News / Middle East

Mideast Protests Spark Debate Over Free Speech, Religion

Elizabeth Arrott
Violence this week in Libya, Egypt and Yemen has once again brought to the fore inherent tensions between free speech, however offensive, and religious dignity. Some political analysts in Cairo invoke the dictum that the remedy for such speech is more speech.

The attacks on U.S. missions in Libya, Egypt and Yemen highlight how easily passions against the nominal ally of those countries can be ignited.   An obscure, crudely-made American video mocking the Prophet Muhammed triggered rage and murder.

“This is the price of extremism.  If those who made the film wanted an extremist reaction, they got it.  They succeeded,” said Said Sadek, a professor of Political Sociology at the American University in Cairo.

Sadek argues extremists on both sides got what they wanted: for one, proof that Islam is violent, for the other, that America is the enemy of their religion - points scored at the expense of those in the middle, including slain U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.

“The majority of people, Muslims and Christians, are not extremists but they're captives of those extremists on both sides.  Each side is provoking something and then the others are responding and they try to push the silent majority into extremism and suspicion and intolerance,” Sadek said.

Sadek says it's an anti-Western political agenda easy to deploy.

“There is a misunderstanding in Muslim countries [about] the relationship between government and media," he said.  "They still believe it's like in autocratic regimes: the government orders the media to do this or to do that. President Obama did not order that movie about Islam is made.  In fact, he is being accused in America that he is pro-Muslim.”

Libya's government was clear in its condemnation of the Benghazi attack.  Egypt's initial response made no direct mention of the death of Ambassador Stevens, although a day later it rejected the``unlawful acts'' against foreign embassies.

“I don't think that the government has enough political capital to actually counter that vision. They cannot state that 'Well, okay, there's an offensive movie but it's not that important and it does not represent the U.S. administration and it's a matter of free speech.' They could never say that,” said Ziad Akl Moussa, a political analyst in Cairo.

It's a dynamic that has played out several times in recent years, with Danish cartoons of the prophet and other western images deemed insulting provoking bursts of outrage.

“It's a contention over putting creativity on a pedestal in the West and actually putting a red line behind it in the East. It doesn't mean that this is wrong and this is right, it simply means that it's different. But we never addressed that,” Moussa said.

He argues until governments frame the question as one of freedom of expression, not a fight over religion, such violence “will happen again and again.”

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: david le from: Canada
September 14, 2012 4:12 PM
Muslim people and countries are still full of violence and ignorance. Each country and religion has extreme people, yes. But nowadays, only extreme Mulisms use deadly violence & killing to " punish" the other countries and religions. And only Muslism have so many extremes. I am an Asian Canadian and my religion is Buddhism. I do not think that any Buddhist will kill the others for their insulting Buddha. Honestly, I feel scared, hate and frustrated at Muslism/ Islamic.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: Canada
September 20, 2012 11:49 AM
David has a very good point. Why is it expected that Muslim's can and will react violently to any inkling of comment or critisim of their religion while all other religions wouldn't and typically don't react? If the Muslim leaders cannot control their flock or are insighting the rage and violence then they have to be held responsible for these acts of terror.

The Muslim religion has now proven that it is out of step with the modern world and has to be viewed with suspicion of its objectives. A belief system that uses chaos, anarchy rage and violence to deliver its message of brotherhood and peace is a failed doctrine. . A religion of merit can and should be able to withstand critisim and prevail unaffected. THe West asks that Muslims modernise and act accordling for your religion to be respected not feared.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 14, 2012 11:35 AM
This article seems to wonder whether after bathing the pig and dressing it in suit it will not return to the sludge. The answer is yes it will. After locking up the society of the muslims from the rest of the world, they are not expected to behave better. It is gratifying that some of them are beginning to speak about freedoms, but how much longer it's going to take before a greater number of the people embrace it cannot be determined. But they should have started from the understanding that USA was just coming from the grief of 9/11 remembrance to be commonsensical. The emancipation of the islamic conference will come when they begin to realize that not everything right is good to do at all times. It might be right to protest how badly mohammed is exposed, but the wild protests show his followers and himself in bad light either for bad followership or as a bad teacher. In the meantime, the conference is made of crude talents and unthinking humans who need a lot of lessons in manners and behavior that their leader has no way of imparting to them.

by: Muneeb from: India
September 14, 2012 2:51 AM
"Sadek argues extremists on both sides got what they wanted: for one, proof that Islam is violent, for the other, that America is the enemy of their religion - points scored at the expense of those in the middle, including slain U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens"
Well said!!!

by: Anonymous
September 13, 2012 9:37 PM
The violence against American embassies in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, etc. has nothing to do with an anti-Islam video. There are hundreds of such videos on the internet and they have been up for years. This violence started on September 11th for a reason, it is a renewal of the threat against America, the same threat that we saw in 2001.

The policies of Obama and Clinton are now proven to be absolute disasters, the American people ought to demand their resignation.
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 14, 2012 11:44 AM
I can't agree less. If it were possible, the duo should throw in the towel without further delay. But this is not to close all American embassies in the OIC region, instead to brace for serious action to repel some of these ill-feelings of hostility and aggression against civilization and freedoms.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs