Author: Ian Mariani
Ibrahim Alaguri of the Associated Press took many photos in Benghazi, Libya, in the aftermath of last week’s protests that took the lives of four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. But the most sobering picture, one that cuts through the haze of anti-Muslim rhetoric and accusations of popular extremism, was of a 40-something year-old man standing outside the charred Consulate holding a poorly written sign saying, in English, “Sorry people of America this is not our behavior of our Islam and Profit [sic].”
What this man wanted to reiterate is that this religiously motivated violence is not an indication of consensus among the Muslim world. The recent violence in Libya, as well as protests in Egypt, Tunisia and other Muslim nations, cannot and must not be taken as a sign that extremism, religious or otherwise, is on the rise. One needs only to look at history to understand the true impact of last weeks’ attacks.
Take the Haymarket Square Riot on May 4, 1886, for example. 20,000 thousand supporters of the Knights of Labor came out protesting police brutality and overall poor labor conditions and were met with general riot control by the local police. The demonstration was non-violent and warranted no police action, that is, until a small group of anarchists set off a bomb that killed seven policemen, prompting the police to fire into the crowds killing four protesters. This attack, while perpetrated by a handful of people, went down as being planned by the entire Knights of Labor protest, effectively black-listing the organization as radical.
A better and more recent example would be the WTO demonstrations in November 1999 in Seattle, colloquially dubbed the “Battle in Seattle.” Peaceful demonstrators found their protests co-opted by violent radicals that began to break store-fronts and block the traffic of WTO delegates, eliciting police action. The Seattle police moved soon there-after to shut down the 40,000 person protest.
As I sit here and watch the footage of Egyptians and Palestinians burning U.S. and Israeli flags, I cannot help but wonder about the effects of media framing. The shots only include a dozen people burning the American effigies, but the headline reads “30,000 burn U.S. flags in Egypt.” Isn’t this just typical sensationalizing on the part of the media to make us believe that thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets to murder our diplomats?
While I am not seeking to vindicate the killers of the four U.S. personnel, consideration must be given to the nature of these new fledgling democracies that are gestating in the Middle East. As Ed Husain wrote for CNN this past weekend, “These are people who were born and raised in dictatorships. They are accustomed to thinking…that a film or documentary cannot be produced without government approval.” And so, it is only natural that they assume that the U.S. (seen as the new autocrat) specifically must have violated Muslim religious ideals. Effectively, the lack of understanding of freedom of speech impairs the assumptions of the Muslim world.
It is worth holding a mirror to our own fringe groups and applying the same horrific scenario. Imagine if a group released a video portraying Jesus as what Mohammed was shown to be in the video: a womanizer, child molester, violent murderer and overall buffoon. Can you honestly say that our fringe religious zealots wouldn’t take to the streets in protest? Let us not forget that this past week marked the anniversary of September 11, 2001, when a violent attack by a fringe religious group in turn led to the slaying of individuals not even closely related to the attackers (they were Sikh in fact, not Muslim) on American soil by our own fringe groups. Let these stories be a reminder that there is a danger in blanketing any assumptions on a group of people, fringe or not.
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