Commentary

Regional Media Reactions to Film Protests

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

The U.S. release of a crude amateur film depicting the prophet Mohammed has sparked violent protests across the Middle East region and wider Islamic world. The movie has been deemed offensive by most observers, however, even though most of them condemn the ensuing violence, their opinions are split on who should bear the ultimate responsibility. For some, the attacks also raise the question of whether U.S. government’s efforts to build bridges with the countries and peoples in the region have been to any avail.

With the tragic events in Libya taking the life of a U.S. Ambassador, it is not surprising that many of the editorials and commentaries focused predominantly on what is going on in that country. Calling the developments there “an act of sheer folly,” Arab News’ Hassan Barari points out: “the attack late Tuesday on the American Consulate in Libya — which killed American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues — is both cowardly and imprudent. It came after the American administration played a key role in liberating the Libyan people from the autocratic and ruthless regime of Qaddafi.... I think that the American administration should not be frustrated by such a cowardly attack and instead Obama should help the Libyan government win over this bunch of terrorists. If America ceases to support the Arab revolutions, this may send a message of weakness and be an invitation for further attacks.”

The editor in chief of the Kuwait Times Abd Al-Rahman Al-Alyan also condemned the attacks, while also calling for a closer inspection of the motivation of those involved in the planning and distribution of the movie: “The events against the U.S. embassy that took place in Libya were barbaric, inhumane and disgusting....There is no excuse for killing an innocent person in such a cowardly manner. If this was a reaction to the film that depicts Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) then what does the ambassador or the American people have to do with that....I believe this is a planned attack and I wouldn’t be surprised if the route of the film against Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is connected to the route of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya and the timing has been meticulously planned instead of it being just a coincidence or a reaction.”

A similar conspiratorial tone is taken by Al Hayat’s Zuheir Kseibati, who suspects the true motive of those behind the movie is the undoing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s gains in Egypt: “Clearly, among the goals of the movie is to turn Egypt’s Muslims against its Copts, and plant a massive mine in the country that survived numerous traps following the January 25 revolution, regardless of the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach and whether it is supported or rejected. In other words, the offensive movie is seeking once again the achievement of what some of the remnants among the supporters of the former Egyptian regime failed to accomplish.”

Still, for Mahmoud Elbarasi, the attack on the embassy and the death of the U.S. ambassador together with three other consular staff means that “The time for speeches, gratuitous backslapping and revolutionary memorabilia has come and gone. We now live and breathe at the point in the modern Libyan history where a clear and unsentimental decision must be made. Libyans must decide what type of system our brothers and sisters fought and died for....Take away the haughty pseudo-religious declarations and language, the self-appointed ‘theological rights,’ and these men are nothing more than the old regime in new clothes. It is time to call a spade a spade. We are dealing with fascists.”

There are also those who believe the latest developments in the region underline the futile nature of U.S. attempts at democracy promotion. As the Jerusalem Post editorial asserts, “The attack in Benghazi seems to send out the message that even when the U.S. does the right thing — joining a coalition of Western countries in helping the Libyan people free themselves from their hated dictator — hatred for America and all it stands for remains unchanged....despite the trillions of dollars and the thousands of American lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to advance their respective policies, neither Bush nor Obama has succeeded in overcoming Arab resentment and hatred of the West.”

In fact, as the Gulf Today editorial points out:  “Al Qaeda did not have a presence in Libya under the reign of the long-time strongman Muammar Qadhafi, who was toppled and killed in a popular rebellion last year. Extremists with links to the group appear to have exploited the chaos in the country to acquire arms for themselves to stage attacks in Libya as well as elsewhere in the region. If the reports prove to be accurate, it will be the realization of fears expressed by many that the Libyan conflict could spawn and strengthen militant groups like Al Qaeda. The threat needs an effective response.”

However, there are those, like Faisal Al Yafai, who in an op-ed for The National, cautions politicians and pundits alike against the characterization of Arabs as ungrateful, since “Charges of ingratitude rest on several misunderstandings, the chief one being that a handful of protesters represent a whole country, or that protests in some countries represent the region or even an entire religion....The people of the Middle East understand, in the clearest possible way, that America did not fight those wars for them. When America fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, or before that in Lebanon, it fought on the soil of those countries but over the heads of the populace. America fights first for America's interests.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Hamad Al-Majid also challenges the belief that the burden for action rests only on the Muslims: “Advising millions of Muslims to simply ignore what is directed at them by extremists in the West is incredibly optimistic, for the communications revolution has granted every individual and media outlet further exposure....The safest and most secure way remains for the countries of the Islamic world, through their official and public institutions, to pressure the countries of the West to enact the laws that criminalize insulting religions and their symbols.”

However, whether the West or the Muslims are to blame for the latest turmoil is beyond the point. At least that is the argument the Iraqi ambassador to the Kingdom Ghanim Alwan Al-Jumaily makes in an op-ed for Al-Riyadh newspaper, since “Providing immunity to diplomats is the Prophet’s Sunnah…. It is our duty to defend our religion and our Prophet, but this defense should be within the following boundaries....Defending the Prophet should be done by firmly sticking to his Sunnah. People should not sacrifice the Prophet’s Sunnah under the pretext of defending him....Such attacks are bound to be repeated by the enemies of Islam. For this reason, Muslim scholars should enlighten the Ummah to be cautious and more committed to the teachings of Islam to foil the designs of the enemies.”

Similarly, the Gulf Today editorial urges its readers to consider the implications of the violence for the image of the Muslims around the world: “The uproar over a U.S.-made film deemed to be offensive to Islam, including the killing of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and attacks against U.S. embassies in several countries, is doing as much harm as the provocative movie, Innocence of Muslims, did to Islam....It was natural that Arabs and Muslims took to the streets to condemn the film but the protests should be in a civilized manner that would make Americans aware that a small group among them did not care for religious sentiments when they made the movie....What the Muslim world should do now is to take action, including producing films that highlight to the entire world the true identity of Islam and highlight the genuine values and principles of the faith. Violent demonstrations are not the answer.”

Finally, last week’s events should be a cause for introspection for all parties involved. Chief among things to consider, maintains Daily Star’s Rami G. Khouri, is the balance between freedom and respect: “It is clear that the three things we witnessed this week — spontaneous mob scenes, pre-planned orderly demonstrations and organized military attacks against American facilities — represent three different phenomena, each of which reflected a significant political reality in the Arab world today....The really hard question that must be answered somehow through a deep process of introspection and dialogue is about the balance between freedom of expression and the dictates of social peace....The question of how to balance freedom with respect will remain with us for years to come, so the sooner we deal with it seriously, the better off — and safer — we will all be.”


Click here to read previous installments of Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.