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The Stunning Ease of The Politics of Outrage

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The world has been witnessing a scary new political communication/mobilization phenomenon: the routine deployment of the politics of outrage by tiny groups of individuals...but  with epic consequences. And what is amazing is how stunningly easy it is to get this going. Consider, if you will, the emerging structure of the phenomenon:

  1. Somebody living in one of the liberal democracies of the West decides to test the limits of free speech by deliberating insulting the Holy Prophet in some way. They don't need to write an entire novel or make a full length movie.  A cartoon is enough or the trailer of a movie.
  2. These days, the Internet does the rest: the provocation acquires the capacity to go  global.
  3. Within the great Islamic community of the faithful are those just watching out for these provocations, rubbing their hands, and saying with Clint Eastwood: 'Make my day!' They take the largely obscure provocation and bring it to the attention of the entire community of the faithful.
  4. Then, of course, all hell breaks lose. This is now well practiced. Marches, demonstrations, riots. Like a Ferrari, the rage erupts from 0 to 60 miles an hour in seconds. Property is damaged. Lives are lost.
  5. Then it spreads from country to country, potentially all the branches of the community of the faithful. More lives are lost. Tragedy piles on tragedy. Throughout it all, only tiny minorities are involved in the displays of  sulfurous rage. Most citizens get on with their lives. But that does not matter. The television images are powerful. It is the propaganda of the deed that counts.
  6. In all these countries, moderates are cowed and political leaders react depending on their political priorities or circumstances. Some try to exploit the rage on the streets, others are simply terrified, unsure how to react. The last is especially true of the new, relatively weak post-Arab Spring governments.
  7. A sense of crisis seizes the entire  world for a few days or weeks. As the Cairo-based  blogger, Issandr El Amrani, rightly points out: 'The resulting cascade of outrage is now predictable: Islamophobes in the West will say "we told you they're fanatics" and the crowd-riling demagogues here will say 'we told you they disrespect us". And politicians everywhere will use the language of outrage in their own petty calculations.'
  8. Eventually, the crisis subsides. The injured nurse their wounds. Families bury and mourn their loved ones. Seminars and op-ed pages erupt with analysis. And life goes back to normal for everyone ...until next time. And given how easy it is to get this going, we now know there will be a next time.

Photo Credit: omarroberthamilton on Flickr

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Submitted by Anonymous on
Surely, why cann't people in the West for once practice free speech on themselves (i.e. talk about yourselves), rather than aim/direct your inadequacies at others - especially since we are all aware about our degrees of sensitivity on certain issues. If you insist on insulting your God/faith, don't assume that others like doing the same thing, after all we are guided by different value systems. Therefore "civilised" people should not assume that if they can tolerate people insulting their God/faith, then people of different value systems will tolerate their God/faith to be insulted (especially by an outsiders). Any fool knows too well that if you come across a man beating his wife because of adultery, don't join and assist him beat the woman and help with the name calling - shout she is a whore, prostitute, etc. No one likes seeing their "loved" ones degraded by another person. Ask African Americans reactions when any "outsider" uses the "n" word - among themselves it is ok, it is even in Videos, CDs, magazines, TV, etc

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