The Arab street has come to America

Beginning last June with the George Floyd riots across America, and resuming now, with the Daunte Wright riots, I've had a continuing feeling of déjà vu.  It seems to me that I've seen all this before.  Then, it suddenly hit me, what is happening in America: the Arab street has come to town.

It's important to note that riots happen constantly.  If you type the word "riot" into YouTube, you get videos from every corner of the world.  Many of the riots in the Arab world were part of the Muslim spring, when liberty-seekers and Muslim Brotherhood despots alike took to the streets, anxious to unseat the governments then in charge.  In the West, riots tended to be focused on a specific political goal, complete with signs and the usual leftist street theater.

However, the notion of the "Arab street" connotes a specific type of riot, one in which imams and other activists stir up a mob to take to the streets in a blind rage.  We started hearing about these riots after the Iraq War started.  The media turned their cameras to the Middle East, and we started hearing routine stories about "the Arab street."  This almost invariably meant a sudden, spontaneous riot by people driven to a frenzy, usually by their imams.

If you check out the phrase Arab spring at Wikipedia, you get a scholarly statement saying it refers "to the spectrum of public opinion in the Arab world, often as opposed [to] or contrasted [with] the opinions of Arab governments."  In other words, it's just the marketplace of ideas where people gather to meet and talk.

Read farther down, though, and you discover the definition to which I'm referring and the one that was supported by the images flooding television screens for the first two decades of the 21st century (emphasis added; footnote omitted):

While sometimes the American media used "Arab street" as to be interchangeable with "Arab public opinion," suggesting rationality and calm, [Terry] Regier and [Muhammad Ali] Khalidi found that most uses carried the connotations of incipient unrest. "We propose that a central association of the Arab street is indeed that of a volatile potential mob, dangerous to the established order of Arab states, and thus to any agreements Western powers may have with those states." While users may not always have intended it that way, in many cases they did.

It's fine to say we in America were just misunderstanding what was going on, but we certainly got an eyeful of volatile mob behavior whenever the imams stirred up the ordinary people:

As many will remember, in October 2012, so as not to affect Obama's re-election, the administration used the idea of an "Arab street" riot over a silly video as a cover for the fact that al-Qaeda had spearheaded the Benghazi consulate assault — and that the administration dropped the ball by not being prepared.  Certainly, those riots about the video were occurring across the Muslim world, with this video as just one example:

If we're not on the same page by now when it comes to what I mean about the Arab street, I doubt we ever will be.  However, if you're still with me, you understand that I'm talking about a volatile mob of usually aimless people who can be demagogued into a rage that they take to the streets.  Although these mobs are small in number, their destructive rage frightens politicians, who respond with pandering and retreat.

The initial George Floyd protests, while they were built on a lie, had the indicia of a traditional protest: people focused on an issue gathered together with signs and slogans to impress politicians with their numbers and, often, marched down the streets.

However, once those protests devolved into riots and looting, they took on the patina of the Arab street.  And when the people skipped the formal protest part entirely, as they did in Kenosha and are now doing in Brooklyn Center (and will certainly do in Minneapolis after the Chauvin verdict), we are witnessing pure Arab street theater: demagogues are whipping volatile crowds into frenzies that do not result in formal protest, but simply lead to anarchic street violence.

As a reminder, in Brooklyn Center, the mob hit the streets before the facts were known about Daunte's death.  They continued to hit the streets (and loot the stores) when body cam video showed that Daunte violently fought arrest and that the police officer, for whatever reason, actually thought she was tasering him, not shooting him.  (Tasers should be fluorescent colors so this can't happen again.)  The facts didn't stop the mob:

America was never supposed to be this way.  Free speech, a free press, a democratic voting process, and public education were supposed to prevent a mindless mob action.  The fact that our nation now offers the worst excesses of the Arab world is deeply disheartening.  Even worse is the fact that our politicians cower in the face of this.

Image: Dollar Tree store looted.  Twitter screen grab.

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