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Here we go again: Islamophobia and protests

September 12, 2012

Crossposted at Foreign Policy: Transitions

“I demand the expulsion of diaspora Copts from Egypt,” said a placard held by a young man in jeans and a T-shirt at the U.S. embassy protest here in Cairo yesterday. On a day of absurdity and horror, this offered a bit of comic relief in an otherwise incomprehensible sequence of events.

I keep sighing as I write this.

The story in brief: An idiot makes a really bad film featuring Prophet Mohammed and his contemporaries as a bunch of bloodthirsty idiotic pederasts. According to the film, Muhammad was an illegitimate child, and the Quran was written by his wife’s cousin, and current-day Muslims go around slaughtering Christians. And that’s just in the 13-minute preview that has been making the rounds on the internet (the authenticity of which has been confirmed). Yes, it’s chock-full of all the usual Muslim-hating stereotypes, and then some.

I’ve watched the preview and it’s… sad. Pathetic. I did not feel so much insulted as bewildered, struggling to understand how someone could spend $5 million to produce this piece of technical and acting crap. Actors wore broom-like beards, and carried swords I could swear were Game of Thrones memorabilia. Teenagers with a flipcam and iMovie might do better. (Perhaps the financiers of the film got shafted.)

Normally, a film like this would have remained in the dusty confines of YouTube, where its only views would have come from the accidental search hit, the only comments from trolls. Or from people trying to get others to click on their website to claim all the money a Nigerian prince is giving away.

Unfortunately, it was picked up by an incendiary TV preacher who played segments of the clip on television, escalating the matter into what was yesterday’s incomprehensible display of force at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, despite an earlier statement from this very embassy condemning the film.

The film, which was produced by the Israeli-American Sam Bacile, and promoted by notorious wacko Terry Jones (the Quran-burning preacher with the doubtful facial hair) as well as a handful of American-Egyptian Copts such as Maurice Sadek, offers plenty of targets for angry protestors.

Normally an unapproachable fortress, the embassy in Cairo is America’s second-largest, exceeded only by the one in Baghdad. Yesterday, as the news of the anti-Mohammed film spread, it was surrounded by two thousand protesters, mostly from extremist and hardline groups, who eventually managed to scale the building, tear down a U.S. flag, and hang an Islamist banner — one which Idiscussed previously – in its place. There have also been several condemnations of diaspora Copts, which have exceeded the few people associated to the film to the entirety of the U.S.-Egyptian Coptic community. This is painfully ironic, considering that the patriotism of this community is mostly beyond doubt, and that it has strongly supported the revolution from the very first days, establishing them firmly as a cherished part of the new Egypt.

Is the film insulting? Yeah, sure. But the best reaction would have been to ignore it completely. There is no virtue in displaying lethal outrage (as in Benghazi) whenever anyone throws a feeble punch at Islam and Muslims. Doing so is only a display of weakness, a fear that our religion cannot withstand even the silliest of skits. This idea is insulting in itself. Bring on the insults, I say — bring on the hatred, the mockery, the piques, the spitballs. The amateur films, the Danish cartoons, the Geert Wilders, and the like. There is little harm than can befall Islam as a faith. It has withstood, over the past fourteen centuries, infinitely worse attacks, yet it has neither weakened nor vanished.

And the response to such hatred ought not to be riots that play right into the Islamophobes’ hands, but a strong communications policy, and an invitation for dialogue to all those who wish to. The Baciles and the Terrys will probably decline the offer; but many of their followers will not.

I am outraged. Not really at a mediocre attempt to insult, which is easily brushed off and merits no second thought on my part, but at the protests and at those manipulating simple-minded people to score populist points, ultimately at the expense of their fellow countrymen.

A final note. Anti-Americanism and anti-Christian sentiment were tools often used by the Mubarak regime to divert attention from local crises. As Egypt is in the process of drafting its new constitution, in a highly controversial process dominated by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, one cannot help but wonder whether there are political gains to be made locally from these events. It makes no sense that the protestors had such easy access to the embassy, which is normally guarded by probably more army personnel than the eastern Sinai. But the Muslim Brotherhood is keen on building strong links with the U.S. Earlier this week President Morsi met with a large U.S. business delegation in Cairo. Burning the American flag (on September 11, no less) could easily torpedo those efforts.

So was this a case of a “tolerated” outrage that went too far? Whatever it is, I fear we may not have seen the end of it yet. And those who will suffer include Egyptians, Christians, and Muslims alike.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    September 12, 2012 4:47 pm

    Thank you for a sensitive and insightful post–already, I am battling those who say these actions prove that Islamophobes are “right.” Of course they do not–Islamophobia is a hatred as virulent as any other human hatred, and as deadly and as disgusting, and life is too short and too precious to waste in hate. The tragedy here is that the ambassador who died was truly a man invested in the Middle East, who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching Moroccan children English, and who befriended the revolutionaries in Benghazi—so the Islamophobes win here, having destroyed a man who wanted to see an Arab Islamic country succeed. The other tragedy is that westerners who know little or nothing about Egypt, Libya or Islam will be left only with the impression of riots and death.

  2. September 13, 2012 2:02 am

    May I suggest another response to a bigot’s insults?

    Pray for his soul. Petition the Highest to soften his heart, open his eyes, and cleanse the hatred from his mind. Implore that he be redeemed from insanity and wickedness.

    Do this out loud and in a group. Set it to music and put it on You-Tube.

    In short, take the passive-aggressive high road. It’ll work like a charm.

    • Nick Ruechel permalink
      September 14, 2012 12:50 pm

      paradoctor YES YES YES! great words.

  3. Jim Philips permalink
    September 13, 2012 4:52 pm

    Thanks you for this wonderfully rational post! I reshared on Facebook and Google+. In this conflict, I don’t know who looks dumber: the narrow-minded Islamists or the narrow-minded Islam haters. Both sides are mindless of the damage they inflict on the world.

  4. September 15, 2012 10:45 am

    Reblogged this on Writes2escape's Blog and commented:
    Absolutely right. This film is a vile piece of crap, yes but attacking your own people (and others) and burning down your own country just to show your outrage is stupid. Stop. We’re playing right into the hands of the ones who want to annihilate us.

  5. September 15, 2012 3:13 pm

    Nicely written. It’s hard to understand why people react to such idiotic acts.
    As if they are waiting for an excuse to create disharmony.
    Muslims need to promote the true peace loving nature of our faith.
    Ofcourse, it is insulting when such hatred is spread … but fighting hatred with hatred, fighting stupidity with stupidity will never bring and end to the chaos

  6. September 15, 2012 3:15 pm

    Reblogged this on MindBlur and commented:
    Says how I feel about the current round of protests from what I call ‘hardcore’ Muslims. We need to learn to live in peace … Islam is a religion of peace and harmony.

  7. drsuraiyanasim permalink
    September 15, 2012 10:41 pm

    A very insightful post.
    The thing to remember here is- “You can wave your hands in the air as much as you want as long as you don’t hurt my nose”. So, insulting any religion…and i mean “any”…is not freedom of speech…it is hurting of the nose!!!
    How desparate can one get to bring down a religion that you have to resort to making cheap films and fake claims??? It’s horribly pathetic.
    Muslims ofcourse shouldn’t play into their hands…but yes..a peaceful protest can be and should be undertaken. I vote for a non-violent protest with strength and dignity.
    In schools we are taught to respect all religions….when will some ppl learn that?
    Surah Al-kaafirun clearly states-“Neither will i worship what you worship and nor will you worship what i worship….to you your religion and to me mine”.
    It’s as simple as that. I feel very sorry for the fanatics who made this movie.
    The desparation they show is pity-arousing. They seriously need help!

  8. September 16, 2012 10:09 am

    Followed the link from Mindblur and I am so grateful to you for writing this. The first thing I told my husband as we heard the news was, “Well, they have given that film the best publicity push ever! No PR person could have planned a campaign as effect as these protests.” *Deep sigh* As a “career” expat now living in Egypt, I find myself in a constant intellectual battle with folks the world over, who do not know any Muslims personally and believe all the hype and hate they hear in media reports. Frankly, I have stopped responding to most provocation because even pointing out contradictory facts still doesn’t seem to change anyone’s closed mind. I will share this on my Facebook wall, in the hopes of enlightening even a few. Sadly, my hopes are not high.

  9. September 16, 2012 3:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Ordinary girl's peculiar blog.

  10. September 21, 2012 2:08 pm

    The film is a sad waste of resources and in earlier days would have been considerd as no more than a piece of bizarre and distasteful comedy. In the tinder dry world of suspision and unease we now inhabit it was just irrisponsible. The reaction to it is equally disturbing. Both faiths have extremisits who have fed on and inflamed the horror of 9/11 and we must pray that more moderate people of both persuasions manage to keep these nutters out of harms way


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