News / Asia

Religious, Political Leaders Weigh In on Anti-Muslim Video Protests

Police chase protesters during an anti-U.S. rally in Peshawar, Pakistan, September 21, 2012.
Police chase protesters during an anti-U.S. rally in Peshawar, Pakistan, September 21, 2012.
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.  VOA has gathered together here a sampling of those comments.


Bosnian Mufti Mustafa Efendi Ceric, Bosnia’s top Muslim leader in Bosnia, addressed the subject Thursday in an interview with VOA's Bosnian service which was conducted in Bosnian:
“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 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 freedom of expression.”

U.S. stance

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," said Sonenshine. "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 that 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, one of the leaders of the Islamist Jamaat-ut-Dawa organization whose members marched in protest Friday in Lahore, Pakistan.  His remarks, in Urdu, 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."

Indonesian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against an anti-Islam film that has sparked anger among followers, outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 21, 2012.Indonesian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against an anti-Islam film that has sparked anger among followers, outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 21, 2012.
Indonesian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against an anti-Islam film that has sparked anger among followers, outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 21, 2012.
Indonesian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against an anti-Islam film that has sparked anger among followers, outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 21, 2012.

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 in Indonesian after a meeting at the White House this week.

"Our message to them was that this video plagues any effort toward a peaceful interreligious 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."

Who are protesters?

Olivier Roy, a French scholar who has written extensively on Islam and the politics of the Middle East and Central Asia, notes that 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 [only] 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."

Whatever happens in the coming days, it is clear that the religious leaders, politicians and intellectuals will continue to debate the meaning of the past two weeks of violence for long after the protesters have left the streets.

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Comment Sorting
by: Michael from: USA
September 23, 2012 9:04 AM
This must be said as a preface to the religious problem: Islam touches the being of God and would say, "I always thank God."
Christianity worships not the metaphysical God, but his three Trinitarian persons, and would say, "I always thank God for you."
In the Christian Gospel, First Corinthians chapter 1 verse 4

by: Geno
September 21, 2012 9:03 PM
Funny how you keep hearing "the protesters do not represent Muslims as a whole", however they keep attacking and killing. Could you imagine what would happen if you had a bumper sticker that was offensive to Muslims like some of the bumper stickers against Christians? They are just violent people and if you read the Koran, it tells them to be that way. Of course we all know that they are just stirring this stuff up to keep a Muslim as our president…. Everybody knows its bad to change presidents when there are critical events going on.
In Response

by: Sad from: USA
September 24, 2012 10:57 AM
I would never have watched a movie made by an Israeli in the USA, funded by Israelis, but because people were killed in "outrage: I sought it out. Poorly made... yes. Historically inaccurate... no.

I also looked up the Danish cartoons, because people died over it. The recurring theme is that I only seek out the things that offend Muslims when they are unjustly killing.

Jesus and his Father are depicted on free television in the USA doing things like drinking and partying. Those same shows cannot depict an image of Mohammad because of fear... congratulations Islam, you have modified the USA's freedoms through gruesome acts of barbarism.

If your religious leader tells you to kill someone to support your faith, you "might" be a cult member.

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