Anti-Western Protests in the Middle East: What Does It Mean?

Of all the news programming on TV, I like BBC World the best. They have without a doubt the most attractive selection of news presenters in the world (here, here, here, here, I can go all day). It may be one of the reasons why I think, for all the criticism of imperialism (and we must decry the tyranny of imperialism in all its forms), the English, as a group, in our age, have one of the broadest world perspectives and therefore the most entitled to comment on it. For all the socio-political-economic challenges brought by the resulting migration of peoples, I’m ever so thankful for the ethnic diversity. 

Anyway, my enjoyment of the newscasters has been marred by coverage of current events in the Middle East. And like any good American, my knee-jerk reaction was KILL THEM ALL.

I felt immediate disgust at myself. Not because my reaction was a contradiction of my liberal values. Rather, I felt I’d been manipulated. And I really hate that. The question is, by who? The media? Mmm–nah, that’s a (typically liberal) cop-out. Generally, I view all sources of information with mistrust, including my own empirical evidence (my world is a scary place, indeed). Was it that little shithead, lizard brain, reacting to some perceived threat to my survival? Yes, quite possibly, but being somewhat comfortable middle-class, somewhat educated, living in a Western society, I like to think we’re far enough removed from physical dangers that I’m able to shut down that crap quickly enough. I’m still working through this. To be continued…

But moving past that, and ignoring the motivations and actions of the master manipulators and bit players with agendas (and they are there too), I’ve wanted to try to understand the motivations of the “common people” who are now in the streets across the Middle East, protesting for… something. I feel like this is an even bigger minefield, fraught with so many potential bias judgements. It’s so easy to start talking shit. I do that quite well. But there is more at play than a First World mind can readily understand, even one who witnesses this first-hand on the ground. And maybe this is because we have cleverly learned to shut off that lizard brain.

Issues of poverty, fear, powerlessness, frustration, all coming in to play that are truly beyond our realm of experience, and consequently, I think, beyond our true comprehension.

We have never lived under threat of death by bombing, no matter how many bloody corpses and wailing mothers we see on television (though we got a taste of that on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center in New York was reduced to rubble). We cannot truly conceive what it feels like to be dying because we cannot put something in our mouths to nourish us, no matter how many earnest actors we see holding fly-covered children in their arms. We’re spectators of great dramas, the fourth wall. But for millions of other people in the world, these dramas are their realities.

I need to write about this. It’s important. Not because I can solve it. Not the world problem. Not even my own feelings. I cannot solve any of that. There is no solving here. It’s painful. I just need to feel it right now.