COMMENTARY | An attack on the US Embassy in Egypt by ultraconservative Islamist protestors today didn’t exactly shock the world, but it should. It inspired an axiomatic apology, but from the wrong people. It drew a political line in the sand, but between two groups that shouldn’t be enemies.
Angry protesters scaled the walls of the US Embassy in Cairo today, pulling down the American flag and tearing it to pieces. In its place, they raised a black flag bearing a Muslim declaration of faith: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet,” it reads. The flag, as the Associated Press noted, is similar to the banner used by terrorist group Al Qaeda. Protestors chanted “Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die,” and “Worshipers of the Cross, leave the Prophet Muhammad alone.”
Let’s attempt to understand the motives of the protestors.
The showing was reportedly a response to a film that portrays the prophet Muhammad, the key figure in Islam, as a fraud. The film shows the prophet engaging in sexual intercourse and encouraging massacres. This film is being circulated on the internet by a handful of people, most notably, Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the US, through his website, but it is currently unknown who originally made the film. The attack on the US embassy was terrifying, but the response to the attack, thus far, has been far more disturbing.
The US Embassy in Cairo released a statement following the demonstration, in which they condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” and condemned “efforts to offend believers of all religions.”
“Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy,” the statement said. “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
Fair enough. Sort of.
The statement is problematic because it looks to be an apology. Furthermore, it feigns responsibility for the actions of a small sect (smaller so far than even we seem comfortable admitting) of one anti-Islamic group. Yes, the film in question is offensive to Muslims, and we make no excuses for it. But that’s the point. We don’t have to. It wasn’t made by us.
The US has shown strong support for Egypt over the past several years. We ideologically supported the Egyptian Revolution, the Arab Spring elections, and even offered our own endorsement of President Morsi, the newly elected head of what is supposed to be a newly reformed Egypt.
We apologize for an unabashed attack on our embassy? When our nation has done nothing to provoke a response like that? The eye-for-an-eye response isn’t evenly balanced. Not by a long sight.
But this isn’t an indictment of the protestors that dragged our flag into the mud and ripped it to shreds today. They have a right to be offended. But they’re misguided, and they took out their aggression on the wrong target. The US Embassy can objectively denounce the anti-Islamic film being passed around on the internet. But they have to condemn such a violent attack as well. An attack that could be considered an act of war, which brings me to my next point.
Where is the Egyptian government? Where are the moderate Muslims?
The onus doesn’t fall to the protestors to apologize or explain their actions, and it doesn’t fall to the US Embassy or the US government to apologize for our presence in the highly volatile middle east. It falls to the Egyptian government to condemn the actions of the protestors and apologize for such a hateful act by their own people on an institution that has no horse in the race regarding that anti-Islamic film.
They should apologize to us.
Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the brother of Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, said of the incident that “we called for the peaceful protest joined by different Islamic factions including the Islamic Jihad, Hazem Abu Ismael movement.”
“We were surprised to see the big numbers show up including the soccer Ultra fans,” he said. “I just want to say, how would the Americans feel if films insulting leading Christian figures like the pope or historical figures like Abraham Lincoln were produced?” continuing, “the film portrays the prophet in a very ugly manner, eluding to topics like sex, which is not acceptable.”
What do you call invading the US Embassy and tearing down the American flag? Furthermore, what would you say about Christians, Jews, Sikhs, etc. if the mockery of their deities and religious figures resulted in such an embarrassing and violent display? Should we have heeded the advice of some that called for the US to completely distance itself from Egyptian support of any kind?
We should care. We shouldn’t apologize. We can condemn that anti-Islamist film, but we can’t ignore that old maxim “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and until some proof magically emerges that the US government was behind that film, we as a nation are not responsible for it. The attack on the US Embassy in Cairo was completely unprovoked by our nation, a nation that has supported Egypt in its tumultuous transition. This attack was a slap in the face, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.