Memo to Muslims: Free Speech is as Sacred in America as the Prophet Mohammed is to Islam
Now that the insanity has subsided in the Muslim world after almost a full week of protest, it is maybe time to think about what happened and take time to consider future U.S.-Mideast relationships.
I think we can all agree that everyone involved here, the U.S. government, Muslims, and Muslim governments, mishandled the situation. America should not have apologized to anybody. Muslims need to learn to take time to think twice before flying their Al Qaeda flags in the air and burning the flag of the nation that funds most of the foreign investments in their lands.
It is still unclear why the protests happened at all. Some might argue that it’s because of the low-budget movie on Youtube right now, The Innocence of Muslims. The movie included humor as it related Muhammed, but also satirized secular Western practices too, which can be seen in the way the characters spoke to each other and acted. You see a Muhammed that not only looks Western, but also talks Western and acts Western, all to offend Muslims. Muslims, nowadays, feel a constant angst about melting within a fast-spreading secular Western culture, which only pushes them towards more alienation from the West in general and toward Islamic fundamentalism to identify themselves as a separate ethno-religious group.
Away from the movie itself, let’s take a look the reactions this week. After their diplomatic missions in the Middle East were raided and vandalized, the U.S. government had to step down and apologize for the movie to tame the protests and protect U.S. citizens abroad. Muslims were more than enthusiastic to find a new excuse to burn more American flags and invade American embassies. Muslim governments’ apathy to protect both their own citizens and U.S. missions led to deaths across the region and damage to U.S. diplomatic missions in Sudan, Tunisia, and Egypt.
Most of the hatred against the U.S. is not new and won’t fade in the next year or decade to come. Muslims hate the U.S. government for supporting Israel, while the U.S. would still argue that it is neutral to both Palestinian Authority and Netanyahu. Many Muslims are very misinformed about the U.S., hence the comments overheard from the U.S. embassy in Tunis in which protesters asked U.S. troops to leave Iraq and withdraw from Afghanistan (because of all of the good, well-intentioned people with bombs on their belts who are dying every day there). Muslims must use the media and school textbooks to correct what previous dictators have indoctrinated their people with.
Muslims need to understand that freedom of expression in the U.S. and the West is as much sacred as Islam or the Prophet is to Muslims, and that there’s nothing Western governments can do to shut their citizens up from expressing their opinions no matter how absurd they are.
What deceives me most – being from Tunisia, the country that actually ignited the Arab Spring – is how Islamist-led governments across the region jumped on this occasion to support the legitimacy of the protests, by not speaking against them, in order to soak more support from their people for the next elections. They breached their agreements with the U.S. to protect its interests abroad, only for the sake of democracy. Unfortunately, democracy has become in the new Arab world another word for demagogy and populism.
More than a year and half since the Arab Spring, theocracy has made its appearance again, over freedoms in the Middle East, as every political fraction needs to situate itself within the frame of Islam to hope for any support from the populace.
Regardless of what actually happened, most Middle Easterners always failed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Perhaps, it was America's fault for carrying the burden of the Middle East, flooding it with foreign aid and covering up for its misdeeds.