It would be refreshing to see Muslim mobs protest and riot at U.S. embassies over drone strikes that claim the lives of many innocent Muslim civilians.
In Yemen, for example, on Sept. 3 a strike targeting Al-Qaeda suspects killed 13 civilians; or on May 17 when a dozen Yemeni civilians were killed, as part of a joint American-Yemeni counterinsurgency against an Islamist rebellion in the south of the country. Then there’s the massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where already in 2010 one of every three casualties were civilian – a consequence of the increased usage of drone strikes from the previous administration.
But they didn’t. And they didn’t attack them over the suicide of Guantanamo Bay detainee Adnan Latif, who was found innocent and was supposed to be released in 2010, but was kept in the camp Obama promised in 2008 to close, a promise he later reneged.
Instead, mobs in Libya and Egypt attacked American embassies over a low-budget anti-Muslim movie called “The Innocence Of Muslims,” with the violence spreading to other Muslim countries as I write this – the violence beginning on Sept. 11, no less. The entire episode is reminiscent of the Muhammad cartoons published in a Danish newspaper in Sept. 2005 that sparked riots throughout the Muslim world.
Then – as now – Muslims were up in arms over a series of cartoons while far worse things were going on, like the occupation of Iraq, for example. There’s no comparison: on the one hand, the occupation already claimed at least “24,865 civilians were reported killed in the first two years,” (months before the cartoons were published) of which “US-led forces killed 37% of civilian victims” and “air strikes caused most (64%) of the explosives deaths,” according to research conducted by Iraq Body Count between March 2003 and March 2005.
On the other hand, cartoons. Yeah.
This isn’t to say that Muslims weren’t pissed off at the illegal and immoral invasion; Muslims joined anti-war protests that occurred across the world when the coalition of the willing crossed into Iraq. But the flames of popular outrage and militancy was channeled and confined to Al-Qaeda and sectarian terrorism, and an anti-occupation movement was as absent there as it was in the West … which leads to the obvious question – why do Muslims become more outraged over symbolic affronts to Islam than real-world trampling of the lives and dignity of Muslims?
The answer lies in Islamism, bolstered by conservative societies. The protests have largely been organized by Islamist groups in order to increase their presence and gain political strength. In Egypt, for example:
“Hours before the Benghazi attack, hundreds of mainly ultraconservative Islamist protesters in Egypt marched to the U.S. Embassy in downtown Cairo, gathering outside its walls and chanting against the movie and the U.S. Most of the embassy staff had left the compound earlier because of warnings of the upcoming demonstration.
‘Say it, don’t fear: Their ambassador must leave,’ the crowd chanted.
Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, and several went into the courtyard and took down the American flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that tore it apart.
The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with a Muslim declaration of faith, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” The flag, similar to the banner used by al-Qaida, is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region.
The crowd grew throughout the evening with thousands standing outside the embassy. Dozens of riot police lined up along the embassy walls but did not stop protesters as they continued to climb and stand on the wall – though it appeared no more went into the compound.
The crowd chanted, ‘Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die.’ Some shouted, ‘We are all Osama,’ referring to al-Qaida leader bin Laden. Young men, some in masks, sprayed graffiti on the walls. Some grumbled that Islamist President Mohammed Morsi had not spoken out about the movie.”
Here’s what happened in Tunisia, the site of the Arab Spring’s first uprising :
“Several thousand people battled with Tunisian security forces outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Protesters rained stones on police firing tear gas and shooting into the air. Some protesters scaled the embassy wall and stood on top of it, planting the Islamist flag that has become a symbol of the wave of protests: A black banner with the Islamic profession of faith, ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.'”
“Some 350 activists from Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, a student wing of the hardline Sunni party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), staged a separate demonstration, blocking a main road by setting fire to tyres and burning a US flag, an AFP reporter said.”
Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah made his first public appearance since the Israeli attack in 2006 to address a massive crowd in Beirut:
“He said the world did not understand the ‘breadth of the humiliation’ caused by the ‘worst attack ever on Islam'”.
(Really? Worse than the 2006 attack on your country that claimed over a thousand civilian lives?)
And in Latif’s homeland, Yemen:
“Hundreds converged Thursday on the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, which is heavily barricaded because of past al-Qaida-linked attacks on the compound. Yemeni guards at checkpoints on roads leading up to the compound did nothing to stop the crowd, said Ahmed Darwish, a witness who was at the scene.
The crowd swarmed over embassy’s entrance gate. Men with iron bars smashed the thick, bullet-proof glass windows of the entrance building while others clambered up the wall. Some ripped the embassy’s sign off the outer wall.
“Inside the compound grounds, they brought down the American flag in the courtyard and replaced it with a black banner bearing Islam’s declaration of faith — ‘There is no God but Allah.’ They did not enter the main building housing the embassy’s offices, some distance away from the entry reception. Demonstrators set tires ablaze and pelted the compound with rocks.”
In many cases, such as in Algeria, Islamists have demanded that the U.S. circumvent the Constitution and ban the film, which no one even knew about until Islamists got aggro.Such a stance seemingly gives credibility to anti-Muslim activists
The film’s bigoted anti-Muslim stance is apparent for all to see, as it connects the actions of Islamists – in Egypt, in this instance – portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a murderer, tyrant, over sexed, child molester and a homosexual. It’s a way of presenting Islamism an inevitable and honest expression with broader Islam, a conflation justifying bigotry and colonialism by removing any moral counterweight to such objectionable concepts – a key premise underlying right-wing anti-Muslim activism. A full expose of these right-wing forces behind the film’s production and distribution reveals the intent of fomenting trouble by inciting Muslims to promote a Christian supremacist and pro-Israel agenda.
But the secret to their success lies in large part in the actions of Muslims; success that Islamists seem willing to enable as part of an unspoken alliance. Anti-Muslim propaganda and prejudice will always be there in one form or another, so the real question is how is it to be defeated – a question Islamism cannot answer because it’s part of the problem given life on 9/11/01 and renewed on 9/11/12.
What the film’s producers/distributors and the Islamist mobs have in common with each other is a commitment to a reactionary and theocratic agenda. This commonality means that no movement against the kind of Islamophobia promoted in the film has any chance of success unless it also includes an opposition to Islamism as well; one can’t exist without the other, and they can only be defeated by a progressive secularist movement and not by idiot mobs.
In order to counter anti-Muslim perceptions of irrationality that have filtered through the internet – and hence the collective consciousness – two pieces appeared on liberal left sites that sought to shed light on why Muslims were really angry. Unfortunately, the authors fall short of doing what they set out to do.
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern wrote in the Consortium News:
“Broad hints can be seen in the Washington Post’s coverage over recent days – including a long piece by its Editorial Board, ‘Washington’s role amid the Mideast struggle for power,’ published the same day Ajami’s article appeared online.
What the two have in common is that the word ‘Israel’ appears in neither piece. One wonders how and why the Post‘s editors could craft a long editorial on the “Mideast struggle for power” — and give editorial prominence to Ajami’s article — without mentioning Israel.
Presumably because the Post’s readers aren’t supposed to associate the fury on the Arab ‘street’ with anger felt by the vast majority Arabs over what they see as U.S. favoritism toward Israel and neglect for the plight of the Palestinians. The Israeli elephant, with the antipathy and resentment its policies engender, simply cannot be allowed into the discussion.”
Jeff Sparrow reached back into British colonial history to understand the riots today:
“In 1857, Bengali soldiers (known as ‘sepoys’) shot their British officers and marched upon Delhi. The Great Indian Rebellion became very violent, very quickly. The rebels massacred prisoners, including women and children; the British put down the revolt with a slaughter of unprecedented proportions.
Now, that rebellion began when the troops learned that their cartridges, designed to be torn open with their teeth, would be greased with beef and pork fat, an offence to the religious sensibilities of Hindus and Muslims alike. Had Twitter been an invention of the Victorian era, London sophisticates would, no doubt, have LOLed to each other (#sepoyrage!) about the credulity of dusky savages so worked up about a little beef tallow. Certainly, that was how the mouthpieces of the East India Company spun events: in impeccably Dawkinesque terms, they blamed ‘Hindoo prejudice’ for the descent of otherwise perfectly contented natives into rapine and slaughter.
But no serious historian today takes such apologetics seriously. Only the most determined ignoramus would discuss 1857 in isolation from the broader context of British occupation. In form, the struggle might have been religious; in content, it embodied a long-simmering opposition to colonial rule.”
There’s some truth in these assertions, but it’s not the whole truth. The U.S. has been bankrolling Israeli apartheid for decades, yet it wasn’t the latest outrage from Netanyahu that sparked the protests; likewise, American neocolonialism laid the ground work for the riots and violence, but the British insensitivity that sparked the Sepoy Rebellion can’t be compared to the film trailer because it was a governmental action – unlike the film, which was produced by an obscure Islamophobe and convicted felon unconnected with Washington.
Now, if the film was produced by the U.S. military and distributed in Afghanistan – followed by rioting in Kabul – then the Sepoy comparison would hold. But that obviously didn’t happen; instead the world saw Islamist mobs expending considerable energy and anger over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, instead of more pressing concerns like the death of Adnan Latif. Attacking racism and colonialism as the underlying cause of these riots is understandable, but ignoring the Islamist elephant in the room not only distorts analysis of anti-Muslim bigotry, it cedes territory to the Islamophobes and guarantees them legitimacy – which ultimately defeats the purpose of defeating them.