Sunday, September 16, 2012
Thoughts on Protests in Cairo
Preface: In light of the current events taking place across the Muslim world, I am going to temporarily ignore one of my blogs guiding principles, limited political commentary, and take a moment to react to the anti-American protest that are taking place across the Muslim world. First and foremost, mom I assure you that I am safe. Second, although I have been devouring information about what is going on around the Middle East, I can only talk about my experience in Cairo.
With renewed energy, protesters have taken to the streets of Cairo, throwing rocks, waving flags, clashing with riot police, and generating a firestorm of news coverage around the world. At a glance this new wave of protests seem like an extensions of the wildly successful pro-democracy demonstrations of the Arab Spring that, as we all know, ousted many long-term dictators from power. However, the current demonstrations do not have the same pro-democracy elements as those of the Arab Spring. This time around the flags that are being waved are not Egyptian flags but the flags of conservative Islamist groups.
While still politically charged, the current protests are not intended to further democratize the Egyptian government or to demand greater freedoms for the people of Egypt. What makes these protests different than those of the Arab Spring is that they are religious in nature, and are not directed at internal change, but at the Western influence in the Middle East. Now the protesters, driven by conservative religious ideology, have directed their attentions at Westerners.
What we are seeing is the angry and hate-filled response to the publication of the anti-Islam film on YouTube. Rather than neutralizing the film’s hate by opening a constructive discourse aimed to educate the world about what makes the film so offensive to Muslims, angry protesters responded with violence. Ironically, by turning to violence the protestors have publically reinforced the stated message of the film that they are protesting. They allowed their passion to dictate their actions and as a result fell pray to the trap set by the film’s creators. What possible result could it have intended aside from deliberately provoking a violent response? It seems obvious that the film’s creators expected its eventual audience to react as they did. It is for the benefit of their own ideology that Muslim protesters have taken to the streets, scaling embassy walls, burning flags, and clashing with police, they were counting on it.
Judging by the reactions, the film effectively conveyed its message of hate. But posting the film has also jeopardized the safety of all of the American citizens in the region, resulted in the deaths of four American diplomat and many more Muslims. It is easy to make such inflammatory material from a safe distance. Those responsible for the film are sheltered from the reprisals to your creative hatred. The dead Americans in Benghazi were not afforded this luxury. The burden for those of us that are trying to strengthen the ties between cultures has been made exponentially heavier.
Along with the much-publicized killing of American citizens in Benghazi, ten Libyans were also killed in their attempts to defend the American embassy. During high stress situations like this, it is easy to become hyper focused on certain aspects and ignore the broader picture. The film was deeply insulting to Muslims and elicited a dramatic response across the Muslim world, but it is the actions of few that have dictated the terms of this current conflict. The infamous film was created and disseminated by ultra-conservatives in order to advance their own agenda, and was met with a strong response lead by ultra-conservatives with the same intent and opposite ideologies. The rest of us are caught in the crossfire and becoming either casualties or hostages. In the wake of the Benghazi killings, Libyan citizens took to the streets carrying signs that read, “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans,” “R.I.P. Christopher Stevens,” and “Sorry people of America this is not the Pehavior of our ISLAM and Profit [sic.].” The heroic actions of the Libyans to defend the US embassy, and the peaceful protests condemning the violence demonstrate that the anti-American sentiment is not universal. Unfortunately, only the loudest voices are heard, and guns are louder than apologies.