Friday, September 14, 2012

An Open Letter to the Protesters in the Middle East and North Africa

If presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, with no actual authority to do so, can make ultimata and threats to and/or regarding foreign powers and foreign citizenry, then I can certainly address same -- and I promise you that my words will make more sense, even if I type them while mostly asleep.  At least I'm not a robot.  (I also have the advantage of not being a candidate for any public office.)

Open letter to the protesters in over a dozen Middle-Eastern and North-African countries:

Dear fellow citizens of the world:

I don't know you and you don't know me.  I cannot imagine what it is like to live in your country and you cannot imagine what it is like to live in mine.  However, whereas I have not seen films made in your country, you likely have seen films made in mine, and since you do not have a cultural frame of reference for them, you have a good many preconceptions about how I live, and I have very few about how you live.  (I have seen brief news clips showing me how you dress, what a street or two may look like, and I know a tiny bit about your country's official religion, and that's about it.)  Therefore you likely have an entrenched picture of me in your mind that is very far from accurate, and I must say that while the picture of you in my mind may be just as inaccurate, I'm not devoted to it and can easily change it when presented with new evidence.    It's not entrenched.

One of the things you don't know about my country is that it's bigger than you can imagine, and more diverse than you can imagine.  That means sometimes the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.  I'm not talking about our government (although sometimes that seems to be true of it, or portions of it, as well) but of the culture.  We don't have one culture.  We have a unifying undercurrent, and television and the internet both connect and divide us, but we're divided into states, each of which may be as big as one of your countries, or in some cases larger, and have rather powerful governments, and those states are divided into counties or other such divisions, with governments, and the cities in them have governments too.  I'd say that the federal government and the state governments have the most power and that they often clash.  That sounds like a mess but considering how messy it COULD be, it works rather well when everyone does his or her part.  I won't go into our political situation of the moment; it's complex and it's not to the point anyway.

Another thing you need to know about this country is that we have a Constitution that protects, among other freedoms, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  This can be more than inconvenient; every human being in the universe is not a genius and stupid people say and do stupid things.  If stupidity was against the law the world would be one great big prison.  The founders of our country made an important decision, and that was that it was more important to protect people's rights to be who they are than to stop them from doing and saying stupid, even offensive, things.  There are exceptions.  We can't do whatever we want:  murder is against the law, for example.  We can say ALMOST whatever we want, but we can't shout "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre, for example; that would endanger people.  We can say we believe something, religiously, that most people think is stupid or even offensive, but we can't kill people as part of our religion, and we can't force our religion upon others.  These two freedoms are so cherished, treasured and valued here, OFFICIALLY cherished, treasured and valued, that there are often fierce arguments about what constitutes an exception.  Decisions are usually made in favor of individual freedom unless someone ELSE's individual freedom is endangered.

So when I first heard about the awful, anti-Islamic film against which you are all protesting, my reaction was, "but it's not something the government made or sanctioned; it's just some idiot who did something stupid.  Ignore it.  It's not how most Americans feel, it's not how America officially feels, and it's just trash."  HOWEVER, now I know that although my first thought is still correct -- it's still got nothing to do with our government, it's still got nothing to do with how most Americans feel and it's still trash -- it's not JUST trash.  It's calculated trash, and it was made for the purpose of causing you to riot.  In this it has succeeded.

The maker of the film has told various people different lies about his own identity (given several names, called himself an Israeli, which it appears now that he is not); told his actors lies about the intent of the film (dubbed different dialogue in to change the actual story, which was originally not even about the Prophet Muhammed -- and the actors say they are very angry about being fooled); told various people different lies about who financed the film and how much it cost to make (he said it was financed by Jews and cost millions of dollars; it probably cost about $60,000 and was financed by the filmmaker's Christian relatives in... now I forget, Syria or Lebanon, pardon me for forgetting which country).  I don't even know if the filmmaker was American.  I'm thinking he probably was.  That doesn't mean America approved of or benefits from what he did.  In fact we very much failed to benefit.  We have just had four Americans murdered in Libya.

