Since colonialism brought Western and Islamic societies crashing together over a century ago, the former has struggled to understand the rage it seems to provoke in the latter.
A protester rests on a barricade near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt. (Reuters)
In August 1857, a century before the United Nations would declare the Israeli state in what had been Palestine, before British and French diplomats would formally carve up the Middle East, before the U.S. would back a coup in Iran, before political Islamism would emerge, and before the U.S. would arm unmanned airplanes to kill Islamism's most violent and radical adherents, the British empire found itself besieged by Muslim protesters.
Officers at Fort William, in the Indian city of Calcutta, were the first to require colonial troops to grease their rifles with a compound that included cow and pig fat, a mixture guaranteed to offend both Hindus and Muslims. Many of the troops, known as sepoys, protested. The protests spread and turned violent, growing into an uprising that affected much of the British Raj at a time long before it was unified by roads or telephones, much less cell phones or the Internet. To give a sense of scale, the Raj covered about 4 million square kilometers; the countries of today's European Union make up 4.3 million.
Looking back, the cause-and-effect between the animal grease and the protests might seem obvious today, but it shocked British overseers at the time, and historians still dispute the larger causes, which seem to go well beyond just the pig fat offense. "Muslim activists called the mutiny a jihad, and their well-organized assaults suggested that the bullet-grease issue had merely been the spark," Tamim Ansary wrote in his book, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. The suddenness and vociferousness of 1857's Muslim protests, in what was then the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, as well as the West's struggle to either foresee or understand their anger, have their echoes in this past week's demonstrations against the U.S. over the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims.
As the Western world once again endeavors to understand the roots of apparently anti-Western rage that have again surfaced in large parts of the Muslim world, it's worth remembering the history of offense and backlash that has been a recurring theme of their intersections. Ansary's history of the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion cited "the cultural gulf between the British officers and their [Indian] foot soldiers, a gulf that had not existed before Europeans arrived." Then, as now, Western observers looked for causes political and cultural, particular to this uprising in this moment and general to the region and its history. They've found plenty: economic disenfranchisement among certain classes, conversion anxieties, political manipulation, local factors, and of course foreign domination, among many others. Islam and its followers came under special scrutiny, also like today, although the fact that so many Hindus participated suggests that the particularities of this one religion were not a good lens for understanding the rebellion.
It's entirely possible, even likely, that there is truth to a number of these theories, just as with the sometimes similar and sometimes different theories of "Muslim Rage," to borrow from a 1990 Atlanticcover story, that Westerns have explored so many times before. We've had many opportunities to theorize: the 2010 Florida Koran burning protests, the 2005 Muhammad cartoon protests, the wide 1990 demonstrations in support of Saddam Hussein that shocked the West, the near-global violence over Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, and the deadly 1979 U.S. embassy attacks in Iran, Libya, and Pakistan. Protests and anger marked much of the colonial era as well, from the 1936 Arab Uprising in then-Palestine to the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion to the 1879 Urabi Revolt in Egypt.
It's worth considering the extent to which these movements have been connected by themes that can both encompass and be larger than the particularities of each. Many in the Middle East and South Asia are in fact furious with the U.S. for its drone program, but their anger and suspicion look awfully similar to those propelling the demonstrations in, for example, 1979 or 1988 or 1990 or 2005, during most of which drones did not exist. To say that Muslims are protesting because they're angry about drones is true in a similar way that, for example, San Francisco Democrats are likely to vote against Mitt Romney in November because they dislike his stance on gay marriage, or that people in China are protesting Japan because they disagree with Tokyo's claim over some disputed islands.
There is probably no simple, single explanation for something as old, complicated, and variegated as the anger in parts of the Muslim world against the West. Not even colonialism, perhaps the single most significant interaction between the Western and Muslim worlds since the Renaissance, is a satisfactory explanation: why, then, do the harshly colonized societies of sub-Saharan Africa report some of the highest approval ratings for American leadership in the world? (Before you answer "because oil" or "because Islam," keep in mind the Angola and Nigeria are enormous oil exporters to the U.S., and that much of Africa is Muslim.)
Perhaps the single most consistent theme in the anti-Western protests and incidents that we so often term "Muslim rage" is our perennial struggle to understand them. "Why do they hate us?" is a question we've been asking for a long time. Judging by some of the protest signs dotting Africa and Asia last week, demanding Western respect for Islam and its adherents, it might be a question that many Muslims ask of us, too. None of this is to advance a specific theory for last week's protests or the anger behind them, but rather to place them within the much longer history of offense and outrage between the Western and Muslim worlds, a generations-old mutual misapprehension that has long defied the sorts of easy answers that we might be tempted to reach for today.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
TOKYO—Japan’s population is shrinking. For the first time since the government started keeping track more than a century ago, there were fewer than 1 million births last year, as the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people. The blame has long been put on Japan’s young people, who are accused of not having enough sex, and on women, who, the narrative goes, put their careers before thoughts of getting married and having a family.
But there’s another, simpler explanation for the country’s low birth rate, one that has implications for the U.S.: Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
Amidst the no-shampoo revolution, a look at global hygiene habits
Cleanliness, it turns out, has been one dirty trick. One reason early-20th-century Americans ramped up their weekly baths to daily showers is that marketing companies capitalized on the insecurities of a new class of office drones working in close quarters. As Gizmodo wrote last week, to sell products like "toilet soap" and Listerine to Americans, "the advertising industry had to create pseudoscientific maladies like 'bad breath' and 'body odor.'"
