TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Rejecting the Spark-and-Fire Metaphor

Writing in City Journal, Jens-Martin Eriksen and Frederik Stjernfelt discuss the parallels between the recent violence and protests regarding the anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims and the Danish cartoon controversy six years ago:


In the current Mohammed film crisis, certain patterns repeat themselves from the crisis over the Danish cartoons six years ago. In both cases, Middle East Islamists seized on a marginal piece of anti-Islam criticism to put pressure on the West—and on more moderate forces in their own countries.

The Western reaction is also familiar, particularly in its understanding of the Middle East as a bonfire waiting to happen and criticism of Islam as the spark that ignites it. Descriptions of the YouTube film (a trailer, actually) that “sparked protests in many Muslim countries”—as the New Yorker put it in a typical formulation—rely on this false metaphor. It suggests that the protests are spontaneous occurrences that would not have come about without such a spark, and that the demonstrating Muslims are primitive savages governed by passion, not responsible for their own actions. The only parties with control over their actions are the filmmakers.

We should have learned a few things from the Danish cartoon episode. No less than four months elapsed between the cartoons’ publication in September 2005 and the unrest that began in January 2006. The laborious task of machinating such a crisis required journeys by Danish imams in the Middle East, meticulous planning by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, strenuous political pressure from Egyptian foreign secretary Abdul Gheit and Danish ambassador Mona Omar Attia, numerous incendiary speeches from leading Islamists, and much more. In 2006, the spark-and-fire metaphor obscured such planning, just as it does today.

Read the full article at City Journal. Eriksen and Stjernfelt’s The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism, published by Telos Press, is available here.

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