Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Speech Obama Should Give about ‘Innocence of Muslims’

My colleague Nivien Saleh, an Egyptian Professor of International Relations who works here in the US, has written a terrific article about how Obama should react to the movie "The Innocence of Muslims."

I highly recommend it. Here is an excerpt.

The current turmoil in the Muslim world  that has unfolded over the YouTube video clip Innocence of Muslims offers the U.S. what educators call a “teachable moment:” an opportunity provided by circumstance to explain an idea that the audience might otherwise find abstract and irrelevant.
The idea is freedom of expression. . . .

Citizens of these nations do not appreciate how valuable freedom of speech is in protecting them from the very dictatorships Tunisians, Libyans, Egyptians, and Syrians have struggled so hard to overcome. But right now, they want to hear from the United States. If President Obama keeps his silence, this moment will become a memory of insult and murder. In fact, the seeds for this may already be germinating: In Egypt, an Islamist member of the Shura Council – part of the country’s legislature – announced that a group is forming that consists of young people from various Islamist persuasions. Its aim is “to defend the Prophet by producing documentaries about the history of Christianity and Judaism.” In other words, some of Egypt’s young Islamists believe that tit-for-tat, insult for insult, is the appropriate answer to Innocence of Muslims.

If, on the other hand, Obama speaks to the video and its consequences, explaining that listening to obscenity once in a while is the price that democrats are willing to pay for their ability to participate in the political process, he may be able to heal some of the injury to the American psyche from the killing of U.S. personnel. He also might succeed in convincing many of the 1.6 billion people in the Muslim world that even though the United States does not penalize offensive speech, it understands the injury that it can cause.

And in the process, he just might open a few minds to a truly revolutionary idea.

The Speech Obama Should Give About the "Innocence of Muslims" 

Reaction to the film "Innocence of a Muslim"

Dear readers

I would like to welcome a new guest blogger. Jillian Underwood is my student at the Clinton School of Public Service. She will be helping me keep this blog more up to date.

Here is her first post.


By now, American citizens and Egyptian citizens alike should have both heard about the controversial film trailer Innocence of a Muslim. The film, which has been reported as coming from a self-described Coptic Christian from California, has been described as “inflammatory,” “insulting,” and “emotionally immature” (The Associated Press, September 14, 2012). Reaction to the film has left three Americans and a U.S. ambassador dead in Libya and attacks on U.S. embassies across the Middle East, including Egypt where 220 people were arrested. Al-Qaida and the Taliban have called for more attacks claiming that the attacks were to “avenge Muslims insulted by the film” (The Associated Press, September 15, 2012).

In Egypt, the perceived anti-Islamic film may lead to a provision in the new constitution criminalizing blasphemy and insulting religious figures. Many are suggesting the US should overlook freedom of speech protections and prosecute the filmmakers responsible. “Many Egyptians appear to reject the extent of free speech protection in the US, considering it more important to protect the public order than to protect a person’s right to say offensive things” (Chick, 2012).

Of course, Americans have quite a different perspective. Reacting to the American perspective, in his article Was the Arab Spring Really worth it?: The Fascinating Arrogance of Power, Bassam Haddad comments on the U.S.’s power and describes it as casually barbaric. He came to the conclusion after CNN ran a story asking if the Arab-Spring was “worth it.” Bassam suggests that history is insignificant to those in power and many Americans are probably legitimately entertaining the idea, “Was it really worth it to let these creatures out of their cages?” (Haddad, 2012).

Associated Press. (2012, September 14). Egypt's Christians
anxious, anticipate troubles. NPR.org. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=161180626

Associated Press. (2012, September 15). Al-qaida calls for more attacks on

Haddad, B. (2012, September 15). 17.“Was the arab spring really worth it?: The

Chick, K. (2012, September 17). After film, push strengthens for blasphemy clause in

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reflections upon rioting because of American anti-Islamic video

Dear readers

I have been slow to respond to the riots in response to a disrespectful video about the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) affecting parts of the Muslim World, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan. I needed time to think about it.

Mostly I feel sad. I feel sad that a Coptic Christian would embarass his group-- and Christians worldwide-- by producing such garbage. For those of us people of the book who reject this nonsense, I extend my apologies: this video does not represent us.  I tried to watch the trailer, and it was really painful for me that someone could be so ignorant, and so hateful.

Of course, holding the US Government responsible for the acts of a private citizen also strikes me as unusual, and that is what the rioters are essentially doing by attacking embassies and affiliated centers. Of course, it is true that I was raised in the US. It is no secret that I advocate free speech. That being said, I have noted in this blog and elsewhere that that is a global value, enshrined by the United Nations, and with roots in the great philosophers of the world, including those of the enlightenment.

I have also expressed my admiration for aspects of Islam, as well as the rich, multi-cultural melange which has historically been the Arab World. I am worried that we are losing this culture's history of tolerance and understanding as Wahabis and Salafis attack Christians, Sufis, Shiites, and anyone whose views do not align perfectly with theirs.

I think that Salman Rushdie speaks for me in this piece.

Salman Rushdie Interview with Steve Inskeep, September 17, 2012

For more thoughts, Jeffrey Fleishman is a genius. What's Next in the Arab World

I also thought that since everyone is worried and depressed you might enjoy this.

"Muslim Rage" Explodes on Twitter, but in a funny way

 Praying for peace, understanding and tolerance. . .