and Australia used the rage as part of their publicity projects. The most violent demonstrations outside Libya ironically happened in Sydney, where young Middle Easterners hurt several police. The images shocked Australians who have accepted Muslims as co-citizens who are integrated into the multicultural society of Australia. Salafist groups in Thailand and Indian-administered Kashmir went out to show their existence. In Indonesia, politicians have used the controversy to demonstrate their bravery in standing up for Islam and in defying America. The governments of Indonesia, Singapore, India, and Philippines have successfully made Google block the video to prevent more fallout.
It is certain that both Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and the Japanese government – which now demands compensation from China for the damage – are at fault. But look deeper and you will see that rather than genuine reactions to injustice and insult, it is cynicism politicking at work.
Joseph Boules, an Egyptian-American Coptic Orthodox priest, said that the offenses may have been made by Americans first, like Pastor Terry Jones or Nakoula, but the reactions from outside America is ‘shoot first, aim later’. Actually the protesters have known very well who they are aiming for. They do not come for Nakoula. They come for Sam Bacile, the proverbial Zionist who controls America.
Chinese anger toward Japan is more than its territorial disputes. They are angry that Japan refuses to acknowledge Chinese superiority and now the time for payback has come.
For Islam, religion is above all. For China (and Korea, and Japan), racial civilization is above all. If that supremacy is not acknowledged, then prepare for the rage.
The writer is a graduate of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.