On July 1st of this year, the trailer of a film depicting the Islamic Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer, child molester, and murderer appeared on YouTube. Earlier this week, local news stations in North Africa picked up the trailer and broadcast it. Outrage and protest have ensued throughout the region. On September 11th protesters in Cairo stormed the US consulate and tore down the American flags, replaced them with pan-Islamic banners, and then ripped apart the Star-Spangled Banners. On September 12th protests in Benghazi, Libya, culminated in a militant attack on the embassy, killing the US ambassador.
It should be noted that any link between the protesters and those responsible for the attack remains unclear. As I write this article on September 13th, protests are increasing in intensity in Sana’a, Yemen and demonstrators are beginning to storm the gates of a third US embassy. These events could be seen in the clear vision of history as a turning point in the Arab Spring. What is also revealing, however, is the West’s response to this video; not merely that of our states but of our society.
The silence of the American people in the wake of this film has been deafening. If building a mosque near ground zero – which is not even a mosque but a community center – inspired protests all across the country, yet we barely lift a finger when it is one of our own that has been insensitive, then we show our true colors as Americans, Westerners etc… We show that we have not changed much since the days of Tom Robinson. We are still on a witch hunt, and it seems that the only lesson that we learned from our last excursion down the road of bigotry was who not to hate, not that hate itself is the problem. Our collective silence has been masked for the moment by the speech of our leaders, who were all quick to comment as these events have unfolded.
The responses by those responsible for pubic policy have been united in both denouncing the heinous nature of the film, such as Barrack Obama claiming during his speech that, “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others” and the unacceptable nature of the response such as a statement made by Mohammed al-Megaryef, president of Libya’s congress, We apologize to the U.S., to the American people and to the government and also to the rest of the world for what happened yesterday.” These responses have all reaffirmed the struggle to create democratic states in North Africa, but most importantly, these responses espoused the need for co-operation to meet this end, not merely the transfer of Western values in the name of democracy. Indeed, it is the blind, unapologetic, proclamation of these values that has led us to this point.
We have become so caught up in our own society’s virtues that we have stopped paying attention to the details of their application. Our refusal to ‘apologise for America’ has caused us to yell fire in a crowded theatre, repeatedly, just to prove that we can. In a statement made by the Romney presidential campaign, Mitt Romney proclaimed that, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Perhaps it is time, however, that we did learn to sympathize with those whom we have insulted or hurt. To get off of our high horse, with which we have so clumsily trampled on the values of others, reflect on our own sensitivities and imagine what it must feel like to have a pillar of not just our religion, but our culture, degraded in the most targeted and sadistic way.
This is not to say that the violent response of many around the Islamic world has been warranted, but a mob is still a mob regardless of whether it yells or stands in silent protest. Perhaps this turn in the Arab spring should not be remembered by the bang in Benghazi, but by our whispers; our silent approval of bigotry as we sit in the balcony, staring down at the courtroom of public opinion.
The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of The Saint, but are individual opinions.