Chaos in the Middle East – Muslims Up in Arms Over Anti-Islamic Film

I stop checking the internet for just a few days and what happens? The Middle East goes absolutely insane. Well, not simply the Middle East, but believers of Islamic persuasion who are up in arms. They’re violently opposing America and all that’s associated with it. Why are they so upset? Another episode of a satirical children’s cartoon, perhaps? Actually, it appears as though what caused this was actually a video that insults the prophet Muhammed. In truth, it’s not so different from a satirical children’s cartoon.

The “Innocent” Film

William Saletan wrote a great piece for Slate, explaining what happened and why it’s stupid:

You’re living in the age of the Internet. Your religion will be mocked, and the mockery will find its way to you. Get over it.

[. . .] Today, fury, violence, and bloodshed are consuming the Muslim world. Why? Because a bank fraud artist in California offered people $75 a day to come to his house and act out scenes that ostensibly had nothing to do with Islam. Then he replaced the audio, putting words in the actors’ mouths, and stitched together the scenes to make an absurdly bad movie ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed. He put out flyers to promote the movie. Nobody—literally nobody—came to watch it.

Not only had nobody heard of it, but no one even liked it. It is, to be entirely honest, an awful, awful video. Not even the message, but video itself. It failed on every measure of quality – not that you’d expect a cinematic masterpiece from such a foolish video, but at least the propaganda film Kony 2012 looked professional – and it was so boring that by the end of the movie, I realized I had stopped paying attention halfway through. Feel free to watch the video “Innonce of Muslims” in its entirety on YouTube, but it’s going to be fourteen minutes of your life better spent elsewhere.

He posted a 14-minute video excerpt of the movie on YouTube, but hardly anyone noticed. Then, a week ago, an anti-Muslim activist in Virginia reposted the video with an Arabic translation and sent the link to activists and journalists in Egypt. An Egyptian TV show aired part of the video. An Egyptian politician denounced it. Clerics sounded the alarm. Through Facebook and Twitter, protesters were mobilized to descend on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The uprising spread. The U.S. ambassador to Libya has been killed, and violence has engulfed other countries.

When the protests broke out, the guy who made the movie claimed to be an Israeli Jew funded by other Jews. That turned out be a lie. Now he says he’s a Coptic Christian, even though Coptic Christian leaders in Egypt and the United States despise the movie and want nothing to do with him. Another guy who helped make the movie claims to be a Buddhist. The movie was made in the United States, yet Sudanese mobs have attacked British and German embassies. Some Egyptians targeted the Dutch embassy, mistakenly thinking the Netherlands was behind the movie. Everyone’s looking for a group to blame and attack.

The men behind the movie said it would expose Islam as a violent religion. Now they’re pointing to the riots as proof. Muslims are “pre-programmed” to rage and kill, says the movie’s promoter. “Islam is a cancer,” says the director. According to the distributor, “The violence that it caused in Egypt is further evidence of how violent the religion and people are and it is evidence that everything in the film is factual.”

Congratulations, rioters. You followed the script perfectly. You did the propagandists’ work for them.

Truly, this has got to be an embarrassment for the Islamic world; because it seems like an isolated group of Muslims are engaging in violence that the world is now watching on TV and the internet. It just doesn’t seem fair to judge them, because it’s just a small group of individuals who so happen to be Muslim. Right? Well… not exactly. Though the protests started in Egypt, they quickly moved like a wildfire across the Middle East. It’s more than just an isolated event, and it’s more than just a few people.

Riots, Protests, Mobs, and Murder

A few of the protests that have sprung up in the last few days have been relatively peaceful, but in most places they quickly turned into violent mobs. For example, in Iraq, hundreds turned up to denounce America; but in Tunisia, three were killed, 28 were wounded in riots, and an American school was torched after being evacuated. Rioters also protested the American embassy and took down the American flag.

This is similar to Yemen, where the embassy was also attacked. USA Today reports:

While protests in Malaysia and Afghanistan were peaceful, elsewhere they escalated into mob violence. Demonstrators scaled the walls of U.S. embassies in Tunisia and Sudan and torched part of a German embassy. Islamic militants waving black banners and shouting “God is great” stormed an international peacekeepers base in Egypt’s Sinai and battled troops, wounding four people.

