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

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs