Like many Americans, I watched in horror the news of the storming and setting fire to the US consulate in Banghazi, Libya. This event turned into a tragedy with the death of the US ambassador in Libya, along with three others. I couldn't help but be disappointed with Muslims and Arabs for being manipulated with such extreme ease.
Below are a couple of observations on the subject:
Attacking on the 911 anniversary
The attack on Americans in Libya happened on 911, of all days. That's a day when, every year, the world is reminded that terrorists from the Middle East committed a horrible crime against innocent american civilians and noncombatants. As an American of Middle Eastern origin, I feel that despite all the talk about Islamophobia and post 911 backlash, the US still reacted as positive as it can, managing not to mass-deport Arabs and Muslims. We are still trying, as a country, to regain a positive prospective and move on. Tragedies like this one, however, on the anniversary of 911, are sure to raise doubt in some minds about the wisdom of trying not to generalize or stereotype about Muslims. Today, there is someone, somewhere, thinking "what the heck? maybe they're all violent terrorists after-all".
Muslims, in their repeated violent reactions to provocations, are making it too easy for hate groups to brand all Muslims as "terrorists", or at least as a culture with propensity for violence.
Lack of appreciation for the recent US solidarity with the Libyan revolution
How honorable is it to attack the US consulate and kill Americans, when America was instrumental in helping the revolution in libya succeed in the first place?!
Without American air power, and the courageous decision by the US to deploy that air power in support of the Libyan rebels, there would have been no rebel victory.
The United States acted even as the revolutionary Egypt stayed on the sidelines, and the Arab and Islamic world was content with issuing statements of condemnation.
Some might say that the US intervened because of Libyan oil, but the fact remains that American lives were put in harms way for the Libyans, when a decision could have easily been made to wait it out, and provide symbolic help later (like we're doing in Syria now).
So again I ask, where is the honor in attacking those who helped your revolution succeed?!
The unthinkable; Arabs killing their guests
Despite the highly publicized negative aspects of contemporary Middle Eastern political and social life, there is one thing that is undeniable, the enduring tradition of Arab hospitality, and the pride most Arabs take in treating their guests with respect and generosity.
The American ambassador and the US diplomats were the guests of the Libyans. The islamic militants dishonor themselves and the rest of Libya, by attacking and killing these guests. This may ring hallow with non-Arabs, but believe me when I say that the symbolism of Arabs killing their guests is huge for an average citizen of that region.
It is a missed opportunity for the local political leaders when they fail to drive home this point and explain it to the public in simple terms. If they did, they might see demonstrations in support of the US in Banghazi and tripoli the following day; what a change of political dynamics that would be!
During the recent events we were once again witnessing an anti-Muslim group of individuals pushing the right buttons to trigger a violent response, and gain from it politically.
In this case an Egyptian Christian (based on the latest reports) with a political agenda, make a low budget anti-islam film in the United States and release it two months before a crucial US election. I assume that the objective here was to incite muslims to violence, watch Americans get killed in Muslim countries, then somehow blame president Obama for it. This strategy might actually work in getting a few undecided votes in a tight election, but thats not what's really sad about this. What's sad is that Muslims and Arabs are being handled like a 9 year old child, and are making it so predictably easy to be manipulated.
There is a motto among some religious Christians in America, and that is "what would Jesus do?". There is even a bracelets to go with that, with the abbreviation "WWJD".
Muslims (conservative or liberal) might want to consider a different strategy in dealing with insults against Islam and prophet Mohammed; they may want to start asking themselves "what would Mohammad do?!", or "WWMD".
Would Mohammad react "violently" when accused of being "violent"?, I'm guessing that he might want to prove the critics wrong by acting extra pacifist instead.
He may say to his conservative followers "please stop trying to defend me", because so far, their action have only resulted in more deaths in the name of Islam, and tarnishing the name for Mohammed.
Mohammad might decide that he and god don't need anyone to defend them. If the message and messenger are righteous, then they should NOT need the protection of mere mortals. Islam, and Mohammed, should be able to withstand criticisms, and even slander; if they can't then they're not worthy.
Mohammad might decide that the best way to fight slander is to present the opposing view i.e. "positive side of Islam", and not proving the critics right by trying to kill them.
Why do some in the Middle East think the US Government can stop offensive free speech?
The root cause behind the recent attacks on US embassies and consulates is not a film defaming Islam, but rather the mistaken perception by some Arabs and Muslims that the US government should, and can, stop "inappropriate" free speech, and it simply chooses not to.
This ill founded expectation is coming from a region were journalists and activists are often prosecuted for saying, or printing, views that are deemed "offensive" by political leaders. Politicians in the Middle East have mastered the art of mixing religion with political agendas. As a result, there is a very little differention between arrests for "offending" Islam, and arrests for acts "offending" the political establishment. Most political leaders in the Middle East find it easier to govern if they brand themselves as the defenders of the faith, just like Christian leaders did in the middle ages. In extreme cases the criticism is considered an insult directed at "god appointed leaders", as in the case in Iran.
Despite the arab spring, the Middle East is ripe with locally acceptable exceptions to free speech, and many think that free speech as it exists in the USA is intolerable. Post revolution Egypt recently charged a journalist for criticizing, I mean "insulting", the new president. Post revolution Tunisia is already trying to limit free media by devising new restrictive laws, and the general revolutionary public doesn't seems to mind.
The fact of he matter is that in a true democracy, exceptions to free speech should be, and are, extremely rare. So long as there is no incitement to violence, and there is no actual harm to anyone, everyone should be able to say whatever they wish about anything, or anyone.
In the case of the "offensive" movie in questions, the US Government can not even take the movie makers to court, because there would be no legal basis for such action. If Muhammad were alive, he would have had the opportunity to challenge the movie makers in court for slander and defamation, but the US Government can not do so in behalf of the "prophet".
America is a great democracy because it doesn't make many exception to free speech; If the Middle East wants to have true democracies, it should consider the same.
Muslims might come to realize that there is no harm in tolerating criticism of Mohammad as an acceptable free speech, because it ensures that no citizen can ever be arrested, or jailed, for exercising their right to freely criticize less important figures, such as presidents or Government officials.
Disclaimer: This piece is not intended to insult any religion or religious figures. Please don't kill me!