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What’s Behind the Middle East Riots?

Posted on the 18 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Screen shot of Innocence of Muslims, the film causing outrage across the Middle East and North Africa. Screen shot of Innocence of Muslims, the film causing outrage across the Middle East and North Africa.

The background

US interests across the world have come under attack by protestors, leaving US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens dead. The US evacuated all non-essential embassy staff after violent demonstrations in Libya, Tunisia, Indonesia, Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen and Afghanistan.

At the center of the protests is an amateur US film that mocks the Prophet Mohammed, condemned by several Muslim leaders as ‘blasphemous’. But is this is case of freedom of speech versus religion, or are President Obama’s Middle East policies the real reason for the riots?

A gulf between Western and Muslim worlds

“The West’s failure to understand the Muslim world has been analysed to the point of exhaustion,” wrote David Blair in The Telegraph. “But the attacks on US and other Western embassies this week have surely demonstrated that the absence of understanding cuts both ways.” Blair pointed out that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi told President Obama that he was furious over the YouTube film; but this attitude demonstrates a lack of understanding of the importance of free expression in Western countries: “The President of the United States cannot be held responsible for the thoughts, opinions and actions of 300 million Americans. Nor, in a free society, can he ban his citizens from expressing themselves, even if they sometimes do so in crass and offensive ways.”

Most Muslims aren’t protesting

“While the killing of American diplomats and other ongoing violence dominates news of the protests, what is less noted is that most Muslims aren’t protesting. And many Islamic religious leaders are calling for people to protest peacefully, if at all,” pointed out a Christian Science Monitor editorial. According to the editorial, there are signs that freedom of speech and tolerance are spreading around the world: “Last year, the watchdog group Freedom House found the percentage of people living in either a free or partly free country is 65 percent. In the past three decades, the number of countries in those categories has risen to 76 from 61.”

We need to understand riot mysteries

Obama and his team handled the crisis very well under trying circumstances, wrote Leslie H. Gelb at The Daily Beast. What the administration now needs to do is find out exactly went wrong at the embassies in Libya and Cairo, in order to prevent future attacks. For example, Gelb asked, were Libyan security guards complicit in the attack and did Egyptian security forces do their best to hold back the mob? “Obama, in particular, will have to twist arms to solve the mysteries raised by these awful riots. And he’ll have to go further and crack Libyan and Egyptian heads to get those governments to do what they must to protect American diplomats,” said Gelb.

Obama to blame for failure of leadership

What caused the riots is “a perception of American weakness” wrote Mark A. Thiessen in The Washington Post. “Across the region, people see the United States in retreat. They see Obama pulling all U.S. forces out of Iraq and preparing to do the same in Afghanistan. They see an American ambassador killed in Libya.” And the reason for this perceived weakness lies in Obama’s Middle East policies – a failure to engage with Syria, for example, or to support Egypt’s protestors until it became clear the Mubarak regime was finished. “The failure of Obama’s policies in the Middle East is not the fall of dictators in Cairo and Tripoli; it is the failure of leadership in Washington,” said Thiessen.

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