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Why Are ‘They’ So Mad?

With groups protesting around the world, we must be careful not to ignore the individual participants.

Editor’s Note: The protests and riots occurring around the world are seemingly unfathomable. How can an amateurish film spark so much outrage? Why doesn’t anyone appreciate our good intentions? Why are they so mad?

“They” is a word I’ve been hearing a lot recently. In one sense, its connotations are much too narrow. For many, it conjures images of Arab Islamists—ignoring disparate groups in places such as Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Yet in the most important ways it is much too broad. It overlooks denomination, nationality, ethnicity and, just as in America, party. They is not a monolithic mass. They is a collection of individuals, each person making decisions according to his or her own interests and passions.

And in asking why they are so mad, we forget that we, too, are they—one of countless actors on a world stage pursuing our own interests and passions, as well.

Such a worldview—us versus them, we versus they—undermines our ability to understand and respond to crises like those occurring now. It divides potential allies and empowers enemies.

The following essay was originally published May 27, route: {:controller=>"articles", :action=>"show", :id=>"we-shall-study-war-wars-are-not-bipolar"} --> as part of a Memorial Day series called

Orono September 19, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Mr Warden states: "As you watch the chaos on the news, I encourage you to consider the individual faces, not just the crowds those faces are a part of. It’s only when we start to see the unique hes and shes within the they that we can understand the currents swirling around us." It is impossible to see the "faces" from here but it is easy to hear the words and see the actions of the leaders of those faces. When the political leaders and spiritual leaders from those countries are spewing hate for America, I stop caring about the innocent faces.
James Warden (Editor) September 20, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Who said anything about innocence? Understanding variations of hate is a vital part of a pragmatic foreign policy.
Donald Lee September 24, 2012 at 06:59 AM
I fail to understand why subtleties of "understanding" are vital to foreign policy. Certainly it is sometimes necessary, when disagreements and unintended discord can be a smoothed over if only we understand each other. That said, no amount of "understanding" would have stopped Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot. Much of foreign policy is a matter of commanding respect, and keeping your opponents from gaining a fatal advantage.In the 1930s, we tried very hard to "understand" Herr Hitler. Our reluctance to challenge him in 1936 handed him a reputation as invincible, and arguably allowed WW 2. No, foreign policy based on "understanding" is little more than wishful thinking. It would be nice, but it's just not how it works.

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