On September 11, 2012 four American diplomats were killed at the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya. What at first appeared to be a spontaneous protest against a virulently Islamophobic video posted online in the United States quickly became much more — more violent, orchestrated, and complex in terms of geopolitics.
Protests were first reported at the embassy in Cairo, and as far as anyone can tell, they were motivated by Muslim Innocence, a bizarre and offensive video with a mysterious origin. The “film” depicts Muhammad as a pedophile, a homosexual, and generally an imbecile. It’s filled with bad slapstick humor. It was clearly made with no other purpose than to offend.
As of yesterday protests rage on in Cairo and have spread to Iran, Yemen, Israel, and Bangladesh. We cannot be certain their particular motivations.
The “filmmaker” behind Muslim Innocence is still basically unknown. After reports a man named Sam Bacile, a probably invented Israeli living in California, proved false, a series of different reports surfaced alleging involvement in meth production, bank fraud, right-wing Christian militancy, fundamentalist Zionism, and even, to some conspiracists – deeper plots. This, despite its media coverage, is not the real area of concern.
When we hear about riots in the Muslim world in reaction to an “Islamophobic” film posted on Youtube and dubbed into Arabic after its initial production, we inevitably return to a common narrative.
Muslims don’t recognize free speech.
They turn violent.
And they turn violent because of religion.
It’s a clash of cultures.
Liberal democracy must be defended against this aggression.
Civilization must be preserved.
I thought there was an Arab Spring?
I thought the revolutions in the Arab world were FOR liberal democracy?
The answer is yes. Well, maybe, but with major qualifications. Yes, there are many Egyptians (especially among educated, upper middle class Egyptians) who really do want a representative democracy with the rights and guarantees we enjoy. But it’s important that we understand that the Egyptian and Libyan “revolutions” were not driven by these groups. Libya was a major military conflict with a convoluted array of players, driven partially by the sources of arms. Egypt was transformed in a major way by Muslim Brotherhood-driven mass mobilization as well as massive labor strikes and demonstrations.
What happened in Benghazi is a tragedy. It is morally deplorable in every way.
Once that is acknowledged, we should ask questions about why it happened, and more importantly, why it has been presented to us in such simple and predictable terms.
How often do comparatively large and violent demonstrations occur across the globe? How often are they religiously fueled? Are acts of violence and unrest conceptualized differently when they are committed by Muslims?
Those are questions worth asking.
By: Mike Guisinger
(Photo by dctim1 under a Creative Commons license)