(MintPress) — Reports in the media over the last week have stoked the fires of hate and racism, and fanned the flames of political unrest across the world, after an obscure American film called, “Innocence of Muslims” garnered media attention and ignited protests across the Arab world. Last week in Egypt, after Egyptian media erroneously […]
(MintPress) — Reports in the media over the last week have stoked the fires of hate and racism, and fanned the flames of political unrest across the world, after an obscure American film called, “Innocence of Muslims” garnered media attention and ignited protests across the Arab world.
Last week in Egypt, after Egyptian media erroneously reported that members of the Coptic Christian diaspora in Washington had produced a crude film mocking the Muslim prophet, American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other State Department employees were killed. Their deaths have been said to stem from protest over the film.
And Morocco, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia and other countries have witnessed violent demonstrations stemming from the film’s publicization in the past week.
This incident, a stumbling block in the road to peaceful American-Islamic relations, is not being helped by current media coverage, in America and abroad, which lacks important details and dimensions of understanding on why this is happening.
A bit of history
Relations between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt have been strained for some time, as the country works to rebuild itself and figure out how to operate as a true democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring protests which saw former leader Hosini Mubarak, who ruled the country for over three decades, deposed of power.
Media outlets were quick to stream protesters climbing the walls of the United States Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday last week, tearing down the American flag, a day after 9/11.
The Sept. 11 attacks, a series of four coordinated suicide attacks upon the United States in New York City and the Washington, D.C. areas on September 11, 2001 which were linked to the Islamist militant group al-Qaida, and the subsequent U.S. military actions it triggered have left relations between the U.S. and the Arab world strained, to say the least, over the past decade.
Last Tuesday, a Libyan security official told Reuters that armed militiamen had attacked the United States consulate in Benghazi, killing a staff member. This incident was also linked to the film, as were violent riots in Yemen, where at least five Yemenis were killed as hundreds of protesters stormed the American Embassy. The embassy’s entire staff was evacuated.
MintPress previously reported that the film was produced and directed by an Israeli-American, Sam Bacile, a California real-estate developer who called Islam “a cancer.” However, the film’s consultant, Steve Klein told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that Bacile is neither Israeli nor Jewish and the name is actually a pseudonym for about 15 Coptic and Evangelical Christians from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt who were promoted by fundamentalist pastor Terry Jones, whose plans to burn Qurans on Sept. 11, 2011 led to deadly riots around the world.
Jones said on Sept. 11, 2012 that he planned to show the trailer that night at his church, the Dove World Outreach Center, in Gainesville, Fla. “It is an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam,” Jones said.
However, the events in Egypt and elsewhere are not reflective of the majority of the views or actions of Muslims or Arabs.
Just as the views presented in “Innocence of Muslims” and its promotion by Jones are not reflective of most Christians, or Americans.
“In an era of digital online media, anybody can put out anything they want, which can be good and bad,” Ibrahim Hooper, Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told MintPress News. “We have a First Amendment, and we are a strong believer in that, but it also means people are free to be idiots and bigots if they want.”
The politics of inciting hate
Since the Arab Spring revolts last year, a number of countries in the Arab world, including Egypt, have been engaged in internal struggles to build functioning democracies amidst a sea of diverse groups with various interests and ideologies.
As one Arab news source, Arhram, points out, “Violent protests across the Arab world triggered by a film insulting Islam could reflect the growing strength of Salafist groups that benefit from a widening freedom in Arab Spring countries, analysts say.”
The media oversimplifies the unrest happening in countries like Egypt today, and in its reporting misses a crucial piece of information. The problems we are witnessing are not just angry extremist Muslims expressing hate for Americans, as many reports seem to be leading people to believe. The saga of a post-Arab Spring world grappling to eek out a democratic existence is what is playing out before our eyes.
So, why the protests in Egypt? Salafist factions, fighting for domination in the country have had a hand. “The Salafists, a group of Sunni Muslims who promote a strict lifestyle based on the traditions of early ‘pious ancestors’, have made a surprising surge in their influence, mainly in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia,” Arhram reported.
The article continues, “Although the majority of the Salafists are not violent, some groups now tend to believe in using force. They have the ‘desire to create a balance of power in the street using the excuse of fighting the “violations of the sacred”,’ said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a lecturer at Paris’ Science Po university. Religious television channels broadcasting from Saudi Arabia, the homeland of Salafism, are seen as the force behind augmenting the numbers of Salafists across the Arab World over the past 20 years.”
Reminders for the media and people of faith
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, remarking on the incidents, said that the United States completely rejects the “inflammable and despicable” anti-Muslim film and also pointed out all religions have faced insults and denigration, but it is no justification for violence. The response to such insults is what separates people of true faith from those who would use religion as an excuse to commit violent acts, she said.
“When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence,” said Clinton. “The same goes for all faiths, including Islam.”
And U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), America’s first Muslim congressman, said in a letter Thursday to MintPress, “This is a moment for Americans to stand united around the freedoms and democratic values our public servants gave their lives for. As we reflect on this tragic loss, let it renew our common aspiration for greater understanding, tolerance, and peace.”
The events happening in Egypt, Tunisia and other areas of the world are unfortunate, and unnecessary, as was the film, “Innocence of Muslims” to begin with. People of all faiths wishing and praying for peace and tolerance to prevail have begun speaking out.
“The jerk who made that video, the one that supposedly incited rioting and murder in Egypt and Libya, is the very definition of a troll: He made it to elicit the reaction he was sure he’d cause. That is what trolls do,” writes social media expert and professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, Jeff Jarvis, for the Huffington Post.
“Those who reacted are trolls, too, but of course worse: murderers. They exploited just any excuse — an obviously cheesy, fake movie seen by no one — to stir up their band of fanatics into visible outrage and violence.”
Yet, as Jarvis rightly points out, the mainstream media should share blame in fueling the flames of hatred and division across the world.
“The media who cover these trolls — the trolls who make the bait and the trolls who look for bait — are dupes themselves, just continuing a cycle that will only rev faster and faster until someone says: Stop. Stop feeding the trolls.”
The way that many national news outlets seem to be covering this story paints a picture of an “us” versus “them” type battle — one which pits misguided Jewish and Christian fundamentalists in the West against angry, violent Muslim fundamentalists in the Arab world.
If we must have a category of “us” and “them” in place to frame the issue – how about an “us”, meaning tolerant, enlightened people of faith (be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim or another tradition) versus a “them”, also consisting of people of various traditions, who need to be enlightened and reminded that each of the world’s great religious traditions contains prescriptions to respect the faiths of others and to treat others as one would want to be treated.