Violent protest over the “Innocence of Muslims”: why does the extent of protest vary across Muslim majority contexts?
The film, “Innocence of Muslim” has recently become a significant topic due to the violent protest in several Muslim majority countries. The most violent protest took place in Pakistan. About 17 people died and nearly 200 were injured while protesting in Peshawar and Karachi, Pakistan. In addition, Libya, Egypt and Iran belong to the list of the countries where violent protests occurred. US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three embassy officials were killed in Benghazi, Libya. In Egypt, protestors tore down the US flag and about 3000 Salafist demonstrators protested in front of the US embassy in Cairo. The Iranian government has blocked Google as a form of protest. On the other hand, there are some other Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Bangladesh, where some protests occurred, but did not involve significant violence. The puzzle that emerges is why these violent protests are seen in some Muslim majority countries, but not in others: if the film disrespects the Prophet Muhammad, and also the values of the Muslim communities across the world, then why has the extent of the violence varied from country to country? The existing literature on identity and conflict underlines how the political interests of leaders might be a cause of conflict. I will seek to argue that political leaders have used opposition to the “Innocence of Muslims” video as a political tool in order to serve their own interests. Such interests may vary from country to country and affect the intensity of protests. Using a deductive reasoning and both a voluntaristic and an instrumentalist approach, I hypothesize that the extent of protest against the “Innocence of Muslims” varied in different Muslim majority countries due to the variation of the domestic and international political interests of leaders in those particular countries.
My preliminary research has revealed some facts that would support an explanation based on instrumentalism and voluntarism. In Iran, the government itself is mobilizing people for the protest and has blocked Google. Some scholars have said that the Iranian government has blocked Google so that local information about its nuclear weapons does not get leaked to the people outside, meaning that the government may have used the movie as an excuse to bolster its own security. Encouraging opposition to the movie may also enable Iran to divert the international community’s attention away from its nuclear program and support for the Syrian government. Furthermore, USA and Iran do not have a friendly diplomatic relations. Therefore, it might also be the reason to show solidarity with the other Muslim majority countries through protesting against the film. In contrast, Saudi Arabia has seen fewer protests. Is it because they maintain a strong diplomatic relation with USA? There has been less participation observed in Bangladesh as well. Few days ago, a strike has been held in Bangladesh by some Islamic parties, which are allied with the main opposition party. Also, the Bangladeshi government has blocked YouTube. The government perhaps fears of losing votes as Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country and this film has disrespected the values of Muslim. Therefore, Bangladeshi government has taken action by blocking the YouTube, leaving no chances left for the opposition party and its allies to make protest and create chaos across the country. The opposition party also did not mobilize people against the movie as it may also want to maintain good relations with the US.
Deductive reasoning usually refers to deriving a general hypothesis based on the theories and then drawing a more specific conclusion from empirically testing that hypothesis.
A leadership centric/voluntaristic approach to conflict emphasizes the role of leaders who mobilize people for the protest or conflict in order to serve their own political interest.
An instrumentalist approach to conflict refers to the political or economic interests of the leaders might create ethnic conflict. Also, in this approach, people think about what they might achieve or lose due to the conflict. Grievances among ethnic groups may also give birth to conflicts in this approach.
Culturalism refers to sorting people according to their unique and ascriptive identities and it says that conflict occurs due to the intensification of those cultural identities.
Institutionalism refers to strength or weakness of institutions like state, regime, police force, government and etc. are correlated with the absence or presence of ethnic conflict.
Torn countries are those Countries that remain alienated from rest of the civilization and the leaders of these countries want to shift it into a different one.
Selection bias is one of the drawbacks of deductive reasoning.
Ascriptive identities are those that people are born with, such as, language, religion, race and etc.
Everyday forms of engagement refer to children playing together, community fairs. Associational forms of engagement refer to reading clubs, business associations, sports clubs, trade unions.
Huntington (1993) used a culturalist approach, dividing the world in several civilizations according to our ascriptive identities, in his attempt to explain why conflict occurs. He proves that the notion that people belong to a certain civilization leads towards colliding among groups rather than bringing them together. According to Huntington (1993), civilizations can be differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition, and, most importantly, by religion. Due to globalization, though the world is getting smaller, people are becoming more responsive towards the similarities within their own civilizations and differences with other civilizations. According to Huntington (1993), even though people are not so much concerned about their local identities, they are concerned about their religious identity. Sometimes, these religious identities outweigh national identity and thus unite civilization. The western civilization is influential and dominating. Therefore, the non-western civilization wants to utilize its resources in order develop the world in non-western way. Cultural differences are not easily negotiable like political and economic differences. Huntington (1993) also talked about the increasing rate of economic regionalism, which will strengthen civilization consciousness. My explanation directly refutes Huntington’s culturalist approach because I am focusing more on the voluaristic and instrumentalist approach that deals mainly with political interest of the leaders.