Police in Cairo prevented stone-throwing demonstrators from nearing the U.S. Embassy, firing tear gas and deploying armored vehicles in a fourth day of clashes in the Egyptian capital.

That basically describes the scene for most places, though deaths have been steadily rising. The violence in Libya has been the most publicized, especially with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, but that’s only the beginning. Three people died in Sudan in front of the U.S. embassy in Khartoum. Sudanese Muslims have also turned to the German embassy to protest alleged anti-Islamic graffiti on mosques in Berlin.

But the excerpt from the USA Today article needs some updating now regarding Afghanistan. Indeed, around 1,500 turned up a few days ago to demand that Afghani President Hamid Karzai cut ties with America, which is essentially a peaceful protest. But yesterday the Taliban led an attack that ended up killing two U.S. marines.

In Israel, hundreds of worshippers leaving a mosque in Jerusalem were stopped by police  before they could march to the U.S. Consulate. Gaza, Israel’s neighbour to the West, had thousands protest in Gaza City and elsewhere nearby, where they burned American flags and chanted “Death to America” followed by the now obligatory “Death to Israel.” In Iran, death threats were not only geared towards Israel and the U.S., but also towards England. These threats were made outside the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, a symbolic location relating to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

In Nigeria, police fired live rounds to keep Muslims who were planning protests under control, outside a mosque in the city of Jos. At least 17 protesters were arrested in Jordan, causing tension to nationals who argued that authorities are ignoring Jordanians’ freedoms. In India, at least 86 people have been arrested from a protest that reached about 15,000 people in Kashmir, the largest gathering of protesters yet. Officials are now warning Americans to stay out of India.

Lebanon: Fast food restaurants attacked

Protesters in Lebanon, perhaps wanting to hit the U.S. where it hurt the most, attacked a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardee’s restaurant, and Krispy Kreme, in Tripoli. Police intervention ended in the death of one protester; in total, 3000 turned out to protest in the capital, Beirut. Pakistan had flag-burning protests as well, demanding that the video be taken down. Ironically, this pretty much guaranteed that the video will never be taken down.

Malaysians were basically peaceful, though a handful of them came to the U.S. embassy to demand repercussions against the creators of the film. Also, around 500 protesters in Kuwait have been calling to expel their ambassador from the U.S.

The top cleric in U.S. ally Saudi Arabia denounced the film but said it can’t really hurt Islam, a contrast to protesters’ frequently heard cries that the movie amounts to a humiliating attack that requires retaliation. He urged Muslims not to be “dragged by anger” into violence. The head of the Sunni Muslim world’s pre-eminent religious institution, Egypt’s Al-Azhar, backed peaceful protests but said Muslims should counter the movie by reviving Islam’s moderate ideas.

Yesterday in Belgium, around 120 people were arrested because of a clash with police during a protest. Also surprisingly, the protests have now reached Sydney, Australia, where over a dozen of the hundreds of protestors have been arrested, and several have already been charged for things like assaulting a police officer and animal cruelty. This brings the official protests to a count of four continents. But I suspect that more countries will see this trend come in the next few days.

In Indonesia, one of the most telling statements came from one of the 200 protesters at the U.S. embassy. “We came here because we want the US to punish whoever was involved with the film,” said Abdul Jabar Umam. “They should know that we are willing to die to defend the honor of our Prophet.” While the sentiment is easy enough to understand, one important question must be asked: Defend against whom? Against a random guy with far too much time on his hands, and a camera.

If Muslims are willing to get themselves killed over every anti-Islamist message they ever come across, they will not be around for much longer. Not because the world is anti-Islam – all though, let’s be honest, these violent protests are not helping – but because every group ever, always, without fail, has detractors.

