“Ideology is the science of idiots.” John Adams, second President of the United States
Koran, Sura 41: 34
There have been several earnest and helpful efforts to make sense of what happened last week, why it happened, and what it suggests will happen. Five pieces I have found in one way or another illuminating:
The Embassy Protests and Arab Uprising, Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy)
Culture divide fuels Muslims raging at film, New York Times
Does Middle East unrest go beyond film?, National Public Radio
Divided We Stand: Libya’s Enduring Conflicts, International Crisis Group
The Dignity of Difference, Being (interview with Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain)
But in my judgment all of these analyses fail to capture the deep distinctions of felt culture and fundamental worldview that differentiate most Americans from most Arabs and increasingly divide Muslim from Muslim.
I’m not up to the task either. But in Sunday’s New York Times there were two long pieces — purposefully twinned — that describe a crucial shift in Western culture over the last 100 years that lends a helpful lens to contemporary US-Arab relations.
There is absolutely no mention of Benghazi or Cairo or Islam or US foreign policy. The articles deal with how high art could once be profoundly shocking to sophisticated Western audiences in a way that is unimaginable today. The gulf between my grandfather hearing Stravinsky and my own reaction begins to explain the difference between today’s Times Square and Tahrir Square.
If you can feel the weight and meaning of this generational shift in the West, you will have a toe-hold on understanding the complexities that last week exploded in death, injury and destruction across a good portion of the Arab world and beyond.
If the analogy sounds interesting, check out: Shock Value.