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The truth about Muslim anti-West protests

This week’s Newsweek magazine cover featured raging Muslims, but how many were really angry?

What’s really behind the outrage?

Newsweek‘s recent cover-story featured the bold words “Muslim Rage” and depicted most of the world’s Muslims as angry with the US and the West. Here’s a different perspective of what is happening around the world — much of the information was given to me by the French arm of the activist think tank AVAAZ.

According to AVAAZ, there are a number of very important items we have missed in the midst of all the sensational, tabloid-like reporting.

Seven things you may have missed in the so-called “Muslim rage”

Like everyone else, many Muslims find the cheap, unprofessional Islamophobic video “Innocence of Muslims” trashy and offensive. Protests have spread quickly, tapping into understandable and lasting grievances about neo-colonialist US and western foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as religious sensitivities about depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. But the news coverage often obscures some important points:

1.  Early estimates put participation in anti-film protests at between 0.001 and 0.007% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims – a tiny fraction of those who marched for democracy in the Arab spring.

2.  The vast majority of protesters have been peaceful. The breaches of foreign embassies were almost all organised or fuelled by elements of the Salafist movement, a radical Islamist group that is most concerned with undermining more popular moderate Islamist groups.

3.  Top Libyan and US officials are divided over whether the killing of the US ambassador to Libya was likely pre-planned to coincide with 9/11, and therefore not connected to the film. An investigation by both the US and Libyan governments is underway.

Think-tank AVAAZ estimates that less than 0.007 of Muslims protested against the hateful anti-Muslim film during the past several weeks, but both Christians and Muslims are known for their few “crazies” who prefer violence over dialogue and peaceful protest.

4.  Apart from attacks by radical militant groups in Libya and Afghanistan, a survery of news reports on September 20 suggested that protesters had killed a number of people. The deaths cited by media were largely protesters killed by police.

5.  Pretty much every major leader, Muslim and western, has condemned the film, and pretty much every leader, Muslim and western, has condemned any violence that might be committed in response.

6.  The pope visited Lebanon at the height of the tension, and Hezbollah leaders attended his sermon, refrained from protesting the film until he left, and called for religious tolerance. Yes, this happened.

7.  After the attack in Benghazi, ordinary people turned out on the streets in Benghazi and Tripoli with signs, many of them in English, apologizing and saying the violence did not represent them or their religion.

Add to that the number of really big sensational news stories that were buried last week to make room for the front page, “angry Muslim clash” coverage. Maybe you didn’t even hear that in Russia tens of thousands of protesters marched through Moscow to oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese and Spaniards turned out for anti-austerity protests; and more than a million of Spain’s Catalans marched for independence.

Muslim rage or radical Salafist strategy?

Meet Sheikh Khaled Abdullah, the radical Salafist TV host who incited violence against US embassies because of the American anti-Muslim hate film.

The Amercan anti-Muslim film “Innocence of Muslims” was picked up and heralded with subtitles by far-right Salafists – radical Islamists. The film was a cheaply made, YouTube failure until a radical Egyptian Salafist TV host, Sheikh Khaled Abdullah began promoting it to viewers on September 8.

Most insulted Muslims ignored the film or protested peacefully, but the Salafists, with their signature black flags, were leading instigators of the more aggressive protests that breached embassies. Leaders of the Egyptian Salafist party attended the Cairo protest that broke into the US embassy.

Like the far-right in the US or Europe, the Salafist strategy is to drag public opinion rightwards by seizing on opportunities to fan radical anger and demonise ideological opponents. This approach resembles that of anti-Muslim US Charismatic Christian pastor Terry Jones (who first promoted the film in the west) and other western extremists. In both societies, however, the moderates far (far!) outnumber the extremists.

A leading figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (the more powerful and popular political opponent of Egypt’s Salafists) wrote to the New York Times saying: “We do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression.”

Objective, good reporting out there

Most print media and radio/TV journalism is about readership/viewership/listenership polls (ratings). The ones with the best ratings can charge higher prices for advertising. And, far too often, its about sensation and greed at the expense of truth. Whenever a lie is told or an exaggeration is promoted as “truth” the result is misunderstanding, alienation and, far too often, these lead to conflicts and even war.

A lonely band of journalists and scholars, however, have approached the protests with an intent to truly understand the forces behind them. Among them, Hisham Matar, who powerfully describes the sadness in Benghazi after US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed, and Barnaby Phillips, who explores how Islamic conservatives manipulated the film to their advantage. Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior cautions against treating the Muslim world as a homogenous unit. And Professor Stanley Fish tackles a tough question: why many Muslims are so sensitive to unflattering depictions of Islam.

And then there was our own blog that reported that all was well in both Mecca and Medina–the two most holy cities of Islam. The insulting Islamophobic film was barely mentioned in the news media in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Muslims basically ignored the inflamatory film. Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal urged Saudi youth to “confront the anti-Islam smear campaign by leading an exemplary life, following the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah.” The Saudi government early on condemned the violence and attacks on US embassies.

Finally, in Dearbon, Michigan, Muslim leaders joined by Christian pastors and leaders of other faiths, held a press conference. While condemning the anti-Muslim film, they clearly stated that freedom of assembly does not mean the freedom to be violent, to attack embassies or to kill innocent people. Here’s a recording from that press conference:

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September 22, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent artice and examples of how common sense should prevail.

    Comment by jdelliott | October 30, 2014 | Reply


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