You don’t have to be an Islamophobe to say, “Enough already.”
It’s time for U.S. officials to stop apologizing for the YouTube video that supposedly sparked recent riots in Islamic countries. The video is merely a convenient pretext for religious radicals and irresponsible politicians to stir up anti-Western anger; they would have found another excuse if it hadn’t surfaced.
In an effort to avoid violence in Pakistan, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad broadcast ads on local TV showing American leaders denouncing the brief film. I understand the impulse — after what happened in Libya, the embassy is trying to protect its staffers. But attacking the video doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.
Here are six things you need to know about what’s really going on.
• The YouTube video was deliberately promoted by radical clerics in Egypt, Pakistan, and elsewhere to arouse people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it. In Cairo, a radical sheikh aired it on his satellite TV channel (allegedly funded by Gulf money) and called for protests.
• The violent demonstrators represent only a minority of Muslims (and their numbers in most countries were relatively small). In Libya, the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff appear to have been preplanned by radicals, surprising the Libyan government. Libyan good samaritans carried Stevens to the hospital, and were caught on amateur video praising God that he appeared still to be alive. In Tunis, the majority of people also appeared genuinely shocked when hard-line Salafis sacked the U.S. embassy, and local businessmen offered to help restore the destroyed American school.
• Violent protests against critiques of Islam have no roots in the Muslim religion. As the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia said last week, the web video “would never harm the noble Prophet in any way, nor the religion of Islam.” He denounced the destruction of embassies and public buildings as un-Islamic.
• The anger sparked by the video has roots far deeper than this dumb film. Pakistan is the perfect example: A third of Pakistani children never, ever attend school, the literacy rate barely tops 50 percent, and the economy is in the tank. “The country has 90 million youths under the age of 21, with no prospect of jobs, and unable to afford marriage, so you have a powder keg,” says Hussein Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, and longtime critic of radical Islamic movements in his country.
• Supposedly moderate Muslim leaders are afraid to challenge the radicals — or want to play the populist card to hide their economic failures. Thus, in Egypt, instead of trying to calm people down, President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood called for a million-man march against the video, until a phone call from President Obama persuaded him to call it off.
The White House must make clear that it’s unacceptable for Muslim politicians to abet violence against U.S. citizens on grounds that Islam has been insulted. If leaders such as Morsi or Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf don’t respond, it’s time to reconsider our help with economic aid and loan forgiveness.
• Muslim leaders in Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere have the mistaken idea that their blasphemy laws should be applied elsewhere. This can’t happen.
Clearly, Ashraf’s idea of promoting global laws against blasphemy is a nonstarter. The entire world will not censor itself to avoid offending a minority of Muslims stirred up by radicals and irresponsible populist leaders. Where would that end?
Blasphemy laws are a blight on Muslim countries that have them, and they are often used to pursue personal vendettas. In the West, we have different laws and customs, and that must be made clear to Muslim leaders. If the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo wants to publish caricatures of Mohammed to mock religious fundamentalism, it is entitled to do so under French law. If some crackpot in California makes a film that is legal here, there are no grounds to arrest him, no matter how obnoxious the provocation. He is not violating American law.
Back in 2009, when Obama made his address to Muslims in Cairo, he famously called for mutual respect between cultures. That is what he must insist on now.