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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regreti
X
Zana Omer
March 28, 2015 1:19 AM
The Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

The Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Virginia Tavern Takes Patrons Back to Medieval Times

European martial arts are not widely practiced and are unknown by most people. A tavern in Old Town Alexandria, outside Washington, wants to change this by promoting these fighting techniques from medieval times. Through combining visual arts, martial arts and culinary arts, this tavern brings medieval history back to life. VOA's Yang Lin and Helen Wu report.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More