On the other hand, Varshney (2001) used an institutionalist approach in “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society”, signifying the associational forms of engagement and everyday forms of engagement, in order to explain why ethnic conflict occurs in India. It seems like Varshney (2001) responds to the puzzle, which is why some places with ethnic diversity remain peaceful while others experience violence. He argues that the presence or the absence of ethnic violence depends on the structure of civic life in an ethnically diverse society. According to Varshney (2001), civic structures are of two types, everyday forms of engagement and associational forms of engagement. His results show that everyday forms of engagement seem to provide stability in ethnically diverse regions in rural areas whereas associational forms of engagement are more suitable for the urban settings. Varshney (2001) also used a voluntaristic approach while talking about the politicians having hard times separating people by ethnicity because of the bond created through the everyday and associational forms of engagement. According to Varshney, these civic networks hardly make any scope for the politicians to lead one ethnic group against another. Additionally, He used an instrumentalist approach while mentioning that common economic interests between Hindus and Muslims do not let them involve in conflict. The approaches, which I used for my explanation, complement Varshney’s voluntaristic and instrumentalist approaches. However, it contradicts with Varshney’s institutionalist explanation because my explanation focuses entirely on the political interest of the leaders.
On the other hand, using a mixture of structuralist and voluntaristic approach, Posner (2004) in “The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi”, explains how the size of the ethnic groups and politicians shape ethnic conflicts. Posner explains how cultural differences become politically salient through a natural experiment. He found that the cultural differences between Chewas and Tumbukas on each side of the border are the same. However, these two groups are totally different in terms of the political salience. According to Posner (2004), these differences rise from the different sizes of the Chewa and Tumbuka communities in each country compared to each country’s total population. In Malawi, Chewas and Tumbukas are each large groups comparing to the country as a whole. On the other hand, in Zambia, Chewas and Tumbukas are small groups relative to the country as a whole. Therefore, politicians have influence over the Chewa or the Tumbuka communities in Malawi as they can benefit through strengthening the intra ethnic bond and weakening the interethnic bond. However, it is not possible in Zambia due to smaller size of the communities comparing to the size of the country as a whole. It depends on the politicians whether they will use the size of the group as a political tool or not. Finally, the result shows that the political salience of cultural cleavages depends on the size of the ethnic groups compared to the country as a whole. My hypothesis supports Posner’s voluntaristic approach as he talks about the political interest of the leaders in shaping ethnic conflict. However, my explanation does not deal with the structuralist approach that he used.
I think it depends on the context which approach should be used. Posner’s and Varshney’s approaches are based on some specific context whereas Huntington’s culturalist approach is based on a broad context. My way of understanding the protest over “Innocence of Muslims” perfectly goes with Varshney’s instrumentalist and voluntaristic approach as well as Posner’s voluntaristic approach.
Main and Alternative hypotheses:
Thus, I draw my own hypothesis, using a deductive reasoning and both a voluntaristic and an instrumentalist approach, that the extent of protest against the “Innocence of Muslims” is different in different Muslim majority countries due to the variation of the domestic and international political interest of those particular countries.
There can have few alternative hypotheses on the topic. Using a culturalist approach, some might argue that the anti-western sentiment among the Muslim civilizations led to the violent protest in some of the Muslim countries, but not in all because those are torn countries. However, I think it is not correct to use this hypothesis because Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh are not in the list of torn countries.
In addition, using an institutionalist approach, some might hypothesize that the variation in the strength and weaknesses of the law enforcement, government and the state causes the variation in the level of protest among different Muslim majority countries. However, I think that it is also incorrect to say that the protest varies along with how strong or weak the institutions are because there are examples of Muslim majority countries having quite strong institutions but having violent protest. For example Iran is a strong state considering its high autonomy and high capacity. In addition, there are examples of Muslim majority countries, having very weak institutions, but not having any noticeable protest. For example, Bangladesh is a weak state considering its low capacity, and to some extent, low autonomy.
Protest can be of two levels, protest initiated by the government and protest initiated by the group of people not associated with the government. I will divide the countries into two groups, ones with violent protest and the ones that do not involve any significant level of violence. Pakistan and Iran will be in the list of countries with violent protest. Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh will be in the list of countries that do not involve any significant level of violence. In order to test my hypothesis, I will try to understand the domestic and international levels of political interest which might lead the protesters or the initiator of the protest to incite or take part in violence. In order to proceed, I would keep track of news events from the local newspapers to understand what kind of domestic and international political interest the countries might have. I might also interview people who protested to find out who are mobilizing them to take part in the protest. Also, I will talk to the leaders in order to understand their point of views. Moreover, observing their recent actions regarding the “innocence of Muslims” and studying their previous political activities, I would try to understand what sort of domestic political interests they might have. In addition, taking track of the international news particularly which are related to those specific countries would help me to understand what kind of international level of political interest the leaders might have. I would also collect information regarding the groups that are protesting in order to know whether these groups are allied with the government or the opposition party. As I am showing a correlation between the extent of the violent protest and the political interest through deductive reasoning, selection bias might be an issue for my research. There might be Muslim majority contexts where violent and peaceful protests are held without any forms of political interest. However, through my preliminary research I think I would be able to overcome the pitfalls of the deductive reasoning. In addition, there can always have some exceptional cases in every research. If the frequency of the exceptional cases is fewer, then it will not be an issue. Huntington’s (1996) “torn countries” is an example of exceptional cases that he took into consideration while doing research.
Lots of people are being killed by taking part in the violent protest against the “Innocence of Muslims”. If this research strengthens our understanding of the causes of the conflict, then action can be taken to address the situation more effectively. Also, we will get to know the factors which are influencing some of the Muslim countries not to participate in violent protest. Thus, this research will answer why there is variation in violent protest across the Muslim countries. Previously, political scholars like Huntington and Varshney refers to culturalist and institutionalist approach respectively in order to explain why conflict occurs. My research will add a new dimension towards our understanding of identity-based conflict through its focus on political interests.