The Muslim protests in Sydney, along with their violence and offensive slogans, have been hogging the airwaves here since the weekend. Perhaps the best analysis of what is happening comes from Waleed Aly, who is a wonderfully talented and insightful interlocutor.
[...] these protesters are not truly protesting to make a point. The protest is the point. It feels good. It feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. It's not instrumental. It doesn't achieve anything directly. But it is catharsis. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless. Accordingly, it is not an option to leave an insult unanswered because that is a sign of weakness, rather than transcendence.
Soon you have a subculture: a sub-community whose very cohesion is based almost exclusively on shared grievance. Then you have an identity that has nothing to say about itself; an identity that holds an entirely impoverished position: that to be defiantly angry is to be.
But now a more serious conversation is necessary. One that's not about how we should be speaking out to defend our prophet and ourselves. One that's more about whether we can speak about anything else.
Being an amateur student of history, I have been looking to the trajectory of Christianity to understand how Islam is likely to evolve. The traditional view of the two religions is that Christianity has had a head start of a few centuries to evolve its thinking, and so Islam will evolve similarly in a few more centuries. After all, the Dark Ages of Europe and the Inquisition showed the world the worst of Christian intolerance, bigotry and parochialism, and the Old Testament competes with the Quran in the violent imagery of its passages. [Some would add the Crusades to the list of Christian transgressions, although I'm not sure if those were the result of religious supremacism or a reaction to the Arabs' conquest of Jerusalem.]
Utopian ideologies have a short lifespan. Some are bloodier than others. As long as Islamists were able to market their philosophy as the only alternative to dictatorship and foreign meddling, they were attractive to an oppressed polity. But with their election to office they will be subjected to the test of government. It is clear, as we saw in Iran in 2009 and elsewhere, that if the philosophy of the Islamists is fully and forcefully implemented, those who elected them will end up disillusioned. The governments will begin to fail as soon as they set about implementing their philosophy: strip women of their rights; murder homosexuals; constrain the freedoms of conscience and religion of non-Muslims; hunt down dissidents; persecute religious minorities; pick fights with foreign powers, even powers, such as the U.S., that offered them friendship. The Islamists will curtail the freedoms of those who elected them and fail to improve their economic conditions.
After the disillusion and bitterness will come a painful lesson: that it is foolish to derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets. Just like the Iranian people have begun to, the Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, and perhaps Syrians and others will come to this realization. In one or two or three decades we will see the masses in these countries take to the streets—and perhaps call for American help—to liberate them from the governments they elected. This process will be faster in some places than others, but in all of them it will be bloody and painful. If we take the long view, America and other Western countries can help make this happen in the same way we helped bring about the demise of the former Soviet Union.
Gulbadi, caught up in a chanting fever, was now hardly able to separate consonant from vowel. The 'Hare' had gone and the blue god's name was now just a breathy whisper: "Krish-na, Krish-na, Krish-na, rama, rama, rama." Just at the point when it seemed the momentum had to break, it got faster and louder. I was watching Gulbadi when someone walked into the room behind me. It was the expression on his face, of fear and resignation, that made me turn. I saw a tall man with a stoop, and a short, salt and pepper beard, come in and sit down. His entry coincided with Gulbadi upping the ante: "Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, rama, rama, rama, Ali, Ali, Ali, Allah, Allah, Allah."