Debate Center, 9/25

Is this crappy movie really the cause of unrest in the Middle East?

As America reels from the deadly attack on this year’s anniversary of 9/11 that killed Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, the question of what caused the attacks has been the subject of much debate.  Immediately after the attacks, the Obama administration condemned a previously little-noted film which belittled the Muslim faith as the catalyst. That decision to first condemn the film, rather than condemning those who attacked and killed the American Ambassador created a round of accusations and counter-accusations between the presidential candidates.

An obscure L.A. filmmaker, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is the creator of “Innocence of Muslims,” a crudely-made, low-budget film meant to insult Muslims. Having gone unnoticed for many months, this noxious film in which Muslims are portrayed as pedophiles and the revered prophet Mohammed as a sex fiend has been blamed for anti-American riots in 20 countries, from Libya to Lebanon. Clearly for some Muslims, the crude and offensive film caused rage and loathing of the film, its maker and Americans in general who value free speech over the honor of their Prophet.

Also enraging the sensibilities of the world’s Muslim population, in France, the publication, Charlie Hebdo a satirical weekly magazine with an anarchistic, left-wing slant – published new graphic cartoons denigrating the Prophet and further stoking that anger. In Pakistan, tens of thousands of people joined protests encouraged by the government in several cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar. The bloodiest unrest erupted in the southern city of Karachi, where 10 people were killed – including three policemen – and more than 100 wounded.

While a violent reaction to the YouTube movie and to the French publication of graphic cartoons might explain some of the violent protests around the Middle East, there is now evidence that the coordinated attack in Benghazi which killed Ambassador Stevens was more than simply a reaction to this film, but was in fact a terrorist attack.

Earlier in the summer, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had issued a call for revenge for the death of a senior Libyan member of the terror group, Abu Yahya al-Libi. Al-Libi was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in June. The call for revenge was included in a 42-minute video recorded by Zawahiri and posted on jihadi Internet forums on Sept. 10, the day before the assault on the U.S. Consulate.  Al-Libi was a hero of sorts for the Libyan members of al-Qaeda.

According to one of the Libyan security guards stationed at one of the gates at the Benghazi compound where the Ambassador was killed, the assault began simultaneously from three directions. Heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were used, making the attack seem more coordinated than a run-of-the-mill protest.

The issue has become a political issue in the presidential campaign with Romney criticizing President Obama for apologizing for the offensive movie and indirectly not supporting free speech, rather than condemning the violence and recognizing it as a terrorist attack. President Obama, on the other hand, has criticized Romney for politicizing the deaths of Americans for his own political gain. As the administration has now been forced to admit that the attack on the consulate was a pre-planned, terrorist action, members of Congress are demanding that the administration set the record straight.

Forum Question of the Week: Is the recent attack on the U.S. embassy and the related deaths solely the result of the YouTube video? Was the video the true catalyst sparking the violent reaction in the Middle East or is the video being used as an excuse for the violence?

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