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…and nightmares, too.

There are dreams. Dr King had one. And then there are the bad ones—nightmares. We’re living through one of these in the Mid-East is I write this.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Someone in Los Angeles produced a movie which mocks Muhammed, Prophet to the third “People of the Book.” A fourteen-minute trailer for the film found its way onto You Tube, where it has been seen by millions of Muhammed’s faithful followers around the world, but especially in the Middle East. And groups of those those highly offended Muslims have taken their anger to the streets and taken aim at some of the available symbols of the United States—which, of course, had nothing to do with the creation of said film, but which also can do little to suppress it. Places where democracy is nascent may be unfamiliar with the concept of freedom of speech; it’s been a long time since they’ve enjoyed it. It may surprise us that something we take for granted (though I’m beginning to question that short list in my own mind) may be foreign—literally—to those frustrated that the Arab Spring has moved so slowly.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is faced with a crime committed in a sealed environment. In characteristic Christie style, Poirot assembles all aboard the train car trapped in a deep snowfall on its way from Istanbul toward Belgrade. It behooves him to solve the crime before arrival at Belgrade, however, whose police force will unreasonably complicate the lives of all aboard and delay their arrival in Paris. If you’ve not seen the 1974 movie adaptation, there is, as Poirot observes, “…the simple answer,” and adds after a pregnant pause, “There is also the more…complex one.”

The simple answer prevails. The simple answer satisfies. The simple answer will move everyone along toward their destinations more expeditiously. 

Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist—at least I don’t think so. So thinking about the anti-Islam film that has fired the current situation in the Middle East, I’d welcome a Hercule Poirot to delineate the possible answers. For example…

Recent news coveerage suggests that this much may be true: A “cattle call” went out for actors in a projected romantic film set somewhere in the Arab World. The script—pages of which have flickered briefly on your T.V. screen—is innocuous and the cast dutifully delivered them under the direction of someone whose identity seems cloudy. Some time later editors dubbed an Arabic language sound track presenting a completely different dialogue, the presentation of Muhammed found so offensive in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere. The actors are shocked at what had been done to their craft and the director is nowhere to be found. Clearly there is more here than meets the eye and ear.

The Simple Answer

Those with an intent to goad the Muslim world into a rage can be found aplenty on the fringe of the religious Right—the likes of bufoons like Rev Terry Jones, who publicly burned copies of the Koran in a Florida parking lot a year or so ago, or more sophisiticated bigots like Pat Robertson. Jerry Falwell would be among them if he were alive. I wonder where the Westboro Baptist Church stands on this issue? The money trail is likely to lead in that direction. Perhaps hastily, that’s a bandwagon I’ve been inclined to join. But there are certainly other more complex—complicated and even devious—answers.

…and more complex ones

Suppose, for example, disgruntled participants in the Arab Spring—perhaps a minority group that lost power in the shell game of Democracy 101—decided to stir the pot. They might themselves be Muslim culturally, but less than Muslim religiously. Why shouldn’t the Muslim world be as diverse as the Christian one, I ask naively. 

Suppose the money trail leads well beyond U.S. borders, through Swiss Banks to who knows where. Is it simplistic to apply Ockam’s Razor and choose the easy but embarrassing domestic answer, one drawn from our own discomfort with the “other” in a polarized political environment? Or is it cynical to seek answers elsewhere; more complicated explanations that may cast us as unwitting boobs in a twisted international conspiracy?

Where is Hercule Poirot when we need him?


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