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The (Sociological) Truth Behind U.S. Embassy Attacks

A few weeks ago, a U.S. citizen released an anti-Islamic video, which sparked reaction around the world, particularly in Muslim countries which were affected by the rapid changes associated with the Arab Spring of 2011. In the aftermath, several U.S. embassies were overrun, and most notably the U.S. Ambassador to Lybia and other Americans were killed.

The question from a sociological standpoint is: why do these things happen? What is the reason for this strong reaction? And especially important... why did they happen in these countries (Lybia and those who have recently experienced toppled governments), and not other Muslim nations? It is because of a conflict between Islam and Christianity? Is it a conflict between religion and free speech?

As usual, sociologists would look to other hidden factors. Many sociologists of religion have noted that fundamentalism is very often concerned with rejecting or resisting the current cultural trends that are going on around them. Specifically, they are reacting to globalization.

“Globalization? How could they be reacting to globalization? Aren’t they obviously reacting to slanderous statements about their faith?” Maybe not. If it were really about an attack on the faith of Islam, why did these reactions and protests not develop in other Muslim dominated countries-- but occurred largely in countries that recently experienced upheaval and rapid change?

Sociologists would note that the strong reaction to this video may be a reaction against global modernization as much as it may be a reaction against religious defamation. Sociologists note that all fundamentalist groups (whether they be Islamic, Christian, or some other type) react against pluralism in the world and feel that it threatens their traditions. In addition, these groups tend to fear any kind of economic connection or dependence upon other groups and cultures. So as much as they are reacting against the content of the video, they may be at the same time reacting to the very fact that a message was presented through an electronic video medium. The medium is the message, and that is in part, what fundamentalists resist-- a global culture that absorbs all other cultures. They desire to preserve their culture, and not have it be influenced by voices from halfway around the world.

Of course I'm not trying to say that Muslims or Christians or any religion is indifferent to their prophets and leaders being slandered in the media. But what many sociologists have noted is that this may not be all of the story. The very fact that videos can be produced and disseminated through the Internet may be just as threatening as the content of the videos themselves. The fact that a video message can be sent out quickly around the world can be overwhelming to a traditionalist movement. Instead of reacting so strongly, why didn't Muslim groups (or other fundamentalist groups) respond by simply saying "what you are saying about our Prophet is just not true"? Why didn't they just put out their own video to counter what was being said? Sociologists would note that in addition to the content of the video, they are in part fighting a battle against the changes of globalization that are taking place around them. That this is as much a culture fight as it is a religious battle. Perhaps more so. The change that they are resisting is change itself.


For further reading:

Antoun, Richard. T. 2008. Understanding fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish movements. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Davidman, Lynn. 1990. Accommodation and resistance to modernity: A comparison of two contemporary Orthodox Jewish groups. Sociological Analysis (Spring), 35-51.

Marty, Martin, & Appleby, R. Scott. 1992. The glory and the power: The fundamentalist challenge to the modern age. Boston: Beacon Press.

Roberts, Keith A., & Yamane, David. 2012. Religion in Sociological Perspective. 5th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, Pine Forge.

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Bo Cassell is an Associate Professor of Sociology at MidAmerica Nazarene University. In his 20+ years of experience working with youth and young adults, he has directed mission programs, developed youth conferences, and served as a youth pastor. He is the author of three books, including Water, Fire, Wind: The Elements of Following Christ, and Global Christianity: The Life We’re Called To Live-- both of which were commissioned as the preparation reading for two youth conferences attended by over 17,000 teenagers. He has also written curriculum for WordAction Publishers, and published several articles in Group Magazine, Journal for Student Ministries, Youthworker Journal, and Credo Magazine. A student of missions and culture, he has traveled to over a dozen countries, and set foot on every continent except Antarctica. He is a sought after speaker for leadership and youth ministry workshops, college campus chapels, and youth camps and retreats. Bo is a graduate of Pepperdine University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He holds two Masters degrees, and is working toward a PhD. He lives outside of Kansas City.


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Guest Friday, 25 July 2014

About This Blog

OhBehave is the outreach blog of the MNU Behavioral Sciences Department. In matters related to Psychology, Sociology, and Criminal Justice you will find information and updates geared to keep students and professionals abreast of the latest research, professional developments, and important trends in each field. As we seek a life of purpose, the material presented in this blog is meant to enhance and deepen our understanding of people and our world so that we may intentionally reflect the grace and peace of our creator.