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September 21, 2012

Different Voices on Islamic Protests

by David Jones

The nature of worldwide protests against an anti-Muslim video made at a California film studio has ranged from orderly to deadly. Similarly, the reaction of political leaders, clerics and intellectuals has varied greatly.
 
While virtually no one defends the video itself, there is a great disparity of opinion about the violence it has provoked and the underlying causes of the violence.

Here, VOA gathers a sampling of those comments:
 
Mufti Mustafa Efendi Ceric, the top Muslim leader in Bosnia, addressed the subject Thursday in an interview with VOA's Bosnian service.
 
“Some people have their own agendas and reasons for provoking with the movies like this one, or the cartoons and that is not the first time. However, it must not be a reason for the violence and fiery reaction we have seen so far.”
 
The mufti said the violence has been provoked by individuals with a political agenda.
 
“I think that, both in the West and in certain Islamic countries, there are people who would like to prevent Muslims getting into [a] good and close relationship and mutual cooperation with the Western countries. There is no prescription on how to stop this now, but I am encouraged with the latest voices of the Ulema [Muslim religious leaders] who call upon peace.”
 
He also urged Muslims not to blame the United States for the video.
 
“I am very sorry that some politicians in the Muslim world accused the U.S. government to have something to do with the movie. That is wrong, and I would like to send a message to those who listen, and especially to the Muslims of the Balkans, that it is utterly irresponsible to accuse [the] U.S . Government for something which in the Western world is clearly [an] freedom of expression.”
 
U.S. Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine made a similar point in an interview with the Alhurra television network.
 
“Let me be very clear. The United States government had nothing to do with that hateful and disgusting piece of video. Nothing. Full stop. And that is worth repeating because I think not everyone in the world understands that. We had nothing to do with that piece of video.”
 
Sonenshine said U.S. laws and principles sometimes lead the government to defend the right of individuals to say things it finds abhorrent.
 
“But again, what is unacceptable is when a piece of video leads to violence. Violence in response to that piece of video is unacceptable. It is not how people want to live. So we find ourselves defending those universal freedoms, and yet also speaking out against the ugliness of the video and the violence of the response. Confusing to some, contradictory, yes.”
 
There is no confusion about how to respond to the video in the mind of Qari Yaqoob Sheikh, a leader of the Islamist Jamaat-ut-Dawa organization.

Members of that group marched in protest Friday in Lahore, Pakistan. Qari Yaqoob Sheikh's remarks were recorded by VOA correspondent Sharon Behn.
 
"This is an insult, and we condemn the movie, and the American government should arrest and hang Sam Bacile and all the actors in the movie, or our protests will continue."
 
Behn also recorded the tough line taken by Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
 
"We are demanding that the United Nations and other international organizations seek a law that bans such hate speech aimed at fomenting hatred and sowing the seeds of discord through such falsehoods, which is a grave violation of all basic norms of humanity."
 
A more moderate note was sounded by Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia's ruling Islamist Ennahda party.

He was recorded Thursday by VOA correspondent Elizabeth Bryant.
 
“While Muslims have the right to protest, they do not have the right to get violent with their adversaries, especially that U.S. Embassies and personnel have nothing to do with this issue. That is why we deplore the attacks, whether in Libya or Tunisia, against the embassies and personnel. Thank God that in Tunisia the damage was only physical and there was no loss of lives. Tunisian security forces dealt with the aggressors with needed firmness and killed some of them and injured others. “
 
Indonesia's ambassador to the United States, Dino Patti Djalal, said he has told U.S. officials that the video is damaging to harmonious interfaith relations.

He spoke to VOA's Indonesian service after a meeting at the White House this week.
 
"Our message to them was that this video plagues any effort toward a peaceful inter-religious society, not just in Indonesia, but on an international level. We also said that we, the people of Indonesia, both Muslims and non-Muslims, condemn harshly this video."
 
The ambassador added that the American officials are themselves critical of the video.
 
"The U.S. officials we met understand our position and they agree that the video is contrary to the goals of both Indonesia and the U.S., which is to create a peaceful and tolerant society among religious groups. They, the U.S. officials we met, also expressed that they have condemned the video and have asked YouTube to review the content of the video and whether it deserves to stay on YouTube."
 
Olivier Roy, a French scholar who has written extensively on Islam and politics of the Middle East and Central Asia, notes the anti-video protests are much smaller than the Arab Spring rallies seen in many countries over the past two years.

He spoke this week in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
 
"The protests have been carried out by a small minority. [For example,] you have 2,000 Salafists in Tunisia and you have 190 in Paris. So, it's politically motivated. It's simply politics. If the Muslim world were against the West, you would have millions of people on the streets, but now you only have thousands of people on the streets. So, it's a way to present an elliptical illusion."
 
Tariq Ali, a veteran Pakistani-born British military historian, author and journalist, told RFE/RL that the protests have more to do with broad geopolitical trends than with the video itself.
 
"The reasons these films are being made is precisely because of the occupation of the Muslim world by the United States and its allies, which have created an atmosphere of extreme Islamophobia. You have, sometimes, liberals but usually the right and extreme right, which feel it's a good thing to carry on provoking [extremists in the Middle East]. That's why they do it. It has nothing to do with free speech."
 
Charles Kurzman, an author and leading authority on Muslim movements, also was interviewed by RFE/RL. He argued that the protesters do not represent Muslims as a whole.
 
“Let's keep in mind that protesting an insult is perfectly legal in most countries including the United States, and if people want to hold signs or even burn flags, they're allowed to do that. That is called free speech, and so I do not mind when groups organize to protest a movie. I think that is a sign of political participation. Now, when those protests turn violent, of course, then a crime has been committed and I oppose that. But to give these filmmakers the level of importance that these protests have done is almost a gift - a gift by extremists from one side to the extremists on the other side - and it's a gift that keeps circulating among the extremes."

Here are some views from our audience:

Via Matthew on Facebook:

I'll be the first to admit many people see both ways of life, Islamic and Western, as backwards, but there are also many people who are intelligent enough to realize these stereotypes are insufficient to define, address, or solve our problems. The obvious prejudices from both groups in the past week are very troubling.

Via Tian:

One must strike a balance between freedom of expression and the duty/responsibility/sensitivity which come along with this freedom. In ancient Chinese wisdom of words, acts of humility and respect for other religions speak louder than words - Live and Let Live. This stupid man who denigrates the holy symbol of others' religion brings shame to the good name of ordinary American folk.



Via Twitter: