Debate Left, 9/25

It’s not just about the video

By Rana Odeh

“In Libya, to speak of a protest is misleading. The assault in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens died was probably a coordinated, complex undertaking by an organized militant group, perhaps in concert with al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate. It represents broader Libyan opinion no more than Anders Breivik did that of Norway.” –BBC News, Shashank Joshi

Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has announced that the deadly attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya was in “revenge” for the killing of its second-in-command, Sheikh Abu Yahya al-Libi, in a drone strike in June. The Libyan government says the attack on the U.S. consulate was pre-planned. There is certainly a rift in Libyan society between Islamists and the majority of the population; the Libyan people have openly condemned the violent and tragic actions of the al-Qaeda members, which in no way represent the Libyan people. Libyan protesters seized the headquarters of the Ansar al-Sharia militia and evicted its fighters from its military bases in the city on Friday night; the crowd shouted “No more al-Qaeda!” and “The blood we shed for freedom shall not go in vain!” Protesters also held vigils for J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and the three other Americans who were tragically killed in Tuesday’s attack.

The murder of al-Libi is the initial source of violence toward the U.S. embassy in Libya, but does not account for the protests in Egypt the same day, or the snowball effect that spread across North Africa, the Middle East, Asia and now Europe. So then what is the source of the rapidly spreading protests? Could we attribute all the protests to the repulsive amateur film that mocks the Prophet Mohammed? To assume that the protests that erupted in over twenty countries are solely the result of the offensive film is as simple as accepting the following headline from CBS News  “Man Kills Wife, Five Others, in Rampage Over Cold Eggs,” at face value without assuming there is something much deeper behind the man’s motive than eggs. I think the film, like the eggs, was a trigger source to the protests that reveal a much deeper discontent among Muslims. Muslims in over 20 countries have protested, with a wide variety of participants, so it is impossible to group everyone’s motives into one and to assume everyone is protesting for the same reason. The people involved in the protests range from secular protesters to Muslim extremists, with very different sources of anger.

Female protesters in Pakistan wore headbands on top of their veils saying “America is the biggest terrorist,” which tells of a deeper rooted anger over the U.S. “War on Terror,” and the constant U.S. drone attacks that have killed Pakistani civilians. While the anti-Islam film sparked protests in Palestine too, the anger stems from decades of illegal occupation supported by the U.S. While all the protesters have different motives, one message that is clear in the majority of the protests is that the discontent stems from religious intolerance, and disrespect from the “West.” Muslims all over the world have been discriminated against long before 9/11, but the past decade of extremely deadly U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and the U.S. “War on Terror,” has further degraded Muslims. Not to mention the further marginalization of Muslims in Europe, most recently with the French cartoon, the banning of veils in French schools and the banning of minarets in Switzerland. Religious intolerance against Muslims exceeds the boundaries of the U.S. which is making some Muslims all over the world feel discriminated against.

We recently saw protests across North Africa and the Middle East to topple oppressive dictators, which is a strong sign that people in the region are ready to stand up for their values. Protesters in the “Arab Spring” demanded “dignity, freedom and jobs.” Dignity, above all, was their first demand; they are fed up with decades of oppression from their own regimes and with humiliation from the U.S. who supported dictators and waged two bloody wars in Muslim countries for the past decade. A 2011 Zogby public opinion poll of Arab attitudes toward the United States found a drastic drop in favorability of the U.S. in the region. The polls show that, overall, Arabs view the two greatest threats to the region’s peace and stability to be “the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands,” and “U.S. interference in the Arab world.” Despite the dwindling support of the U.S. in the Middle East, Romney was quick to politicize the attack in Benghazi and to criticize the Obama administration for an apology made by the U.S. Embassy, Cairo for the hateful film that, for one, was not approved by the administration and, two, preceded the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. There is absolutely no need to further politicize the situation, so I will just make one quick note: if Romney is elected in November, he is off to a rough start in the Middle East.

Although the anti-Islam film triggered protests across the globe, it should not be given all the credit. Decades of degradation, religious intolerance, oppression and occupation are among the factors that have been accruing anger amongst some Muslims. Muslims are not inherently violent, and they don’t “hate us” because they are intolerant, it is indeed a reversal of order. The “West’s” constant imperialism in the Muslim world since the fall of the Ottoman Empire has much to do with the Muslim world’s discontent with the “West.”

Rana Odeh is a DCP Debate Forum freelance writer. She holds a BA in English and Philosophy from UD and is currently a graduate student in the ICP Program at Wright State University.  Reach Rana at or view her work at

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