Anti-American Unrest Continues in the Middle East

Monday, September 17, 2012

As anti-American demonstrations continue across much of the Middle East, there is some question as to whether politicians in the area are taking advantage of the unrest to show their clout. For example, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, is calling for protests. 

Speaking to The Takeaway from Beirut is Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a writer and author of the book "Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion."

Saad-Ghorayeb explains that Hizbu'llah feels that there is a gross double standard in the United States, since there are laws that protect against anti-semitism, but not equivalent measures to protect Islam from religious blasphemy. These protests outside Beirut are less violent than those that we've seen at the U.S. embassies, but nevertheless demonstrate the continuing anti-American sentiment in the region. It is also significant to note that since no Arab country has officially encouraged the protests, Hezbollah is the first mainstream organization to call for demonstrations. 

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, explains that "this anti-Islam film is best understood as the pretext for last week's protests, not the cause necessarily." Anti-American sentiments run deeply in the region, and it is not difficult to mobilize people in protest against the United States, particularly in countries like Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, where there are many angry, young, unemployed people who are eager to be heard.

David Kirkpatrick, Cairo bureau chief for our partner The New York Times, agrees that the film is not the true cause of the protests. In fact, he thinks we should frame our thinking about the unrest in the Middle East as stemming from a fundamental difference of opinion over the meaning of "freedom" itself. While in the United States, we think of freedom as the freedom to do and say whatever we believe, many in the Arab world think of freedom as less a matter of individual rights, and more a matter of collective freedom from oppression, denigration, and persecution.

"Their point is that they reject a kind of Western idea — that our Western notion of freedom of expression — means we get to trample on your sense of propriety and your sensibilities and your values whenever we like." 

"The people I've talked to here in Egypt, almost to a man, say that you can have a reasoned debate in the public sphere, you can have a fully non-sectarian government, and still have laws that allow people to go about their business without seeing their core values denigrated in public."

Comments [7]

Kenneth from Durham, NC

I can't believe freedom of speech is being blamed as the problem rather than the extreme response to the speech. We don't blame all Muslims for terrorist attacks, how can they think every American shares the beliefs of this 'movie' producer who is essentially an intellectual terrorist(though i use the term intellectual quite loosely). It's true they have anti-blasphemy laws, and indeed, they could choose to try the movie's creators under those laws in their countries. Use the law and logic to change the world to a more tolerant place rather than violence and murder to make it even more intolerant.

Sep. 21 2012 10:05 AM

"We had protests perhaps not on the same scale" among Christians in the United States?

Yeah, perhaps not on the same scale as sacking embassies and ferocious mayhem but thanks for the fatuous and offensive suggestion of moral equivalence.
No wonder the NY Times is a shadow of it's former self today.

Sep. 17 2012 04:54 PM
Eva from Brooklyn

What laws in the US protect against anti- semitism? I am deeply troubled that this statement was let go without questioning. Neo-nazi groups have the same freedom of speech as any other group in America and anti- semetic comments are fairly common, and protected in our society. If Amal is referring to the law that Bush signed that tracks anti- semetic incidences globally, that is a far cry from "protection" against anti- semetism. Why was this not challenged?

Sep. 17 2012 03:57 PM
Kate from Brooklyn from Brooklyn, New York

Why do you insist that another culture might have it's own definition of freedom? I believe David Kirkpatrick raises critical issues that we ignore at our peril.

Sep. 17 2012 03:24 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Middle East situation has the possibility of changing the outcome of the elections in the States. How Obama deals with trying to put out this fire will be an interesting and that it comes now is not surprising to me.

Sep. 17 2012 02:05 PM
Eric from Miami

Do not allow freedom of religion to be equated with freedom of worship. People in most countries in the Middle East have freedom of worship in that they can go into their churches (though Iranian authorities have begun forcibly closing churches) and worship behind closed doors, but cannot go out and evangelize or give away Bibles. In most of these countries, those who convert from Islam do so at the peril of of their livelihoods, family relationships and even their lives. People can't even open stores within Muslim neighborhoods because they are Christians, and the Arab Spring has brought to power factions who are less likely to be tolerant of the open practive of Christianity. It is disappointing to hear a Cairo bureau chief of a major newspaper paper over this distinction.

Sep. 17 2012 12:16 PM

Listening to Kirkpatrick excuse and attempt to equate the repressive Middle East attitude toward speech/religion with our own was vile and depressing. The NY Times has really become an embarrassment.

Sep. 17 2012 10:17 AM

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