On the Virality of That Anti-Islam Video…

The viral video that is the “Innocence of Muslims”, which seems to have “sparked” anti-US protests around world, is of course a fascinating (and worrying example) of network contagion. Reports of its contagiousness abound in the news

However, similar to the often overstated role Twitter and Facebook played in the Arab Spring we have to be cautious about the extent to which we attribute the virality of this video to a spark, a cause. Less a spark perhaps and more a simmering ember, or a spark in desperate need of a powder keg.

Beyond the usual hyperbole in the Western media, which seems generally shocked by the violent responses of some of these budding new democracies, there is a confused analysis of events.

Why did some commentators in the West expect things to get better after the Arab Spring? Well, maybe Obama love had something to do with it. Soon after he was elected Obama was famously interviewed on Egyptian TV where he said he wanted to make up and form a new partnership with the Middle East.

Exactly what form did his new partnership take? Is it the case that the media are experiencing collective amnesia with regard to the president who ordered a huge surge in troops in Afghanistan and has introduced the drone to skies above the heads of his new partners?

Compare this post election respect for the Hosni Mubarak regime with his recent declaration that “We Don’t Consider [the] Current Egyptian Government an Ally.” A democratically elected Government, that is!

Below is the transcript from a recent interview with Lawrence Davidson on RT News who clears away some the fog surrounding recent events.

An aggressive US foreign policy coupled with Islamophobic American attitudes is the reason for the fiery global backlash to a recent anti-Islam film, Middle East expert Lawrence Davidson explained to RT.

Unfortunately, the massive protests that have taken place in Muslim countries will only increase Islamophobia amongst the American public, which has very little context to understand what is really going on, believes Davidson who is a Professor of Middle Eastern History at the West Chester University.

RT:The Obama administration maintains that all this chaos is because of the film. What are your thoughts?

Lawrence Davidson: The upset about the film comes from a much broader and much older context. Anger in the Middle East that we see today is the same anger that has essentially brought on the 9/11 attacks. And the context for those attacks were ongoing policies of the United States, sanctions policies that hurt innocent civilians, the support of Israel against the Palestinians, invasion of Iraq, invasion of Libya. The general policies of the United States have created a context for anger and because we have not addressed this at all from 9/11 till today we see it again.

RT:If this is all a reaction to America’s foreign policies in the region what is Washington supposed to do? Many of the policies are rooted in security and economy – why would the US sacrifice vital interests?

LD: Many of these policies are rooted in response to special interests. Particularly the relationship with Israel is almost completely a punch in the special interests. In terms of economics you don’t have to back dictatorships in order to get the type of economic arrangements that you want, for instance with Vietnam – we fought a war and now we are trading and negotiating with them. I think that security and economics come much easier and much more securely when you adjust your policies to the expectations of the populations that you are dealing with.

RT:What are you thoughts on the content of the anti-Islam film that incited the angry protests and the French cartoons being released? Where do you draw the line on free speech?

Where you draw the line is – is it free speech or is it incitement to riot? If you can demonstrate that the activities are premeditated, that they are contrived essentially to get a violent reaction – then that’s not a free speech, that’s incitement to riot. And I think this film is exactly that – the incitement to riot.

RT:Regardless of reasons, the protests demonstrate a deep anger with the U.S. in the Muslim world. But how do you think the Western public will react? Will they understand, or will it increase Islamophobia?

LD: It will increase Islamophobia. The American public in any case does not understand. It doesn’t understand because it gets no information except variants on Islamophobic kind of interpretations. So there is no context for the American people to understand what’s going on. That’s why policies haven’t changed – there is no demand for policies to change.

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About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. A former musician, he studied computer technology and cultural theory before receiving a PhD in sociology from the University of Essex. His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) and Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, due 2018). He is organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK, a co-founder of Club Critical Theory and Director of the EmotionUX Lab at UEL. He occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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One Response to On the Virality of That Anti-Islam Video…

  1. Pingback: Viral Facebook party turns into a riot… | VIRALITY

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