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."