Anyway, the film apparently was transported to the U.K. and there translated and dubbed into Arabic, then broadcast for your viewing displeasure.  Why would it be dubbed into Arabic? It was obviously intended to be viewed by you, with a predictable reaction.  So now I am thinking (and I do not work for the government so I don't know for sure) that this does after all involve an actual crime, and that our government is investigating this not just to find out who made such a stupid film, but to find out who deliberately provoked anti-American feeling and actions in your countries.  This has to be a federal crime.  I don't know how long it takes to investigate such things but I do know it's not as simple as going to the filmmaker's house and slapping handcuffs on him.  This appears to be much bigger than that.

SOMEONE wanted this film to be made in order to provoke you to violent protest.  SOMEONE wanted the Arabic world to explode into violent anti-American action.  That someone was not necessarily the filmmaker; he was just a tool (a loathesome racist tool).  It was certainly not the United States government.  I don't think it was any of the governments of your countries either.  Al Qaeda?  Friends of Al Qaeda?  I am not privy to that but it sounds likely to me.

Now you may have heard that we have some crazy folks here, some of them elected officials, who say stupid racist anti-Islamic things.  Yes, that's right.  And intelligent people think these particular officials are morons.  We don't know how they got elected but we're certainly campaigning to get them UNelected.  We do this peacefully.  That's how we're supposed to do it.  We have crazy violent folks too; those folks get arrested and tried and imprisoned.  That's not how we're supposed to do things here and for the most part it's not how we do things here.  But back to the elected officials saying stupid racist stuff and calling for the burning of the Koran and suchlike.  Do not be fooled into thinking they represent our nation, or the majority of our people, or our federal government.  We have an election coming up.  Opponents are trying to discredit one another.  SOME (not all) of them will do or say ANYTHING, not matter how rude, indiscreet, harmful, untrue or all of the above those things might be.  Ignore them.  They're losers.  We're working on it.  

Are most Americans fond of you right now?  No!  We don't know what you're doing; you're scaring us.  We don't all have full information either.  I sure don't (though I seem to have more than some of the people I know).  We see people attacking our embassies and asking us to DO SOMETHING about this film.  You can't see us doing something even though our government actually is; we're not going to do the "something" you want us to do.  We're not going to make people stop saying what they believe even if what they believe is stupid and offensive.  We're not going to remove our people's freedom of speech, freedom of religion or other freedoms.  But our government IS investigating how this film came to be more than just a piece of trash that no one ever saw and that fell into obscurity and didn't manage to harm anyone.  How did this happen?  We're working on it.  We want to do it RIGHT.

Do most Americans HATE you?  No!  We don't know you.  Please don't make your anger the basis on which we judge you.  Please show us that you understand that America didn't make this film and this film doesn't reflect America.  Please give us a chance to find out who turned it into something volatile and bring that person or those persons to justice.

Best wishes for your health, happiness and satisfaction in this matter, and for your understanding of why that satisfaction might come from a better solution than, say, hanging the filmmaker; best wishes for peace between and among us and our nations,

Gail M Feldman

1 comment:

genessa said...

i'll comment here, casually, to what i just learned, which is that one of the demands of the protesters is the public execution of the filmmaker(s). sorry folks, that is not going to happen. first of all, we don't HAVE public executions. some of our states don't have capital punishment at all, and those of us who wanted to be citizens of a civilized country want those states that still have it to ban it. second of all, making a nasty film that insults anyone, no matter whom, not matter how badly, is NOT a capital crime. i've explained about freedom of speech. it applies to everyone, even bad people. third of all, your demand is from the point of view of america's demanding that no one say anything bad about anyone else, especially about religion and especially about YOUR religion. we don't have that rule. we do not have sharia law. we're never going to have sharia law.

you still have the right to be mad about this film and as i said we're working on bringing to justice the people who turned it into incitement to riot, but your demand is unreasonable and impossible. there will be no public execution, and if you react to that fact by choosing an innocent american or some other person and executing that person, then your protest not only loses focus and loses credibility, but you become worse than what you're protesting. don't do that. please don't do that. you fought hard for your freedom. don't demand that others give up theirs.