Leave it to Juan Cole to come up with just the right metaphor to interpret the events in Libya and Egypt this week.
Cole knows the Middle East and he has the writing skills to clarify the complexities of the region and how they interact with U.S. politics as they unfold.
Cole is a public intellectual, prominent blogger (Informed Commen t) and essayist. He is also the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.
After reflecting on the chaotic series of events that began with a clumsy, fraudulent YouTube preview of an anti-Muslim film produced in California, Cole offered "the butterfly effect" as the metaphor which explains how a small film led to the deaths of four U.S. diplomats in Libya, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens .
Cole begins his blog posting:
"The late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury authored a short story about time travelers. They were careful, when they went back to the Jurassic, not to change anything, but one of them stepped on a butterfly. When they got back to the present, the world was slightly different.
"When scientists studying complexity put forward the idea that small initial events could have large effects in non-linear, dynamic systems like the weather, they chose the term 'butterfly effect.' One of the images students of weather instanced was that a butterfly flapping its wings might set off minor turbulence that ultimately turned into a hurricane."
Cole's butterfly metaphor begins this narrative describing the death of four U.S. diplomats, with a man initially known as "Sam Bacile," who claimed to have directed the film, The Innocence of Muslims. The Associated Press traced the history of this "Sam Bacile," and discovered that he most likely does not exist. The false name is a persona used by a convicted Coptic Egyptian fraudster, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula.
The AP found that Nakoula had both Coptic and evangelical Christian associates in the shooting of the film. One of his associates was Steve Klein, who is, as Cole explains, "a former Marine and current extremist Christian who has helped train militiamen in California churches and has led 'protests outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.'"
Cole suspects "that most of the Egyptian Copts involved are converts to American-style fundamentalism." The Egyptian Coptic church has roundly condemned the film.
Nor is this the first time that western anti-Islam sub-cultures have found ways to attack Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
In a perceptive analysis of the effects of the trailer (apparently no one has even seen a longer version, which suggests it does not exist) for the hate-driven film on the politics of the Middle East and of the U.S. presidential race, the Cairo-based English-language web site, Ahram Online, made the connection between the dredges of western culture and the impact these dredges make on Islam. Al-Ahram Online is published by Al-Ahram Establishment, Egypt's largest news organization.
Chief Editor of Ahram Online, Hani Shukrallah, wrote after the Egypt and Libya uprisings:
"We need only recall the 2005-6 Danish cartoons episode. The insignificant Danish newspaper that triggered the hullabaloo had been transparently out to trigger a reaction from Muslims, and a reaction it got. Nor do I have the least doubt that the [Florida] Christian fundamentalist preacher who publicly set a copy of the Qur'an on fire was also deliberately out to goad Muslims into a reaction.
"The obvious, outward motive of such attempts is not difficult to discern: to show Muslims as irrational, violent, intolerant and barbaric, all of which are attributes profoundly inscribed into the racist anti-Muslim discourse in the West. And, it's a very safe bet that there will be among us those who will readily oblige.