"What we have seen is unrest around the region in response to a video that Muslims find offensive ... this is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's attempts to convince the public of this at a Press Briefing on Friday failed miserably. Immediately after he spoke, critics nationwide took to the Twitterverse and Blogosphere to express their disagreement -- and for good reason. While the protests around the Muslim world may have been triggered by an American video insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), they are sustained by something greater than that -- frustration and discontent with U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim world. In essence, the video was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Make no mistake -- the violent reaction that has swept the Muslim world in the days since the trailer's release is completely unacceptable. Innocent lives, including that of Ambassador Chris Stevens, have been lost, many have been injured, and numerous U.S. embassies have been attacked. None of this behavior is in accordance with Islamic principles of tolerance and peace. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself endured much worse abuse during his lifetime than the slander contained in the video. Yet, he still treated his enemies with mercy and kindness.
One example of this occurred early in Islam's history, when Muhammad (PBUH) visited the city of Ta'if to preach. The people of Ta'if not only rejected Islam, but they also ordered their children to throw rocks and stones at Muhammad (PBUH). Crowds of people mocked him as he was forced to flee from the city, bleeding so profusely that his feet became stuck in the clotted blood pooled in his shoes. As he rested and prayed in the outskirts of the city, the Angel Gabriel appeared with an angel of the mountain and asked Muhammad (PBUH) if he wished to punish the people of Ta'if for their behavior. He offered to crush them between the two mountains that surrounded the city. The Prophet (PBUH), in his blessed wisdom and mercy, refused.
"Even if these people do not accept Islam," he said. "I do hope from Allah that there will be persons from among their progeny who would worship Allah and serve His cause."
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a mercy to all mankind, not just Muslims. Why then, with such a beautiful Prophetic example, can't the Muslims exercise similar tolerance?
The reaction of American Muslims to the video stood in stark contrast to the violence exhibited by those abroad. Instead of burning the American flag and destroying government buildings, we peacefully condemned the attacks and strengthened bridges with our interfaith partners. Part of this, I believe, can be attributed to the fact that we are blessed to be living in a country where we have freedom of speech and religion. Our neighbors hail from all parts of the globe and we are constantly exchanging ideas on social and political issues. However, in many Muslim countries, this concept does not exist. Freedom and democracy have been suppressed by dictators who control everything from the media to the courts in order to ensure they remain in power.
Unfortunately, America has supported many of these individuals throughout history. Therein lies the rub. We talk about values such as freedom and democracy, but our foreign policies demonstrate the opposite. Puppet leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, and even Iraq's Saddam Hussein were all backed by the U.S. at some point. To this day, America supports monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Yet, we demand democracy in Iraq and Iran and will risk the lives of our soldiers and military personnel to do so.
The inconsistencies are troubling, and thanks to the momentum unleashed during the Arab Spring, it appears they are not going to be tolerated by the Muslim world any longer. Seeing brutal dictators toppled after decades in power has renewed their determination to succeed in setting up their own governments, free from outside influence. America should have realized this and reexamined its foreign policy while the events in the Arab world were unfolding early last year. Do we truly stand for freedom, democracy and human rights for all? Are we willing to reflect that in our policies toward other countries?
If we had asked ourselves these questions then, perhaps we would be in a better position than the one we are in now -- blaming the outrage on a mere movie, instead of accepting the real issue at hand.