February 09, 2006

On overreaction

It just seems so amazing how worked up the Muslim world is getting over these damn cartoons. Even after people draw analogies that really make you understand why someone would get irritated at such cartoons, even outraged, the level this is being taken to—burning embassies! killing people!—is just completely insane.

This week's episode of The Boondocks was a rerun. I don't remember its title, but its key feature is memorable: it describes "The Nigga Moment". After showing two black guys get into a gunfight over a face-saving argument that started after one accidentally bumped into the other (a quintessential "nigga moment", we're told), we get a scene to illustrate contrastively. A black guy bumps into a white guy, they both get briefly angry, but then the white guy breaks off, laughs, and says, "oh, that's right. I'm white!" And laughs all the way home.

This kind of brash caricature is ridiculous on its face, and thus perhaps easy to dismiss. But under the hood, it's a pretty profound bit of commentary: it's a suggestion that the real reason we sometimes see blacks fighting over seeming trivialities (and no reason to restrict it to blacks, of course; this seems perfectly applicable to gang violence in general) is as a direct result of their lack of power, their oppressed status. The bump of the shoulder is a trigger, a mere spark, that last straw of lacking control over one's life, that causes one to need to respond in a grossly exaggerated way. The "nigga moment" is, in this analysis, a last-ditch effort to exert some sliver of control over one's own existence. We don't see white people acting that way, because even the worst-off of them enjoy some level of privilege, simply for being white, even now; though they may not laugh it off with a casual "I'm white!", it's a lot easier to brush off a loss-of-control situation when you're in control of your life in so many larger ways.

I think that this may be the lens we need to use to view the Mohammed cartoon brouhaha. It's not from the comparatively well-off Muslim countries (like Egypt or UAE) that we're seeing the violence and insanity. (They're ticked off, of course, but I think we can spot them that much.) The places we see rioting and violence and destruction are the countries where the people are poor and oppressed. The people causing the destruction are not the merchants and businessmen. They are poor teenagers—and let's recall that the teens are an angsty and powerless time under the best of circumstances—in broken countries like Afghanistan and Palestine.

At this point, of course, there's nothing we can do but damage control. But if we are to solve the larger problems, and to prevent future idiocy of this variety, we need to first realise that people that are made to feel powerless are unstable and dangerous to themselves and everyone around them.

"The criticism sticks to every developed nation. Our wealth does not belong to us, and we have not acquired it through superior virtue or greater faith. We have our 10,000 talents because the king sets all of us free from our debt. Let's not demand from the developing world its 100 denarii. It isn't the Christian thing to do." --Chris Tessone

Posted by blahedo at 12:29am on 9 Feb 2006
Just for relevant amusement, take a look at this satire at Daily Kos. Posted by Greg at 8:47am on 10 Feb 2006
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