Anti-American protests ignited by an obscure YouTube video that mocks Mohammed spread throughout the world Friday, reaching past Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen and Sudan into Afghanistan, East Jerusalem, Bahrain, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Malaysia, Turkey, the West Bank, Syria and Britain. Protesters chanted anti-American and religious slogans and set fire to buildings, attacking and looting American embassies. Clashes have left both protesters and police dead and injured.
As violence escalated, responses from Muslim leaders varied. Egyptian president Mohammed Morsy waited until Thursday to issue his first clear apology for the violence, while his initial remarks centered on decrying the content of the YouTube video that first sparked mob violence in Cairo.
In a statement posted by Morsy on his Facebook page, he expressed his indignation at the video. "The presidency condemns in the strongest terms the attempt of a group to insult the place of the Messenger, the Prophet Mohammed ... and condemns the people who have produced this radical work," he said. “The Egyptian people, both Muslims and Christians, refuse such insults on sanctities."
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood organization issued an English-language tweet to its followers at early in the morning Friday, cancelling Friday’s nationwide protests. In the tweet, the organization “announces it will be present only in #Tahrir, for symbolic protest against the movie.” Less than an hour later, however, the Brotherhood’s secretary general, Mahmoud Hussein, sent a radically different message in Arabic, urging protest “in front of the mosques of the whole country… to show the whole Egyptian people’s anger.”
Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, too, focused his statements on the “desecration” and “heinous act” of the filmmakers in presenting a negative picture of Mohammed in the video. “Desecration is not a part of the freedom of expression,” Karzai said, “but a criminal act that has now badly affected the righteous sentiments of 1.5 billion Muslims all over the globe.”
Karzai was insistent that the Prophet Mohammad “was the greatest prophet of Islam, a prophet sent to guide mankind, a pacifist and promoter of truth and honesty in the world,” and clear that militant Muslims angry over the negative portrayal of Mohammed in the video were justified in reacting to this insult. “In fact, insult to the greatest Prophet of Islam means insult to high values of 1.5 billion Muslims across the world. … This offensive act has stoked inter-faith enmity and confrontation and badly impacted the peaceful coexistence between human beings,” he said.
In Egypt, anger over the video was heightened when a staffer on the film stated that he believed the filmmaker to be a Coptic Christian. The Copts, marginalized by the new government’s close alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, have fled Egypt by the thousands over the past 18 months.
Today, the violence initiated by thousands of infuriated radical Islamists shed light on the desperate situation of Egypt’s longstanding Coptic community. In January a Coptic church in Alexandria was bombed, leaving 21 people dead, and sporadic violence in the wake of the elections has left dozens of Coptic Christians injured. The Copts comprise an estimated 8-11 percent of Egypt’s population.
On Wednesday, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement condemning the film and its controversial message. The statement read that the film’s "release at this specific time is part of a malicious campaign targeting defamation of religions, aiming to divide the people, most notably the Egyptian people," and added that the “defamation of religion, its symbols and teachings is incompatible with Christian values, the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles as is demonstrated in the Bible, so those who participate in such a production, display or promotion of such a films should be held fully accountable for operating outside of Christian principles and church laws."
In Dahshour, Egypt, tensions between Muslims and Christians escalated when a dry cleaning business owned by Christians scorched a Muslim man’s shirt. Violence ensued in the town square, and when a gasoline bomb from a rooftop killed a Muslim man, Muslims descended into angry reprisals. Ahmed Araby, a car dealer who is a Muslim, says that once Muslims and Christians “were like brothers,” in Dahshour, but now “a huge problem has fallen on our doorstep.” And he adds, “The people won't be happy until they kill a Christian in return. It's the way things are in the village.”
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights and religious freedom issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran, and the plight of Syrian refugees. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin can be contacted via her website at kristinwright.net or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: September 14, 2012