Take, for instance, Gizmodo's description of the philosophy of the Cleanliness Institute, which was founded by the Association of American Soap and Glycerine Producers:
The trade association wanted Americans to wash quite unwittingly after toilet, to wash without thought before eating, to jump into the tub as automatically as one might awake each new day.
The president also angrily lashed out at the media and his critics.
President Trump lashed out at the media in a Saturday morning tweetstorm, insisting his authority to issue pardons is “complete” and expressing frustration over stories that revealed Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have lied about his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.
“A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions. These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!” the president tweeted, following up by stating that “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS.”
The tacit acknowledgement the president has been thinking about his pardon power in relation to the Russia investigation, and the qualification that no crimes but leaks had been revealed “so far” raised eyebrows among media observers.
The Senate parliamentarian’s rejection of important provisions of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill puts its status in further jeopardy.
On Friday, Senate Democrats released a list of provisions in the Republican health-care bill that the Senate parliamentarian holds can pass via a simple, filibuster-proof majority vote. Among those provisions that didn’t meet her scrutiny are the bill’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood, restrict tax-credit funding for insurance plans that provide abortions, and a six-month “lockout” period from purchasing insurance for people who don’t maintain continuous coverage.
If this preliminary guidance holds, the Better Care Reconciliation Act—which is already in dire straits—seems likely to fail.
The final assessment of the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, is a critical step in the GOP’s strategy for passing their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Republicans have opted to pass their health-care legislation via the special reconciliation process, under which they can cut debate short in the Senate and thus eliminate indefinite filibusters, which Democrats would certainly use in order to block any attempt to repeal Obamacare. But bills have to follow a certain procedure—called the Byrd Rule—in order to pass by reconciliation.
On Flower Boy the rapper suggests he’s not straight—and struggles with a stigma he helped propagate.
Tyler, the Creator became famous, in part, for being hateful. When his rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (“Odd Future” is fine) caught buzz around 2010, it was because of their delirious energy and Eminem-like love of mayhem. But it was their threats against women and “faggots,” delivered in song and on social media, that elevated them from subculture phenomenon to become essay prompt and political flashpoint. The likes of GLAAD and the band Tegan and Sara declared Tyler poisonous and asked the music industry to stop supporting him. Theresa May, back when she was home secretary of the U.K., took the extraordinary step of banning him from her country because his lyrics “encourage violence and intolerance of homosexuality.”
One story that should not slip underneath the radar, however, is a report that the Trump administration has apparently entrusted a small group at the White House to undermine the Iran nuclear accords over the objections of the Departments of State and Defense.
The news says a lot about two very narrow ways in which the administration sees not only Iran but the greater world. First, some members of the administration have failed to see the admittedly very real challenges presented by Iran outside the binary U.S.-Iranian contest for influence in the Middle East. Second, and most importantly, some members of the administration still do not understand that much of what the United States has been able to accomplish over the past two decades has been achieved through coalitions that could actively resist U.S. efforts to roll back those accomplishments.
Epic yet intimate, the director's new war film is boldly experimental and visually stunning.
What is Dunkirk?
The answer is more complicated than one might imagine. Director Christopher Nolan’s latest is a war film, of course, yet one in which the enemy scarcely makes an appearance. It is a $150 million epic, yet also as lean and spare as a haiku, three brief, almost wordless strands of narrative woven together in a mere 106 minutes of running time. It is classic in its themes—honor, duty, the horror of war—yet simultaneously Nolan’s most radical experiment since Memento. And for all these reasons, it is a masterpiece.
The historical moment captured by the film ascended long ago to the level of martial lore: In May 1940, in the early days of World War II, some 400,000 British and Allied troops were flanked and entrapped by Germany on the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France. Although the Channel was narrow enough that the men could almost see across to England, the waters were too shallow for warships to approach the beaches. So a flotilla of some 700 civilian craft—the “Little Ships of Dunkirk”—made their way from Ramsgate in England to assist in the rescue.
When photography was new, it was often used to preserve corpses via their images. An Object Lesson.
Photography owes much of its early flourishing to death. Not in images depicting the aftermath of violent crimes or industrial accidents. Instead, through quiet pictures used to comfort grieving friends and relatives. These postmortem photographs, as they are known, were popular from the mid-19th through the early-20th centuries—common enough to grace mantelpieces. Many can be viewed anew at online resources like the Thanatos Archive.
Historians estimate that during the 1840s, the medium’s first decade, as cholera swept through Britain and America, photographers recorded deaths and marriages by a ratio of three to one. Budding practitioners had barely learned to handle the bulky machinery and explosive chemicals before they were asked to take likenesses of the dead: to bend lifeless limbs into natural poses and mask tell-tale signs of sickness, racing against rigor mortis.
The White House is threatening the special counsel and trying to dig up dirt on him, and the prospect that the president will try to fire him now seems very real.
The idea that Donald Trump might fire—or try to fire—Special Counsel Robert Mueller has bubbled up enough times to seem possible, but still improbable. For one thing (as Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, among others, can attest) press reports that this president might fire someone are frequently wrong. For another, it seemed that even Trump was prudent enough to avoid making the mistake that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Yet Trump has a knack for making the wildly implausible suddenly imminent. In the last 36 hours, the idea of Mueller being fired—and the political crisis it would likely set off—has become distinctly real. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump all but said he would fire Mueller if his investigation went into places Trump didn’t like. Since then, several reports have suggested that Trump’s defense strategy, as investigations probe deeper into his life and administration, is to attack Mueller and attempt to discredit him. Increasingly, the operative question seems not to be whether Trump will try to fire Mueller, but when he will do so and what will push him over the edge.