Inquirer Editorial: Protests about more than film

Raad Adayleh / Associated Press
Raad Adayleh / Associated Press
Posted: September 19, 2012

Demonstrations to protest a film made in America that portrays the prophet Muhammad as a womanizing child abuser had spread to at least 20 countries by Monday.

But in the United States, both major-party presidential candidates retreated from the subject rather than risk saying anything that might cost them votes. It's good they did. The issue is too important to be distorted by sound bites in a political campaign.

The number of protests has grown daily in the week since John Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other embassy workers, were killed in an attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. The attack was apparently sparked by an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube.

Experts debated whether jihadists used the video to whip up the anti-American frenzy in Libya that left Stevens dead. Ensuing protests in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sudan, Tunisia, Lebanon, and other countries were more clearly about the video. "I thought it was my duty as a Muslim to condemn those who made this film," a protester in Kabul said.

The protests are a reminder to Americans that people in other countries have a hard time grasping that freedom of speech here allows individuals to make statements that do not reflect the government's position. To the protesters, a video from the United States must have been approved by the U.S. government.

Getting them to see the situation differently requires a lengthy educational process that began years ago and will likely take years to bear fruit, if ever, given the anti-U.S. diet they are fed daily by Islamists who thrive when the masses they preach to are ignorant of the truth.

The video protests in Muslim nations suggest that much of the goodwill President Obama tried to sow with his 2009 Cairo speech has been uprooted. "Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire," Obama said three years ago.

That's the same speech that is derisively referred to by Obama's conservative foes now as having been made on his "apology tour." Their politically calculated rhetoric makes it even harder to convince Muslims that a video that vilifies their religion's most important deity doesn't represent this country's official view.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made a political calculation, too, when he prematurely criticized Obama's Mideast policies as having led to the murder of Stevens. Romney's statement came at a time when the country craved unity, not division - at least for a moment.

As Republican challenger Ronald Reagan said when President Carter was trying to handle the Iran hostage crisis during their 1980 election campaign, "This is a difficult day for all Americans . . . when words should be few and confined essentially to our prayers."

A political campaign is unlikely to provide a solution to the anti-American sentiment in Muslim countries. There's no magic formula to make people who distrust this nation suddenly change their minds. Winning mutual respect takes work.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|