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Demonstrating for dignity: why are Muslims SO enraged?

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A version of this article was published on the Index on Censorship website, you can read it here or on my Huffington Post blog, here

Muslims eh, they just cant seem to take a joke can they? It would be very easy to cast, as many ‎commentators have, the latest riots in response to the islamophobic film, as another example of ‎intolerant Muslims lacking a funny bone. The Rushdie affair, the Danish cartoons, the murder of ‎Van Gogh – surely the latest saga fits neatly into a pattern of evidence suggesting Muslims are over ‎sensitive and violent. After all, critics will argue, Christians are regularly derided through the arts ‎and media and they don’t go around burning embassies and killing people. Only the situation is ‎hardly analogous. The power relations in which a dominant majority can be perceived as insulting ‎and humiliating a disgruntled and feeble minority, cannot be ignored in the analysis of Muslim ‎responses to offensive art works. But the truth is, the protests across the Arab world are about ‎much more than the usual ‘free speech’ Vs ‘Islam’ blah. In fact, at the ‎heart of the unrest is a powerful current of anti-Americanism rooted in imperialist policies and ‎bolstered dictatorships and the expected instability to be found in post-revolutionary states.

Firstly, although the film may have been the catalyst for the riots, it would be wrong to assume ‎that all the riots have exactly the same cause. The murder of American embassy staff in Libya ‎appears to have been the work of an Al Qaida fringe which had been plotting the revenge of one ‎its senior leaders and used the protest against the film as a smokescreen for its attack. What ‎brought regular Libyans to the embassy was undoubtedly initially, opposition to the film. However ‎there and elsewhere, the anger of the masses has appeared to morph into something much ‎broader – a reflection of anti-American sentiment grounded in the USA’s historically fraught ‎relationship to the region.‎
This is hardly the first demonstration of anger against Western targets in any of the countries at ‎hand, it is only possibly amongst the most mediatised because of the spin placed on the story, ‎represented as it has been, as some sort of reflection of the fundamental intolerance of Islam.‎

For those with a short memory, it was only last month that a pipe bomb exploded outside the US ‎embassy in Libya and both the Red cross and other Western aid organisations have come under ‎fire there in recent months. It is certainly a misnomer to think that NATO intervention in support of ‎the rebels against Gadhafi somehow erased deep-seated grievances against the US, not least the ‎sense of humiliation of the Arab world against decades of Western domination. Sure, we may have ‎helped get rid of Gadhafi when it was expedient, but for a long time, we traded quite happily with ‎the man whilst he brutally repressed his people. In some cases, we even helped him do it. A ‎recent Human Rights Watch report, Delivered into Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of ‎Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya , details the stories of Libyan opposition figures tortured in US-run ‎prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and then delivered back to Libya, with full-awareness that ‎they were going to be tortured or possibly killed. Even in the “new Libya”, not all sections of the ‎Revolution feel the outcome of the elections was truly representative of popular feeling. Not to ‎mention Egypt, where Mubarak, whom Hilary Clinton once described as a “close family friend”, ‎tortured and killed innumerable dissidents in a US backed dictatorship. To think the elections which ‎happened just months ago would transform popular opinion concerning the US’s role in the region ‎is ludicrous. And that’s before we even get to Iraq.‎

Broken by poverty, threatened by drones, caught in the war between al Aaida and the US, to many ‎Arab Muslims, the film represents an attack on the last shelter of dignity – sacred beliefs – when all ‎else has been desecrated. ‎

It is no surprise that some of the worst scenes of violence come from Yemen, where US policy has ‎resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians, fuelling anger against a regime whose brutality and ‎corruption has left the country ranking amongst the poorest in the Arab world. Given that it is also ‎one of the countries where people have the least access to computers and the internet, it is also ‎entirely likely that many protestors never even saw the film. It also seems unlikely anyone ‎believed the film was actually produced by the American government. Though many might have ‎believed the US government could act to restrict the film’s diffusion, censorship being altogether ‎common in many of these countries, the focus on American symbols – embassies, American ‎schools – even KFC – suggests the roots of popular anger is not hurt religious pride. These ‎symbols of America were not the unwitting target of frustration over a film – rather the film has ‎provided an unwitting focal point for massive and widespread anger at US foreign policy in the ‎region. If the Arab revolutions let the dictators know exactly how people felt about their ‎repression, these demonstrations should be read as equally indicative of popular anguish with the ‎US’s role in the region.‎

The film is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back – to stand in consternation at the fact a ‎single straw could cripple such a sturdy beast is to be naïve or wilfully blind to the accumulated ‎bales which made the straw so hard to carry. ‎
This is not an attempt to minimise the offense caused by the film – Mohamed is a man whose ‎status in the eyes of many Muslims, cannot be overstated. When your country has been bombed, ‎you’ve lost friends and family, possibly your livelihood and home, dignity is pretty much all you ‎have left.‎

The producers of the film may have known very little about film-making, but they knew lots about ‎how to cause a stir. Despite its obscure origins, mediatised references to an “Israeli” director living ‎in the US, to a “100 Jewish donors” who allegedly provided “5 million dollars”, to a hazy “Coptic ‎network” – all played into a well-known register. When 2 out of five Arabs live in poverty, a 5 million ‎dollar insult has more than a slight sting to it.‎

Those who sought to bring winter to an Arab spring and possibly destabilise a US election, were ‎keenly aware of the impact those words would have, situating the film within on-going tensions ‎between Israel and the Arab world and stirring up the hornet’s nest of minority relations in a ‎region where they remain unsettled.‎

In a tweet, the Atheist academic Richard Dawkins decried the events by lambasting “these ‎ridiculous hysterical Muslims”. In so doing, he, like others, not only failed to read these events for ‎what they are – predominantly political protests against US meddling, but he also failed to ‎recognise the basic humanity of the protestors. To dismiss deep anger as mere hysteria is to ‎diminish to decades of oppression experienced by many Muslims, particularly in the Arab world, ‎often with US complicity.‎
If you deny any relationship between the systematic discrimination of Muslims and stigmatization ‎of Islam and the overreaction of the Muslim community to offensive jokes, or films, or cartoons, ‎then you are only left with essentialist explanations of Muslim hysteria and violence. These ‎protests aren’t about a film – they’re about the totality of ways in which Muslims have felt ‎humiliated over decades.‎ Humiliation doesn’t justify violence, but it certainly helps explain it.

Reporting on the “incident” as somehow indicative of Islam’s essential incompatibility with the ‎West not only conveniently omits the realities of Muslim oppression globally, but also reinforces ‎them in many ways. Before we start searching for the nebulous network behind the film, or the ‎reasons why “Muslims are so prone to getting offended”, we would do better to actually search ‎for the conditions that have contributed to rendering the mass dehumanization of particular group ‎of people socially unobjectionable and do well to remember that the right to protest, angrily even, ‎is just as central to the concept of free speech, as the right to make offensive movies.‎

Update: this piece was written in the very early days of the protests and consequently, I would want to nuance some of the points I’ve made here in light of more recent developments.
Firstly, popular anger in many countries might well have as much to do with the instability of a post-revolutionary context as it does with anti-US feelings. In Tunisia, in Libya, these protests might also be seen as occasions to vent anguish at more localised concerns.
Secondly, the protests were clearly instrumentalised very quickly by ‘islamist’ groups to bolster popularity by waiving the ever unifying banner of anti-US feeling. This suggest they took on a local, political dimension very rapdily.
Thirdly, in some countries, such as Libya, local people even took to the streets in following days to oppose extremist elements and express solidarity with the murdered embassy staff. This doesnt discount mistrust or anger with previous US policies in the region but it certainly suggests a more complex relationship wit the US following the NATO support to rebels.
Fourthly, only a very very small proportion of people protested and an even smaller number engaged in violence. In many stable countries, such as Malaysia or Turkey, protests remained peaceful. Those countries which saw the most violence were often the most unstable and local factors – disaffection, unemployement, anger at government, poverty – are all essential components having contributed to people’s behaviour during the protests.


84 Responses

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  1. but how do you explain protests happening in India Malaysia

    Mohammed Shakeel

    September 14, 2012 at 20:05

    • are you suggesting there are no deep seated grievances there against Western policies in the region? I should also point out that I’m not saying people WERE NOT offended by the film, but rather that the film isnt the main cause of the deep anger we’re seeing…


      September 15, 2012 at 14:57

  2. well said, for any crimes/plots, the first one to look for is the one who benefits. in this all knows who is benefiting from this incident.


    September 14, 2012 at 20:42

  3. The film is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back ,, u r totally right i agree with u myriam and respect ur analysis of the situation,, may allah bless u 🙂

    Mennatullah Yasser

    September 14, 2012 at 21:02

  4. Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

    Dear Sister Myriam:

    Assalamu alykum. May this find you in the best of everything by Allah’s Grace.

    I have read your article where you have very clearly articulated that, the history of Muslim grievances against the dominant West for its policies, may be the real reason behind this outrage. Yes, I agree with you that contributed to this. Be that is it may, I wish, however, you would have balanced your remarks by stating that, in spite of all anger against this blasphemy, Islam cannot justify such mayhem as it happened in Benghazi, Libya, especially, given the slain US Ambassador has done so much to bring about democracy in Libya. Otherwise, we, Muslims, will be continuing in denial of attributing the causes for our misery on others. As Allah (SWT) said in Qur’an, “God does not change the condition of the people unless they change in themselves.

    Feeling outraged for lampooning our dear Prophet Muhammad (S) is justified, but we cannot condone such violence, however our past grievances against the West may be, as being committed by a large group of Muslims, as I write this commentary. Muslims have become too emotional and this excessive emotionalism leads to violence. Remember how Prime Minister Erdogan walked out of Davos conference a few years ago for Israeli war in Gaza. That is the civilized way or showing outrage and it made huge impact around the world. Muslims need to take that model and we who are thinkers need to remind our fellow Muslims how to behave in today’s modern world.

    May Allah Bless you for the good work you are doing.

    Al Faqir,
    Mahboob “Maruf” Khan
    Berkeley, CA, USA

    Mahboob Khan

    September 14, 2012 at 21:09

    • you confuse explaining with condoning – this is my political analysis of the situation – my being a Muslim or not has absolutely no bearing on this story, nor should it have.


      September 15, 2012 at 14:56

      • Hi Myriam

        I think you missed Al Faqir’s main point:

        > I wish, however, you would have balanced your remarks by stating that, in spite of all anger against this blasphemy, Islam cannot justify such mayhem as it happened in Benghazi, Libya,

        I think he wanted to say whether you think islam can, or cannot: ‘justify such mayhem as it happened in Benghazi, Libya, in spite of all anger against this blasphemy,’

        A Western Liberal

        September 16, 2012 at 23:23

      • that assumes i should have discussed what Islam says about the issue which i steered away from in the piece – this is a strictly political analysis – what the theological stance is on rioting is not entirely irrelevant but it takes us down the root of religious explanations which I believe are misplaced on this occasion..


        September 17, 2012 at 09:24

    • Well said! Violence and killing can’t be condoned, excused, explained away, or accepted. PERIOD!

      Barb Zahn

      September 15, 2012 at 19:32

    • Two thumbs up.

      Aishah Schwartz

      September 15, 2012 at 22:45

    • “The strong man is not the good wrestler; the strong man is only the one who controls himself when he is angry.” (The Prophet Mohammad)


      September 16, 2012 at 18:12

  5. Anger does not justify violence or murder, especially coming from muslims who’s prophet proned peace, integrity and moderation. Life is full of unfairness, that is the nature of the world we live in. I believe only individuals’ morals, integrity and dignity are important in the face of a transgressive society. I also believe the world will never be perfect and that the everyday struggle is what connects us to Allah, our sincerity. Salam.

    Elise Nonnet

    September 14, 2012 at 21:21

    • Again, I think you mis-understand, Myriam was merely providing a perspective of EXPLANATION behind what has happened.


      September 15, 2012 at 15:46

  6. If you ever wondered what the expression ‘poetry in motion’ means then read this sentence … “to stand in consternation at the fact a ‎single straw could cripple such a sturdy beast is to be naïve or wilfully blind to the accumulated ‎bales which made the straw so hard to carry”. This is the article in one sentence. Simply awesome.

    I think I’m going to burst into tears. This lady ignores my emails which makes me even more curious then I read something like this which makes me even more stuck!

    Top Cat

    September 14, 2012 at 21:58

  7. As the world’s second largest religion at approximately 1.5 BILLION adherents, Islam is hardly a “feeble minority”. Now, if you care to cite the militant Muslim minority that is slaughtering innocents both of their own faith and otherwise, who are creating a diabolical reputation for Muslims world-wide, that’s something different altogether.

    Just the Facts

    September 15, 2012 at 16:12

    • on the international stage, Muslims are a ‘feeble minority’, they are among the poorest, least politically empowered groups and many have lived for generations under oppressive dictatorships where their views counted for nil – as such, they are ‘feeble’ voice with no presence in NATO, no veto at the UN and the few international organisations they do have are impotent ones like the Arab League which only serve to highlight that weakness.


      September 17, 2012 at 09:43

      • i think you’re referring to the Arab nations in general, but keep in mind that there is an overwhelming number of Muslims worldwide, and i too can’t place them under a minority or as less politically empowered.


        September 17, 2012 at 12:32

      • yes, i was discussing the Middle East broadly speaking – but would include Pakistan in my analysis


        September 17, 2012 at 13:24

      • Nothing better can describe the position of Muslims in the world stage than the term ”Feeble Minority”. Myriam cannot be more precise in her depiction.

        There’s nothing we have to be really proud of except some natural resources. Yes we have some El-Baradai- type-intelligent -people who are not serving their own country. They go home to enjoy their retirement or in the hope of becoming Presiedent/ Prime Minister after exhausting all their energy and creativity.

        The quicker we realize this -the better .
        It’s not a shame to be poor but it’s a shame to stay poor ( for hundreds of years).

        Welcome to the land of ”Feeble Minority !!!!!


        September 21, 2012 at 23:41

      • Assalam aleikum sister,

        If a sister like you will defend Islam then we would we robust and more visible.In fact,Muslims are lagging behind because of lack of education and free speech.We need intelligent sister like you in our fold who always defend Islam passionately through knowledge and wisdom.I hope we Muslims should learn something from you.May Allah bless you.


        October 3, 2012 at 08:01

  8. MashAllah sister. Amazing article. Favorite blog from now 🙂 Salam aleykum. Peace and blessings of God be upon you. By the way, I am an Muslim revert. 🙂


    September 15, 2012 at 16:28

  9. your analysis myriam of the situation is logical and realistic, Moroccans and Turks have protested in a sort of peaceful way which shows that the countries where violence occured is suffering from the american interference whether under the name of “Alqaeda” or “buidling democracy”. 🙂


    September 15, 2012 at 18:41

  10. best coverage thaq



    September 15, 2012 at 18:48

  11. Hello Maryam and all the readers,
    just one thing I want to make it clear: that is, the Muslims and Arabs are closely related. Further, there;s always some primitiveness, regardless of the level of their education. Accordingly, they sometimes don’t think as they should before they commit some stupid things. As a Muslim, I wouldn’t be nervous for everyone who say something bad about Islam or anything related to Islam, because our prophet Mohammed had reacted peacefully with his enemies and he didn’t allow any wrong to be done to them.

    Besides, what’s the heck the relation between the footage and the US embassies or any other? don’t the arab know that the freedom is the principle that the states are founded on ?

    Finally, all the stupid actions committed would do nothing but confirm the bad image of Muslims and Islam, that we actually want to enhance.

    Haider, Germany


    September 15, 2012 at 21:03

  12. Enragement is not a solution. Seek for sunnah, remember what happened when a person was shouting and gathered people around and keep on saying that Muhammad (SAW) is nothing but a magician and he will disperse you with your family, he will disperse father from their childeren, he will disperse sons from mothers and things like that,, then people were deliberately going to see Muhammad (SAW) that what is he.
    Now these people will be seeing us – the ummah as a whole. If they found us on sunnah then result would be the same as Muhammad (SAW)’s time. And if we are not following the sunnah then we are barrier – must say very big hurdle, constraint in the way of world to come in Islam.


    September 15, 2012 at 23:07

  13. Myriam,

    While you claim that Muslims murdered our people in Benghazi due to American meddling in your region, must I point out that the meddling the US did in Libya supported the Arab Spring revolt there, overthrowing a hated dictator? During the revolution, the rebels begged for more US meddling. If Muslims hated such meddling, why are there Libyan protestors on the streets today condemning this attack and murders?

    The USA did not colonize Saudi Arabia, as well it could, but rather treated them as more than equal partners in the development of their oil. We carefully respected their sovereignty and customs, built the modern infrastructure of their country, and lifted them up from abject poverty to luxury. In response, hate for America burns hottest there. Their Salafist doctrine calls for the destruction of America. Saudi money funded the Sep 11 attacks. Saudi government officials supported the terrorist skyjackers. Our respectful treatment of the Saudis was reciprocated by murderous Islamic bigotry.

    It was Salafists who stormed the Cairo embassy. It was Salafists who attacked the Benghazi consulate and murdered our people. It is Salafists who are driving the protests around the world. Their ultimate aim is to convert, subjugate, or kill every non-Muslim on the planet to build their totalitarian Caliphate. Every other excuse for their violence is rubbish.

    There is nobody who kills more Muslims than other Muslims. The history of Islam is bloody. The borders of Islam is bloody. It is bloody within the borders of Islam. These atrocities Muslims perpetrated on themselves and others are expressions of the depraved values promoted by their backward culture and murderous Islam.

    Islam is not above criticism. After the many mass murders it has committed, it deserves our contempt and ridicule. The arrogant Muslim demand that we tailor our television broadcasts to conform to the Islamic vision of ignorant Muslim thugs is hateful, hateful to Americans. Free speech is our Kaaba. It is what has made us superior to medieval Muslim culture.

    Steve the American

    September 15, 2012 at 23:36

    • Hi Steve – no, Islam is not and should not be above criticism. Don’t conflate all Muslims please, it is ludicrous to lump 1/6th of the world’s population into one boat. As for your view of Saudi Arabia – it is a rather odd view – the US empowered a literalist and intolerant brand of Islam by effectively signing a deal with what had hitherto been a marginal dare I say, ‘sect’, within Islam – the Salafis whom you blame for everything, at the least the Jihadi variety, are the product to some extent of the oil-money fueled power afforded them by the US dealings you mention…and I think you’ll find not everyone in SA or elsewhere was thrilled with power and wealth being given to such a harsh group who then went to impose their views not just within SA but through a campaign to spread it globally, well beyond there.


      September 17, 2012 at 09:39

      • Very very true, Myriam. SA are known to fund the spread of that “brand of Islam” in many European countries, one of which is Belgium where I see this more and more. That is extremely worrying. Certainly US foreign policy in the region is solely interest-based with little regard for the consequences of that policy. What is also interesting is that demonstrations against the Saudi regime and the way they were dealt with never made it on the news… There is no doubt that US foreign policy can be criticised in many regards and, as you rightly point out, not just in the Middle East.

        Have a good week,


        September 17, 2012 at 09:56

      • Assalam aleikum sister,

        Saudi Arabia is a religious country but the House of Saud,which was proppped up by Western Coalition,has distorting Islam.Second thing,many Salafist leaders are behind the bar for raising their voice against the regime.Today you speak on podium in various public gathering and defend Islam which make we Muslim proud.Had you been in Saudi Arabia they would have allowed you to speak in public gathering.Saudis have their own interpretation of Islam which is rigid.I know you hate this interpretation of Islam.


        October 3, 2012 at 08:06

  14. Why are people attacking the German Embassy? What did they do?


    September 16, 2012 at 11:08

    • “Reporting on the “incident” as somehow indicative of Islam’s essential incompatibility with the ‎West not only conveniently omits the realities of Muslim oppression globally”

      Don’t forget that Muslims also have a long history of repressing themselves. In fact, name me a Muslim country that gives the same rights to its citizens as the US does.


      September 16, 2012 at 11:19

      • undeniably – but one does not negate the other!


        September 17, 2012 at 09:32

      • Name a Muslim country that gives Muslims the same rights that the US gives its Muslim citizens.

        Steve the American

        September 17, 2012 at 22:38

      • Name me a country that is truly Islamic (free from post colonialism agreements, manipulations or internal interferences)?

        Top Cat

        September 17, 2012 at 22:52

    • the protests have morphed into generally ‘anti-Western’ sentiment – hence attacks on symbols of the ‘West’ (with all the confusion that word entails)


      September 17, 2012 at 09:33

  15. I would go a long way with you but I also see not a few problems.For example how is US imperialism worse in the ME then in South America or Asia? You do not see such strange behavior there.I think this is clearly something unique about Muslim people.


    September 16, 2012 at 14:44

    • Are you saying there are no riots/protests in South America against US meddling? Read Naomi Klien’s book The Shock Doctrine and then let’s talk 🙂


      September 17, 2012 at 09:31

  16. Your argument is something we’ve seen from several apologists. “Muslims are upset because of America’s foreign policy and the movie is the just a pretext for the violence.” I think while this is true essentially it does not in any way give them a justification for any violence unless it is done in immediate personal self defence (which is not the case here).

    If you have a problem with American occupation or naval bases protest the occupation and the bases. Make your message clear to everybody especially the US voters. Don’t mix in irrelevant religious and cultural messages that cloud the situation.

    And most importantly if you’re against killing people do not kill to make your point because it only justifies those who are trying to paint muslims into a corner.

    If Islam is about peace, understanding and acceptance as it is claimed they must live by it and show an example. Muslims in these countries must understand that in different countries we have different laws and acceptable forms of expression. They must accept diversity of culture. This is not negotiable. They can not force other countries to live by their laws, just like they don’t want americans to force their values on them.

    I do not judge muslims by the actions of a few and I do value all those muslims who spoke out against these actions. This is a fairly new and much welcome development. We do have great progress here in spite of the recent events. It will take a long time to find common ground as we have huge population and powerful governments at play. We have to be persistent and patient. Never resort to violence even if the other party does it occasionally or the situation will spiral out of control. We should denounce and alienate those who are not willing to take part in a civil conversation, so they feel they have nobody behind them and extremism will not be beneficial for the purposes of a power grab.

    Ivan Raszl

    September 16, 2012 at 15:23

    • Hi Ivan – i do not consider myself an ‘apologist’ – i’m someone whose being studying and working in/on the ME for the last eight years – as such my analysis is a reflection of the factors I believe to be most prominent in the rioting – it doesnt aim to excuse violence, something I wouldnt want to defend – but my problem is with viewing the protesters as ‘muslims’ when to me, they are people angry with a range of factors and who happen to be Muslim – because they happen to be Muslim, the flashpoint which set them off is a film about a sacred figure -but had they not been, it could have been anything else that was of great importance to the people in question. Basically, don’t essentialise their identity by assuming all can be explained by their ‘muslimness’ – it can’t.


      September 17, 2012 at 09:30

      • So the protestors are supposedly enraged by an insult to Islam, are Muslim themselves, yell Islamic slogans at their protest, demand that the US follow Islamic blasphemy laws, and raise the black flag of Islam that proclaims the ultimate victory of Islam up the the embassy flagpole. Yet, you claim, Islam is a peripheral issue? Is that really your argument?

        Steve the American

        September 17, 2012 at 22:37

      • Islam is an idiom – in countries where the majority of the population is Muslim, it is the idiom through which people express themselves – but to stop at the symbol and ignore the meaning behind it is myopic – Islam is a vehicle through which they express concerns over other issues – unfortunately most analysis conveniently locates all ills within Islam and ignores what lies beyond.


        September 18, 2012 at 15:02

    • Excellent comment, nothing to add.


      September 17, 2012 at 09:34

  17. Salam Myriam,

    First of all, congratulations on the wonderful work you are doing in speaking up about Muslim women’s issues, I find it impressive and courageous in that you have a very clear vision of what Islam is about in its purest form. Of course the practice of Islam has been very tainted by culture and custom which unfortunately distorts the original message.

    I am not a Muslim but I love and truly admire the pure Islam you are holding as a reference.

    Reading this article, I find it somewhat regrettable that you do not emphasise enough the non-Islamic nature of the violent protests against an entire country, an entire people, as if every single American supports this film. It does portray Muslims as devoid of any notion of humanity and – no offence intended – indoctrinated. I find it regrettable particularly since you are a role model for many Muslims and while explaining is not the same as condoning, it does come close to it. It is also unfortunate that the person who made the film achieved its purpose – show to the world that Islam is a religion that inspires hatred and intolerance. And we both know this is not what Islam or the Prophet’s life are about. To quote the Prophet: “To overcome evil with good is good, to resist evil by evil is evil.”

    As for the explanation you offer, I come form a country that was under Ottoman oppression for 5 centuries so I have an idea of what it is like to be imposed a foreign culture and religion. However, this is now behind us and although it has greatly influenced where my country finds itself now – economically, politically and culturally, we do not blame our misfortunes on Turkey. At some point a people has to take responsibility for its condition.

    Wishing you all the best, may God guide to do ever more good.



    September 16, 2012 at 15:41

    • Hi Elitsa, i have already addressed this point above (or below !) – just because i happen to be a Muslim doesnt mean i need to offer a theological response to all phenomena involving Muslims, particularly if I dont judge that to be the primary explanatory variable. My analysis is that a theological slant takes us away from the real substantive issues people are angry about – the fact they are Muslim or not to be is not entirely, but largely irrelevant – they could be from any country angered by US occupation and be responding in a similar fashion to an equivalent flash point.


      September 17, 2012 at 09:27

  18. This is the problem today’s Muslims facing world over. Just ‘being a Muslim’ is the problem to most westerners. Even if you are an atheist Muslim they would suspect about your atheism. Lots of Muslim scholars , academics and organizations condemned the killing of US diplomats. In the UK the biggest Muslim group MCB’s representative condemned it. But these ‘protests’ and ‘condemnations’ never get reported widely enough to make it known to everyone the way they report some negative news about Muslims over and over again , sometimes hourly just to make sure that every man ,woman even a 6 yr old child on the entire planet knows it well and realize that Muslims are normally ‘fond of doing bad things’. Now first thing first -before I condemn the killing ( of course teachings of Islam in no way justify innocent killing) can we all unequivocally condemn that ‘calculative pervert’ who deleberateyl made this film to provoke violence. But unfortunately the 2nd event always takes precedence over the 1st event that caused the 1st one in the first place.
    I ‘ve noticed something interesting -almost all western so called liberal intellectuals groups try to dismiss the making of the film as ‘ its just a crap’ ‘its stupid’ ‘its unacceptable’ etc etc .This is a very subtle way of avoiding the the condemnation of the film . Why don’t they simply condemn the film makers just the way at least some Muslim academics or groups condemning the violence caused by Muslims ?


    September 16, 2012 at 21:47

    • Because Western intellectuals do believe in freedom of expression and religion is not off-limits – any religion for that matter, not just Islam. It is a different perspective, viewpoint or even worldview, if you will, That also has to be understood. And to most “Westerners” or, well, most human beings, basic humanity is a lot more important that a stupid film made by some fraud somewhere. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. Muslims always make a fuss about being misunderstood but their understanding of the “West” often is just as limited, unfortunately…


      September 16, 2012 at 22:01

      • You proved my point that to ”most westerners” ‘just being a Muslim’ as it’s clearly understood by your comment ‘Muslims always make a fuss’. It reminds me of the screaming headlines in most western newspapers including some liberals when they report ‘ Muslim Man Killed His Wife’.Why you need to mention someone’s religion to report a crime ? I hardly remember a news where Irish Republican Army was headlined mentioning the word ‘protestant’ or ‘catholic’. To me the difference between western ‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’ is like the difference between Guardian and Times . What’s that difference ? Both support the Iraq War. Both support the idea of removing the head of a sovereign state by force without bothering the so called world body UN . Times supports everything the World Community ( which is basically an exclusive club of 5-10 countries UNSC ) does and Guardian ? They support the war but criticize the western powers for ‘not getting it right’ ‘ why the war went wrong’, they prefer a quick war with the same result

        M F Kabir

        September 17, 2012 at 23:53

      • You proved my point ‘to most westerners’ ‘just being a Muslim’ is a problem once again as it’s clearly understood when you said ”Muslims always make a fuss’ exactly the way western newspapers report every single bad news with a screaming headline and of course ‘Muslim’ is mentioned religiously with the crime no matter what kind of crime that is. I ‘ve given up counting ‘ Muslim Man Killed His Wife”. ‘Muslim Driver Did This .. so on and so forth ‘. So you think we all Muslims are making fuss even those who are trying to understand and explain like Myriam did in her piece. You see that’s the problem.

        Irish Republican Army had been involved doing all kinds of bad things … I dont remember any news where IRA was mentioned faithfully with ‘protestant’ or ‘catholic’.

        Remember LTTE ? How many people outside Sri Lanka know what religion they were ?

        M F Kabir

        September 18, 2012 at 10:55

      • “You proved my point ‘to most westerners’ ‘just being a Muslim’ is a problem once again”

        Not at all – your reaction is emotional and purely defensive. I actually respect Myriam and other Muslim intellectuals, such as Tariq Ramadan, taking a firm stance against the violence we have seen. It is the Arab populations who have been protesting in the name of their religion, Islam. And it is the protesters who are drawing this division between themselves as Muslim and “Westerners”. I am referring to the division as seen from the protesters’ viewpoint. And I was never making the point that being Muslim is the problem. However, VERY FEW of the Muslim friends I have condemned the violence of the last few days.
        And the point I was making is that understanding and respect of each other’s values has to be reciprocal. Yes, freedom of expression is very dear to us and this also has to be understood and respected.


        September 18, 2012 at 15:19

    • Hi fktipu2012

      I read online that many of my western liberals condemned the film – that it is poorly made and so on.

      But the film itself did not kill anyone. No film can do that.

      Whereas there were many people who, of their own free choice, choose to go out in the streets and protest with violence about the film – and in the course of those violent protests people were killed. Even some of the Muslim protesters died.

      So which do you condemn more – those who chose to protest with violence in which some died.
      Or those who made a rubbish film but were involved in no violence?

      Would caused the death: people where were acting violently at the scene where the deaths took place?
      Or those thousands of miles away who made the film?

      An analogy here – imagine if a group of people from another religion say Buddhism or Hinduism or Judaism etc decided to protest violently about something in the Quran they are offended by – and the violent protest resulted in deaths ? Would you blame the Quran as the source of the deaths?

      No – of course not. The Quran would not be to blame for the deaths – the violent protestors would be to blame for the deaths.

      That is why from a liberal perspective: for true freedom, you must be able to tell me what you think in your head and heart – without me replying wth violence. Even if it is something I don’t agree with. Even if it is something I can prove is wrong (2 x 2 = 5 !) Even if it is something that hurts my deepest, fondest beliefs.

      Unless you can say what you think in your head and heart – you can never be heard or understood.

      Do you personally want the freedom to be able to say what you think in your head and heart – without fear of violence?

      If you do, then you have to allow that same freedom to other people round the world and in your town: people who you agree with and people you do not agree with.

      A Western Liberal

      September 16, 2012 at 23:20

      • Hi A W Liberal

        The actions of both ‘Sam Bastille’ and ‘Some Muslims’ are ‘strongly and equally’ condemnable. Every human being with the elementary idea of justice or conscience should condemn any such action. As sister Myriam pointed out that ‘honour is not an Islamic concept rather it’s a universal one’.

        I didn’t in my comment say ‘first crime’ is more condemnable than the ‘second one’. Please read it again. I just said ‘first thing first’ meaning we should deal with the first crime first . I can guess you might not agree that ‘making a film’ with the intention of causing riots is not a crime.But if an innocent and peaceful man wants to sit in front of British Parliament and protest we don’t have any problem calling it a crime and finding a law to maintain ‘peace’ !

        Now why I think ‘Some Bastille’s action’s deserved to be equally and srongly condemned ? It’s simple he deliberately provoked some people to commit violence . If you have any slight idea about criminal legal system you ‘ll find ‘Provcation’ is considered as a defence along with other factors such as ‘loss of self control’ ‘intoxication’ ‘mental disease’ etc.

        Did you condemn that Some Bacile or whoever made the film strongly enough ? I can see you tried to do it to prove your ‘liberalism’ just by saying ” it is poorly made”. Tell me pls what kind of criticism does it fall ? Did you mean Mr ‘Some Bastille’ should have gone further and deeper to create as much anger in the Muslim world as possible ?

        In response to your analogy I can say please try to read as much Quran as you can ( im not preachin) at least those controversial verses in some western eyes and see yourself what Quran says about other religions. There are plenty of highly acclaimed western scholars who have done a lot of works on Islam and Muslims. Please spare the Orientalists. You know what Edward Said has done to them with his classics ‘Orientalism’ ‘Covering Islam ‘ etc !!

        I love free speech. It’s not some individual ‘person’ or ‘nation’s sole invention.
        As sister Myriam always argues in her talk and writing ‘certain values are universal, they existed in different societies in different times in different form or shape . Same is true about Democracy , Human Rights , Rule of Law , Equality etc etc

        But where do we draw line in case of FREE SPEECH ? Who draws the line? How do we do it ?
        Should we have a UN Convention specifically on free speech ?
        Should we draw any line at all ? If not why ?

        If we don’t draw any line then
        Why do we blame the paparazzi for the untimely death of Princess Diana ? Ok thats not free speech ! But we can at least call it FREE EXPRESSION IN PICTURES !! What do you say ?

        Why now we are wasting money to stop Kate MIddleto’n indecent picture ?

        What if Mr. Rais decides to make a short film about his neighbour Mr Chris beautiful wife and then invites whole neighbourhood to watch it ?
        Will free speech cover Mr Rais from his angry neighbours ?

        Why Helen Thomas was fired from her White House Press Room seat ? Who did she offend ?

        Think of ” Millions of Documents and information ” every government hides every year from the public under ” Classified” and ‘ In the public interst’ . Not hundreds not thousands but in ‘millions’ !! Imagine
        It’s like telling a tourist in London
        ” Sir these places are classified while you go on sghtseeing :
        Madame Tussaud
        Buckingham Palace
        Tower Bridge
        British Museum
        Shakespeare’s Globe etc etc. but you can go all other places ”
        Doesn’t this too much classified stamps curtail our free speech in a way ?

        Lastly please stop stereotyping Muslims. You can try Edward Said’s ‘Covering Islam’ if you ‘ve not already .

        Sister Myriam is so right in saying that that it’s not all about that film. It’s the expression of long running mistrusts bitterness on many levels between these 2 groups which are being ‘exploited ‘ by a quater on both sides.

        M F Kabir

        September 18, 2012 at 01:27

  19. All well and good myriamcerrah but I bet you couldn’t explain away pakistan’s blasphemy laws in such a way or the treatment of homosexuals in places like palestine etc & why are people dying for your belief? I suggest you just ditch religion altogether and focus on human rights and freedom of speech…. what u scared of?


    September 17, 2012 at 00:53

    • Hi gruffbilly – wasn’t attempting to ‘explain away’ anything – was trying to explain – there is a difference. As for the blasphemy laws, i oppose them, as i would the persecution of any group within society – it seems overly simplistic to lump all these issues together and assume the issue is an essential trait within Islam…


      September 17, 2012 at 09:21

  20. Interesting read. It would be wise to remember that some western cultures is not totally free from violent protests, sectarian strife or even blatant acts of repression by another western and briefly eastern culture. But I’m not going to yap on about it


    September 17, 2012 at 01:17

  21. Excellent article, definitely worth sharing. keep up the good work 🙂


    September 17, 2012 at 10:45

  22. Myriam,

    How does this analysis explain protests in Australia, a wealthy nation with protection of religious freedom? We have six policemen taken to hospital, clear pictures of cars being smashed, and children holding up signs calling for beheading for blasphemy. These are people whose homes have been bombed and who have nothing left. These are people who live in a welfare state, have access to free high quality healthcare, and whose children enjoy the close to the highest life expectancy in the world.

    What is their anger?

    I am repulsed that Muslim leaders in Australia believe that protection from blasphemy is more important than free speech, and spend as much time criticising the film as the violence. Don’t like it? Don’t see it, but don’t call for it to be banned.


    September 17, 2012 at 17:20

    • Hi Hildy – all protests do not have the same roots – that there are extremists segments among Muslim populations in EU or Oz is undeniable and that they might make their presence felt at such demonstrations is sadly predictable – that said, a sense of anti-americanism or anger with the ‘West’ (with all the generalisations the word entails) is likely there also, all be it vicarious sentiment – the key thing is to view each protests according to local conditions and circumstance.


      September 17, 2012 at 17:39

      • Actually, an honest anthropology analysis would look for both common ground among all the protests, as well as differences.
        The Australian violence you have left unanswered – is it because it is the common factor Islam’s violence that you wish to play down ?
        An anthropology analysis of the honour/shame culture of Islam helps to explain why Muslims thousands of miles away feel so strongly and act with such violence about something someone said.
        It is the same honour/shame culture of Islam that allows fathers and uncles to kill their own daughters and nieces in the name of honour: and as the Dice University study in Turkey found, in Turkish society such murderers in prison are treated as equals by other prisoners, who widely agree with the murders and say they would have done the same themselves, if their own daughters/nieces had acted the same !

        A Western Liberal

        September 17, 2012 at 21:15

      • honour is not an ‘islamic’ concept – it is found across traditional patriarchal societies – it is even discussed in Stendhal’s Red and the Black – it is not an ‘islamic’ concept, nor does Islam condone such horrors. Your Turkey example illustrates nothing aside from a widely shared view of honour which tells us nothng about its roots…the fact honour killings exist in both muslim and non-muslim settings tells us significantly more.


        September 17, 2012 at 21:18

  23. Good evening, Myriam. I thought this may be of interest: Deepak Chopra is one of the great spiritual teachers of our time.


    September 17, 2012 at 21:57

  24. The article underlines the main political aspects of why there is anger and a strong anti-western sentiment towards the West. Muslim haters would rather portray Islam as the reason and Muslims as savages. It is no wonder that such a rational explanation provide by Myriam annoyed so many. An angry mob is an angry mob. It is violent and uncontrollable. Did everyone who rioted in the London riots last year care about a black man being shot by a policeman? I don’t think so. Give her a break! If you want answers regarding the violent behaviour of the protestors then ask a behavioural psychologist Not a political analyst/academic.

    Top Cat

    September 17, 2012 at 22:32

  25. Sister Myriam
    Thanks for all the hard works you ‘ve been doing almost on all fronts. I just hope your writings will help Muslims awaken from their long sleep especially in academia where we ‘ve been ‘literally dead’ for a long time.
    I was watching 3 young Muslim students debating Mark Steyn on a Canadian TV Channel on our issues. Think about this ! Mark Steyn who go round the world n gives talks in westen universities is debating 3 undergraduate students ? Is it because there is not one single Muslim scholar in Canada or is it that TV Channel deliberately avoided having one ? I could not figure it out yet .

    So well done sister.

    M F Kabir

    September 18, 2012 at 02:39

  26. Totally agree with every word , Excellent article.

    In Egypt we have had 3 similar embassies issues after the revolution without any silly films.

    The first on September 2011 outside Israeli embassy after 3 Egyptians were killed in the borders by Israeli army.

    The second was on April 2012 outside Saudi Arabia’s embassy (an Islamic Arabian Country) after Saudi authorities had arrested an Egyptian lawyer. These protests were exactly an issue of “Dignity”

    And the third was outside the US embassy on September 2012.

    “Not to ‎mention Egypt, where Mubarak, whom Hilary Clinton once described as a “close family friend”, ‎tortured and killed innumerable dissidents in a US backed dictatorship”

    Exactly, people in the middle east were repressed for decades that “The film is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back”

    Thanks for this deep article and I hope you write about political Islamic movements in the Middle-East particularly the Muslim-Brotherhood. I’m eager to know your views as an expert on middle eastern studies, I really enjoy your logic analysis and thinking.

    Ali Azkoul (@Ali_Azkoul)

    September 18, 2012 at 05:26

  27. The very moment that one’s energy is expended in the rationalizing of pointless and disgusting murder, the effort undermines its own purpose from the start. Anyone has as much right to make a film as they do to write a blog – ignoring the barbarity while stigmatizing it as “islamophobic” and the cause of violence just carries on a boringly familiar, yet incredibly dangerous pattern of ignorance that has emerged since the Rushdie affair.


    September 18, 2012 at 09:16

    • Actually Michael, i would think it a lot more dangerous to dehumanise people by assuming their behaviour is merely the product of some ‘barbaric’ or ‘backward’ trait – whilst violence cannot and should not be justified, explaining how we got to where we are – which involves explaining the roots of this anguish – is essential – otherwise, the violence is even more senseless as we learn nothing from it.


      September 18, 2012 at 14:58

      • Come on, you know I did not make that assumption but rather a characterization of the acts committed. While I even agree with your depiction of an exasperated middle east, it’s too facile an explanation to make from the clinical safety of a Western country that the half-century vestiges of colonialism are some sort of powder keg; Any single negative representation about Islam will light the match, therefore we must stifle free expression or better still – stigmatize it as being due to a non-existent medical pathology and subrogate those exercising it to have pulled the trigger themselves.


        September 19, 2012 at 08:14

      • Michael – i dont make this statement as someone who doesnt know the ME, i’ve lived and traveled extensively in a number of different Arab countries and worked on the region for over seven years now – whether we want to hear it or not, the legacy of colonialism and resentment concerning enduring imperialism (economic or military) is still very very raw. These sorts of events are flash points, they reflect a moment where underlying frustrations come to the fore – whether that should have any impact on how we regulate free speech is another matter entirely. It seems to me we already have regulations against hate speech in the UK – question is, does this qualify? I’m not in favour of banning anything here btw, im just remarking that some idiot is able to make a low budget hate film which can cause unrest across an entire region – worth it? hmmm


        September 19, 2012 at 14:35

  28. Very well written, Myriam. I agree with most of what you said. Your analysis is very logical, neutral and realistic. Keep up the good work. God bless you!

    Arifa Batool (@arifaBatool)

    September 18, 2012 at 10:38

  29. Thank you, Myriam, for this perceptive and well-argued piece – I enjoyed reading it. You might be interested in an article by Andrew Ross, published two years ago in in Millennium: Journal of International Studies – ‘Why They Don’t Hate Us’. It supports your argument and discusses the embedded orientalism in western portrayals of ‘Muslim rage’.
    All the best.


    September 18, 2012 at 16:33

  30. Reblogged this on Reaching Out To The Left and commented:
    Do not take the protests as an isolated incident as a reaction only to a no-name hate film. start reading the history from 1948.

    The Student

    September 19, 2012 at 02:05

  31. Myriam Cerrah,
    Thank you for this article, which really clarified the need for a distinction between political and religious causes and responses, all too often confused. In light of the revolutions across the Arab world, Arabs seem in a unique position to condone some of the hypocrisies of our democracies, which have oppressed them, as you highlighted e.g. Clinton and Mubarak. If this critique, as explanation (not justification) of the violent (and peaceful) protests is to remain robust, shouldn’t we ask where are the emphatic protests against Iran, almost single handedly funding and supporting the slaughter of the Syrian people?

    Many thanks for your insights


    September 19, 2012 at 13:29

    • I think poll shows attitudes to Iran have changed and are changing for the worst in the region – from fairly positive attitudes a few years ago, this 2011 poll suggests the view of Iran is changing –
      however, clearly, the legacy is not the same as that of the US – such a history is not easily forgotten.Do I anticipate anti-Iranian protests? well, elements of anti-Shia/anti-Iranian sentiment are already being being manipulated in certain gulf states, so watch that space..!


      September 19, 2012 at 14:28

  32. There is no justification for the rioting and killings carried out by some of the protestors and a lot of the problems in the region can be blamed on poor leaders, corruption, lack of education, etc. However Western intervention has too often had a negative impact on the region and cannot be overlooked, which is what i think the blog is saying and as does Seamus in this article:


    September 19, 2012 at 13:55

  33. Reblogged this on The heart opener.


    September 19, 2012 at 14:58

  34. last night’s newsnight had the rabid islamophobe- ayaan hirsi on to explain Muslim outrage at the video and cartoons! Isn’t that as absurd as having someone from the former Lehman Brothers or Goldman sachs on to explain away the 99% movement?!


    September 21, 2012 at 09:54

    • Please send Newsnight your feedback – you make a very valid point here!


      September 22, 2012 at 17:46

  35. Every community will have one grievance or the other but that is not reason enough to go on killing people and destroying properties.

    At least 23 die, over 200 injured on Yaum-i-Ishq-i-Rasool


    September 22, 2012 at 12:22

  36. Thoughtfully put.

    mozibur ullah

    September 24, 2012 at 12:33

  37. Reblogged this on Heightened Senses and commented:
    “Those who sought to bring winter to an Arab spring and possibly destabilise a US election, were keenly aware of the impact those words would have, situating the film within on-going tensions between Israel and the Arab world and stirring up the hornet’s nest of minority relations in a region where they remain unsettled….

    “If you deny any relationship between the systematic discrimination of Muslims and stigmatization of Islam and the overreaction of the Muslim community to offensive jokes, or films, or cartoons, then you are only left with essentialist explanations of Muslim hysteria and violence. These protests aren’t about a film – they’re about the totality of ways in which Muslims have felt humiliated over decades.”

    One of the better analyses I think I’ve read. This is a freedom issue, just not one that we, who live so well-off and comfortably, and relatively unopressed in the West, can recognise.

    I love how every ‘liberal’ pundit has commented on preserving ‘our’ freedoms, yet so arrogantly forgets that our ‘freedom’ tends to systematically curtail theirs.

    “I have not seen any excessive bounty which is not associated with a right which has been violated.” Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (A.S).


    September 24, 2012 at 16:40

  38. […] America, caused by a string of events that have cumulatively provoked discord and suffering. Blogger Myriam Francois-Cerrah summed it up poignantly in the following words: ‘Broken by poverty, threatened by drones, caught in the war between al Qaida and the US, to […]

  39. Sister Myriam Cerrah, May bless.. and peace be on u! this is really a fantastic article, where u analyse the most critical factors of west,


    December 3, 2012 at 22:11

  40. I love it when individuals come together and share opinions.
    Great website, continue the good work!

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