For every sub-group, every sub-culture, and every people of any identifiable distinction or any discernable difference from others (regardless of being minority or majority); there will always be someone with a message and, now, a camera to spread their own personal foolery. There is not a single group, or even a single famous individual, who does not have someone who absolutely hates them and wants to see them fail. In fact, even the most liked video on YouTube – which will probably get a staggering billion views   next year – is also the most hated. (Note: It’s Justin Bieber’s “Baby” music video)

[September 20 update: Protests have spread to other areas including: Morocco, Niger, Somalia, Kenya, Maldives, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Bahrain, Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, the UAE, England, and Canada.]

(When) Will the Chaos Stop?

It seems as though the chaos has only just begun, but this begs the question “when did it really start?” Apparently the original Egyptian protest was announced on August 30, about a week before the video in question was even made public. But it seems as though the film sparked the protestors to organize around the embassies.

Surprisingly, it looks like Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi – a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group with terrorist links – has become the Islamic voice of reason in the wake of these riots; though U.S. President Obama is not happy with how long it took him. He appeared on national TV to deliver his message. Zeenews reports:

In his bid to head off the violence, Egypt’s Morsi said “it is required by our religion to protect our guests and their homes and places of work.” He called the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya unacceptable in Islam. “To God, attacking a person is bigger than an attack on the Kaaba,” he said, referring to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.

Morsi’s speech came after Obama spoke with him by telephone. The Obama administration has been angered by Morsi’s slow response to the attack Tuesday night on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and [. . .] [how] police did nothing to stop protesters from climbing the embassy walls.

His silence reflected the heavy pressure that Morsi, a longtime figure from the Muslim Brotherhood, faces from Egypt’s powerful ultraconservative Islamists. They are using the film issue to boost their own political prominence while challenging Morsi’s religious credentials.

Leaders of Egypt’s Jihad group, a former militant organization, held a conference in the Egyptian city of Alexandria and said anyone involved in “defamation” of the prophet should be killed. They called on Morsi to cut relations with U.S.

From the extreme Muslim perspective, an insult to their prophet is unforgivable. This sentiment has become alien to Western countries, as well as free Eastern countries like Japan, because we enjoy human rights like the freedom of speech. But to simply chalk all of this up to a simple cultural difference would be to ignore the very serious fact that we’re talking about deliberate, premeditated murder. If an insult to the prophet is unforgivable, then what does that make murder?

Luckily for Americans, not everyone in the protesting nations are taking to the streets and trying to cause havoc. Here are three level-headed responses to the chaos, Tweeted by some Pakistani onlookers two days ago.

Sure, the hatred of Islamic extremists appears to have no end in sight, and only 15% of people in Islamic countries think favourably of America; but it’s important to acknowledge and understand that not every Muslim is an extremist. There are many reasonable and rational people watching from the sides, looking on at their own in dismay.

In fact, I am always quick to say that Muslims are not all fanatical. I like to believe that I am a good critical thinker, and I am aware that the loudest ones in a group are the ones you hear, simply because they’re loud. But it’s getting harder and harder to defend a religion whose adherents are so militant and violent that nationals from over 20 countries get so childishly upset over the poorly produced and completely unheard-of rants of a random man on an obscure video from a foreign country.

Very few prominent figures in the Islamic world have acted rationally, but one I learnt about recently was quite surprising. A prominent cleric in U.S. allied nation Saudi Arabia has denounced the film while distancing it from America. Saying that the film can’t really hurt Islam, he told Muslims not to be “dragged by anger” into violence. If only the rest of the Muslim world – like we’ve so far seen on four different continents – would be able to make decisions like this, the world would be a much more peaceful place.

The fact that they so easily resort to violence suggests that these extremists either don’t follow their own holy scriptures, or that the scriptures allow people to kill and cause harm to others. And all of this just from a video? Whatever you call it – a joke, an insult, or a provocation – what’s clear is that many Muslims just can’t take it.

And that’s really a shame; because they’re not going to stop.

They didn’t stop after the backlash from the famous Swedish cartoon in 2006, and they’re not going to stop now. That’s why I was able to put together a Top 10 list of comedians who joke about Islam. There’s never going to be a shortage of jokes, nor will there ever be a shortage of hatred; but truly civilized people can reconcile those differences without resorting to violence.

Peaceful protests are one thing. Causing harm or killing innocent people is another.

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