On the 11th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks, violent protests broke out in front of the U.S embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In Egypt, protesters replaced the American flag with an Islamist one, while in Libya, the Consulate was set on fire, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, information officer Sean Smith, and ex-Navy SEAL commandos Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. The deaths represented a tragic day for not only Americans, but for Libyans who recently removed a brutal dictator in favor for democracy.
Yet, the question is: did these violent protesters really occur because of an Anti-Islamic video? Or are there other more complex and deep-rooted reasons behind the protests?
Let us first consider the video purportedly created by an American Coptic Christian named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula – who was imprisoned for one year on charges of bank fraud. Titled Innocence of Muslims, the video has been blamed for starting the violent protests, which have spread to Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, and more countries. Angered protesters called for YouTube to remove the video, and for the U.S. government to take legal action against those who have (in the protesters’ eyes) ‘grossly applied free speech to incite hatred towards Islam, and to insult their Prophet’.
I have watched the video, and it is indeed quite insulting – it portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a murderer, rapist, animal, womanizer, ‘dumb’, and more. It was very difficult to watch – not only because of the insulting content – but also because of how badly produced it was. I have never watched a ‘film’ or ‘video’ of 14 minutes with such horrendous quality. To some extent, the video is laughably bad – I could not believe that this is how someone chose to criticize a religion. At least previous attempts, such as Geert Wilders’ Fitna, took themselves seriously and did not solely rely on cheap, kindergarten jokes and insults.
Regardless of how degrading and insulting the video was, it does not warrant violent protests. In fact, it does not warrant any protests at all. The video was the creation of a single, lone individual who did not represent any government, religion, or political party. In fact, even the actors in the video have claimed that their lines were dubbed to include references to the Prophet, and that they did not know the film was created to insult Islam.
So why are there violent protests occurring outside U.S. embassies? Why did Ambassador Christopher Stevens get killed in Libya?
This blog post will focus on the Egyptian protests. Innocence of Muslims was released on YouTube in July – yes you read that correctly. It wasn’t until the video was broadcast by Sheikh Khaled Abdulla (a Salafist and extremist) on Egyptian television channel, Al-Nas, that the video gained all the attention it has. Sheikh Khaled Abdulla aired the video and manipulated his audience into believing that the video was an attack on Islam, sponsored by the U.S. government. Technically, had the video not been aired by this channel, it would have never received any decent coverage at all – and would have remained in the shadows of millions of YouTube videos.
The result was thousands of Egyptians protesting against the U.S. government, chanting slogans such as “Obama, we are all Osama.” Excuse me but that in itself is an insult to Islam. Osama has killed more Muslims than members of any other religion. Furthermore, the Qur’an specifically states that the “murder of an innocent is like the murder of the whole of mankind.” Thus, under no Islamic pretext can Osama Bin Laden’s actions ever be tolerated. Furthermore, showing their lack of education, other protesters called for the expulsion of the Coptic Diaspora (Copts living abroad) from Egypt – Egyptians: they tend to entertain you in many ways.
Such ridiculous actions highlight dominant issues in Egypt: poverty and illiteracy. The poor and illiterate can easily be misled by Islamists to do anything. If sheikhs in mosques constantly shout “The U.S. is our enemy! Death to all Jews!” then the ignorant and uneducated will believe the sheikh and participate in such protests. Therefore, it is my belief that poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance play a huge role as the underlying reasons for these protests.
On the other hand, Ed Husain – a senior political analyst on Middle Eastern issues – believes that Egyptians (having lived under tyrants for many years) simply do not understand the concept of free speech. They do not understand that “heresy and blasphemy are essential parts of free and democratic societies.” However, I disagree, as in several democratic societies, free speech considered ‘hateful’ is not tolerated and is illegal. For example, in Germany Nazi symbols are banned and any references to Nazism is illegal, while in many other countries, such as the U.K., comments or language insulting the Jews is deemed ‘anti-Semitic.’
Overall, I hope that these protests do not escalate and lead to further violence. This violence simply proves that the ‘anti-Islamic’ cartoons, videos, or comments are accurate. Yet in reality, Islam is not a religion of violence, but a religion of peace.